Friday, September 09, 2011

Managing for Results - Why the Twins don't do the "little things" any more

Almost any business guru will tell you that the way you get the behavior you want is to reward it. If you say you want great customer service, you can't reward people for saving money at the expense of customer service.

A lot of people, including top Twins management, are complaining about the fact that players aren't doing the little things right. The current idea, reinforced by the firing of the Rochester manager, is that the minor league staff is failing to teach players those things. Count me as a skeptic.

We I hear that guys like Plouffe, Valencia and Hughes are all failing to execute fundamentals. Ok. So what are they doing in the major leagues? The answer of course, is that they can hit better than any of the alternatives.

When they needed to clear a roster spot, they sent Tolbert to AAA despite the fact that he is the best defensive middle infielder they have. Instead, they played Hughes in the middle infield, despite the reality that his best position is probably first base.

And that didn't start this year. They certainly didn't trade for Delmon Young to improve the outfield defense. And Michael Cuddyer wasn't playing second base and, eep!, center field because he added anything defensively. Faced with a choice between Carlos Gomez and Denard Span, they took the guy with the better bat over the guy with the better glove.

Outside of backups and utility players like Butera, Punto, Repko and Tolbert, its hard to point to a player who has stayed in the lineup with his glove. Its even harder to point to a player who was thrown overboard because he failed to do the little things right.

There was a time when Twins minor league managers could honestly say to a young player, "If you want to play for Tom Kelly, you are going to have to do the little things right." No one can say that about Gardenhire. He may value the little things and get frustrated when they don't happen, but he isn't going to sacrifice a whole lot of offense for them.

Torii Hunter continues to complain about Tom Kelly. But the reality is that he learned to play the game right because Kelly insisted on it. It may not have been as much fun when learning, but the results showed on the field. Hunter has benefited enormously from the habits learned by being called out when he failed to do one of those "little things".

If Gardy really wants a team that does the "little things", he needs to send players back to the minor leagues who don't execute properly. If the players with tools don't do the little things right, he needs to be prepared to hand the job to someone who will even if they aren't as talented. That means they need minor league free agents in training camp who can execute even if they lack major league bats and/or tools.

Gardy also has to stop waiting until a failure costs the team something to call it out. Valencia stands up to move to the ball all the time, you only hear about it when he doesn't get there. When a player isn't in position to back up ball, he needs to call them on it, whether a backup was needed or not.

In short, if you want a team to focus on the little things, you need to start with the manager. HE needs to focus on doing the little things himself, even if that means the clubhouse isn't quite so loose. The problem starts at the top and firing some minor league managers isn't going to change that. The players can see who is getting the callups and its not the guys who "do the little things right".


faydawg said...

Wish I had written this. So true. But never fear, three more days of spring training will solve the problem

Ben said...

Agree that the front office has been willing to sacrifice defense for offense. I would point out Everett as an exception.

Gardenhire has been willing to call out young guys for not doing the little things. Boggers have been frustrated with him "jerking around" promising young players like Jason Bartlett for not taking control of the infield.

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