Friday, August 26, 2005

The Tipping Point

Today Bob Collins points out that the Twins began the season with a 49.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to Clay Davenport's calculations posted at Baseball Prospectus, which has dropped to a 7.4% chance as of yesterday morning. It's better than the 2% chance the team had on the morning of August 15, when I said there was nothing left to play for but pride. Still, it's quite a disappointing turn of fate since the hopeful days of springtime.

UPDATE: The Twins' postseason chances as of this morning are now 4.08%.

Even more interesting to me is to find that the Twins had a 71.6% chance of making the playoffs as late as the morning of June 12. The team had a 36-24 record (.600) and trailed Chicago by 4.5 games, but led the Wild Card standings by 4 games.

These were the Wild Card standings at that point:

Team
W-L
Pct.
GB
Twins
36-24
.600
--
Rangers
32-28
.533
4
Red Sox
32-29
.525
4.5
Indians
30-30
.500
6
Blue Jays
31-31
.500
6
Yankees
30-31
.492
6.5
Tigers
28-31
.459
7.5
Mariners
26-34
.433
10
Athletics
24-37
.393
12.5

On that Sunday afternoon of the 12th, the Twins would lose the rubber match of a series with the Dodgers, knocking the team's playoff odds down to 63.8% and beginning the hard fall out of the catbird seat, down to the longshot position they now occupy. That Sunday was the tipping point. What happened that weekend?

You may recall that Sunday game as the day Brad Radke served up 3 home runs to Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi! and visibly seethed after Gardy took the ball from him before Choi's fourth at-bat. Earlier, the manager also passed on his best chance to win the game, when he let Radke bat in the 6th inning with the score tied and with 2 runners in scoring position and 2 outs. Afterwards, he called out Juan Castro, a noodle bat who was only in the regular lineup because the manager thought so much of his glovework, and placed full blame on his #8 hitter for failing to get the runs home and leaving the mess to Radke. The man in charge apparently had no second thoughts about his decisions or priorities, and he accepted no responsibility for the consequences.

You may also recall that two days before, the Twins had battled back from a 4-1 early deficit to take a 5-5 tie into the bottom of the 9th, but Gardy tapped marginal middle reliever Terry Mulholland to pitch that inning, and Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi! launched the first pitch into the Rightfield seats to win the game.

You may further recall that the June weekend in LA capped off the road trip on which Gardy and his staff, with the notable help of Torii Hunter, used the local press to call out Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for lacking the macho fortitude to play through injuries. Gardy first put his needle to Morneau, a day after the 1st baseman told Gardy he was ready to play but Gardy had chosen to give him the extra day off. Then a few days later, to make sure that Mauer knew they were talking about him too, Gardy and his bullpen coach called him out by name in Jim Souhan's column. Gardenhire said that a pulled groin muscle "has nothing to do with catching." Rick Stelmaczek went so far as to say of Mauer: "The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career."

Of course you remember that Mauer missed nearly all of last season while rehabbing from knee surgery, and probably aggravated his injury last summer by trying to come back too soon. This manager had been so worried about Mauer's condition even at the start of this season, he carried a 4th Catcher on the roster until May 5. One month later, he and his coaches were going to the press to all but call him Nancy.

They did this, you see, because the kid had just missed 5 starts with a groin injury, came back to play in 2 of 3 games in the next series, then asked for a few more days off because the injury still bothered him. The manager had to let the young lad know that his sick day quota was filled. He could play through pain or get ripped in the papers. Concern for the health of the franchise's cornerstone players, or dealing with rookies respectfully and behind closed doors, is not the way they do things around here.


It was not a banner week for Ron Gardenhire, either as a game tactician or a manager of players behind the scenes. And to think that the Twins traveled to Los Angeles riding high as winners of 7 straight series, and in a post entitled Good Times, I wrote that the Twins had been "such fun to watch, game commentary seems nearly beside the point...."

I felt such cocky optimism, like a fool I said, "Chicago keeps rolling along, but the Twins keep drafting off their bumper. They can't shake this team. No worries for the ChiSox, though. They can take solace in the knowledge that they still lead the wild card race by 7 games. There's a nice cushion for them when they fall."

Oy, the pain.

What followed that week may be coincidence, maybe not. Yet while we have seen Gardy jerk around a number of younger players, but do nothing to address the weaknesses of his favorite veterans and occasionally throw away his best chance to win games with poor tactical decisions, a .600 frontrunning team has posted a 31-36 record since that high water mark of the season.


Here's how the other teams in the wild card race have played in the meantime:

Team
W-L
Pct.
GB
Athletics
46-19
.708
--
Red Sox
40-24
.625
5.5
Yankees
40-25
.615
6
Indians
41-27
.603
6.5
Blue Jays
33-32
.508
13
Tigers
33-33
.500
13.5
Twins
31-36
.463
16
Mariners
28-38
.424
18.5
Rangers
27-39
.409
19.5


The Orioles are the only contender in the league to take a harder fall, with a 25-40 (.385) mark since they led the East that weekend, and their manager was fired a few weeks ago.

Is Ron Gardenhire just an innocent victim of misfortune since June 12, or is he part of the problem?

Is the manager of the Twins accountable for the dive his team has taken this summer? If not that, can he be held accountable for anything?

15 Comments:

At 8/26/2005 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preach on. Gardy needs to be canned.

 
At 8/26/2005 9:01 AM, Blogger Moss said...

As Moss has joked with SBG, you continue to be Moss' mouthpiece, FW!!

 
At 8/26/2005 10:02 AM, Anonymous RgHrbek said...

Finally somebody gets it about Gardy. He's seems to be a good guy who was handed a decent team in a poor division.

Maybe more people will start to notice he is part of the problem. Now that we are out of hitting prospects for him and his staff to ruin, maybe Ryan will actually pick up a bat next year.

Great point about the veterans getting free passes on everything.

 
At 8/26/2005 11:18 AM, Anonymous Aaron.* said...

I think I'm slowly joining the ranks of the disgruntled anti-gardy fan. I hated how he and our supposed team leader, Torii Hunter, came out about "babying" M&M. Where's Torii now? On the D/L. Come on, suck it up big man.

This off-season, Twins brass ought to look at it's coaching staff and their descisions this past season. Ron has shown what a poor tactician he is. We can complain about Ullger, but ultimately, he's not the one batting, so I can relent a little on him. Putting in Mulholland in close games is a bad descision. Letting Radke bat when you've got a chance to drive in runs, and when he'll be facing a guy that has already creamed him a couple times in the same game is a bad descision.

But when it comes down to it, I don't think the Twins front office will have the huevos to fire Gardenhire.

AS

 
At 8/26/2005 1:15 PM, Blogger SBG said...

As if on cue, Grandpa Sports writes this morning:

Well, I believe Gardenhire has done a better job of managing this team than he did with any of his three Central Division champions.

For dealing with the injuries and the average replacements coming up from Class AAA Rochester, Gardenhire should get a medal for keeping this team in the wild-card race.


Your post puts the lie to that statement. They were in control when 'tool started with his mind**** on Mauer and Morneau, along with his hatchet men. Since then, they've spiraled downward. I'm not sure how much of that can be attributed to what happened. The thing that's so egregious is that 'tool hasn't used the players he has to try to maximize the runs that this team could score or prevent.

They've gotten a brief respite lately when Hunter's injury forced 'tool to properly use some of his players (Ford, LeCroy) because he had no other choice. Watching Lew Ford dazzle with his play in center field over the last couple of weeks, one must wonder -- why would anyone not play this guy in the field every day? Why? Because that might hurt Shannon Stewart's feelings! THAT'S NOT THE WAY WE DO THINGS AROUND HERE.

Watching LeCroy destroy left handed pitching, one must wonder, why doesn't the manager sit Jones down against lefties and play LeCroy? Because that might hurt Jacque Jones' feelings!

Group hug, everyone! Uh, except you, Cuddyer. And you, too, Ford.

 
At 8/26/2005 2:20 PM, Blogger Twinsluvver said...

It's arguable that the margin of error for Gardentool has been less this year than in the past. I think he is making about the same mistakes the same number of times but they're hurting more right now. The question to ask is this: could Gardenhire have managed us and extra 3-4 wins? How about 11? If you think he could have managed us into the playoffs (or that he managed us out of it) then yes, he needs to get fired.

I have wondered lately, "what is the shelf life of a 'player coach,'"...meaning: is there a limit as to how long that style is effictive? Does it reach a point where now that everyone is happy and cuddly that they need a strict baseball guy to mold them? I dont have an answer for that.

The problem with being buddy buddy with the guys is that it makes it tough to do what's best for the team sometimes. Anyone who is a manager or supervisor can tell you that there needs to be some professional bounderies between you and your subordinates.

Sorry this was so long.

 
At 8/26/2005 3:57 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

IMO, Gardy was good for the team in 2002. He inherited a close-knit group of players who were ready to break out together, but had seemed to chafe against TK's style of managing. I believe that the team benefitted by having a manager who would just roll out the equipment, crack some jokes, and let them play.

2003 was a mediocre season, saved in the end by Stewart, Dougie (he hit .305/.438/.433 after the break), and AJ (.332/.391/.450 post-break), and the Radke-Santana punch down the stretch. Of course, Gardy resisted putting his best pitcher in the rotation until June, when it was clear to everyone that Joe Mays needed to be shelved. (Does he ever learn?)

Last year, I think he was riding Johan's coattails again. In Cy Young's starts, the team was 24-10 (.706), including the loss in his final start against NY, when Gardy pulled him out after 5 innings with a lead, to rest him for the playoffs. Otherwise, the team was 68-60 (.531). Gardy owes at least 2 of his division titles to a pitcher whom he seemed to believe was best suited for middle relief chores.

His margin for error this year has been smaller, and I think the pressure of a tougher division and competitive wild card race have been getting to him, too. The pressure may have pushed him to make more hasty knee-jerk decisions and look around for scapegoats more easily than he might have if the White Sox weren't having such a great season.

He even had to leave the dugout in the 6th inning yesterday because of an elevated heartrate, dizziness, and the feeling that he might pass out; the doctor said his blood pressure was fine, but talked vaguely about the effects of stress. That all sounds to me like Gardy had a panic attack.

Deep down, even he must know he's in over his head. The team and the Central division have changed since 2002, and I believe our players could benefit from a change in managers, too. But Aaron is probably right. I doubt TR could give Gardy the axe as long as the team finishes above .500.

 
At 8/26/2005 4:27 PM, Blogger SBG said...

This margin of error talk conjures up one word in my mind. Execution. Plain and simple, the manager isn't executing. He's fond of making the same accusation about his players.

It's his job, for example, to make sure that Stewart understands that plain and simple, his job is to hit. Ford's gonna play in the field because he gives us a better chance to win when he's playing out there over Stewart. Maybe it's a tough job to smooth over the egos. That's why he's getting paid the big bucks. Execution.

When the margin for error is larger, more people can manage the club to victory. In 2002, a lot of people could have driven the Twins to the Central Division title. When the margin for error is smaller, only the better managers can be successful. The better managers execute. They know how to utilize their resources best.

 
At 8/26/2005 4:49 PM, Anonymous ThatsRich said...

The hardest part about watching Gardy's ham-handed game tactics is that we all were spoiled by TK for better than a decade.

I always enjoyed watching Mr. Kelly out-think the fellow in the other dugout on a regular basis. He was like a chess grandmaster thinking three or more moves ahead of his opponent. *sigh* Oh, fer the days...

I don't think Gardy's a bad guy or even necessarily a bad manager. I just think he's got his balance wrong. It might not be that much different from Joe Torre's early days as a manager. Torre had some early success with young teams in Atlanta, but ultimately ended up being pushed out. He had to acquire a few different stamps in his major-league passport before he got it right. (Insert obligatory "and the largest payroll in baseball doesn't hurt, either" comment here.) Sure, it's nice to have All Stars warming your bench, but Torre recognized his weaknesses enough to bring on a guy like Zimmer to beef up his in-game tactics. Smart MANAGEMENT move.

Gardy is great at clubhouse morale and chemistry issues. No surprise that his coaches are largely his buddies. This includes Rick Anderson who I think has done an amazing job rehabilitating the careers of several pitchers and fine-tuning the mechanics of talented ones.

I've seen postings in other sites with people frustrated that Gardy seems to KNOW how to evaluate things like OBP and its value in the leadoff spot, the ability to exploit platoon differences, etc.

I think in Gardy's first stint as a major league manager, his biggest mistate was stategic (and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more vociferous critic of his tactical choices).

Namely, I think he's gotten too close with his players. He's "one of the guys." He rightly diagnosed that what this team lacked in 2002 was "togetherness" - that TK's act had worn thin for many of the younger players and they needed to start thinking together, playing together as a TEAM.

Good job, Gardy. Right call, and a damn nice job of dealing with the problem.

But, as they say, when you get to the major leagues, sooner or later they find your weaknesses and you have to make adjustments. It's how well you're able to adjust that determines how long you hang around. (This is a hypothesis of mine about why bad/lower-echelon players make better managers. They've built the skill of "adjusting" to changing circumstances just to get as far as they did. Top players are often such freaks of nature that they make such adjustments effortlessly or without much conscious thought. - This is a generalization, there are obvious exceptions, but consider the thesis.)

It's time for Gardy to adjust. He might just get lucky. Enough of the old-timers are nearing the end of their career in a Twins uniform. More will depart this off-season. Gardy probably feels more like a "Dad" than a "buddy" to many of the younger players. Whether he realizes it or not, that's opportunity staring him in the face. He needs to see the team with fresh eyes - like he did when taking over from TK.

Let go of your "buddies," Gardy - they're almost done anyway. Those new kids? That's your World Series chance, if you want to take it. But, you'll have to give up your comfortable position as big brother. It's time for a little tough love.

 
At 8/26/2005 9:03 PM, Blogger Moss said...

Moss doesn't understand the appeal of a "player's manager" anyway. How about a "fan's manager"? That's what Moss wants. A manager who wins, who maximizes his players' talents, who keeps his players in line, etc. Why would Moss care about whether Gardy bowls with his favorite players? Moss wants to see execution and results on the field.

In short, Moss wants TK back.

Moss also questions whether Gardy is even good as a "players' manager". As ably pointed out by SBG, 'Tool calls out certain players to the public, but gives others a free ride. It is no secret that Cuddy is a whipping boy, even though he has the best bat since April (as demonstrated by Aaron Gleeman).

Moss has had enough! Promote Ullger to manager, for all Moss cares. But 'Tool has to go, and a new hitting coach is in order too. (Not to mention 3rd base coach.)

 
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