Monday, March 25, 2013

It IS Gardy's Fault

The question of whether Ron Gardenhire has some responsbility for the Twins failure the last couple of years is an interesting one. There apparently are a lot of sports writers who think he doesn't. I suspect part of that is that Gardenhire is a great interviews  Reporters like friendly guys who help them write interesting stories.
This story from story from Ken Rosenthal is an example.

According to Rosenthal  "Baseball Prospectus ... acknowledged that while Gardenhire is not “some kind of tactical genius,” he “excels in the clubhouse, where he remains popular and has successfully minimized squabbles among players” and “deserves recognition for that.”"

Anyone here remember the team star, relatively mild mannered Torii Hunter, throwing a punch at one of the team's future stars, Justin Morneau? That isn't exactly an example of "minimizing squabbles". The Twins clubhouse probably does have less drama than many. But that has more to do with the organization's careful vetting of players for their clubhouse presence. The Twins don't hire trouble makers. And they get rid of the guys who are.  That makes "minimizing squabbles" easier.

Here is another claim from Rosenthal " the decline is attributable to a number of factors — a failure to develop pitching ..."

Unfortunately, you can make a pretty good rotation from pitchers the Twins have had under Gardy and who were traded or left for next to nothing. Topping the list is Cy Young award winner RA Dickey.  Kyle Lohse was unloaded for a non-descript minor league pitcher in 2006, in part because of conflicts with Gardy. That was some of the motivation for the Matt Garza for Delmon Young  trade as well. In fact, you can see the same thing happening with last years "failure" Jason Marquis. He pitched very well for San Diego after being released by the Twins. Even Phil Humber had a good year with Chicago after the Twins let him go.

Those were organizational decisions, but Gardenhire played a role in them. There are also some decisions that have contributed to the Twins failure that you can point the finger squarely at Gardy. Its not really clear Gardy is a great judge of talent, needing instead to wait to see results before he can accurately evaluate a player. That is fine if a player succeeds, but it can contribute to a lot of losses when players fail.

Brian Dozier was jumped over AAA last year to become the Twins shortstop and then failed. That was Gardy's misjudgment. The Twins suffered from Dozier's defense and offense for a good part of the season before Gardy was willing to acknowledge his mistake. And it was a big one. You don't rush young players unless you are convinced they are ready to do the job.

The decision to put Carlos Gomez in center instead of Denard Span was similar. Gomez was only 22 and had 157 plate appearancees at AAA the previous year. Span was two years older and had spent a full season at AAA. Gomez, not surprisingly, struggled. He never really developed into the player the Twins expected until after Gardy gave up on him and he was traded to Milwaukee. Last year, at 26, he finally started to show the power that had made him a target in the Santana trade.

The failure to develop any young foreign players that is also a cause for concern. Since Gardy has been manager, Francisco Liriano is really the only Spanish speaking player you can call a success. He didn't live up to his ability except for half a season. Carlos Gomez, Luis Rivas, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Jose Mijares are all  non-English speakers who didn't live up to their billling. With several young hispanic prospects expected to emerge in the next couple years, this could be a problem if it is anything beyond coincidence. But I can imagine that Gardy's bantering style to keep people loose may lose something in translation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are the complaints that the Twins are no longer playing the game right. That they aren't executing. The manager can't do anything about physical errors, but he can do something about mental errors. Those happen because a team isn't properly trained to prevent them.  Those are things that are clearly the responsibility of the manager, and the last couple of years Gardy's teams haven't been doing them.

Its not that Gardy is to blame for everything that has gone wrong with the Twins. He isn't. And I am not saying he should be fired. But its not unreasonable to assign him some of the responsibility. Just as we give him credit for winning those division titles with players who were developed under Tom Kelly.  If the Twins decide this is Gardy's last year, there is plenty of evidence to justify the change. Frankly, I doubt a change will be made. But if Terry Ryan and the Twins execs really believe it will help move the team forward there isn't much reason to doubt that judgment or the reasons for it. The Twins don't make people scapegoats and they aren't going to start with Gardenhire.


Jim H said...

Santana, Silva, Romero, and others had success under Gardy. I don't think that part of your argument holds much weight. I do agree on fundamentals. Kelly demanded solid fundamentals from his players. If they came to the majors, without being sound, and many did, they became sound or went away.

I will say that Gardy is probably sounder on in game decisions than many give him credit for. Using his bench is also something he does pretty well. I think Kelly was better, but Kelly was better at many things than Gardy.

In general I would say that Gardy deserves as much blame for team failures over the last 2 years, as he deserved credit for the successes the team had the previous 10.

Adam H. said...

I generally agree. Part of the problem has been that Gardy is a "players manager" who sticks with players like Nick Punto because they "battle their tails off." Gardy would probably have been more effective on a more veteran-laden team. What they needed the last decade was a incarnation of TK.

I disagree that Gardy has been successful. With the talent on the team in the last 10 years he should have gotten out of the first round more than once (and in his first year after taking over for TK so there's that too). A better manager more than better players would have seen actual success that made division titles seem the baseline, not the ceiling.

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