Monday, August 22, 2011

Should Gardy Go?

By The Common Man

It’s kind of sad watching a delusional leader, whose life’s work is crumbling around him, deny responsibility for the fiasco, contradict the readily apparent reality, and fight with his own people. It’s the kind of out of touch, reactionary, and petty response one would expect only out of the most narcissistic and desperate leaders clinging to their jobs.

The Common Man is referring, of course, to Ron Gardenhire, who in a very leading Q&A with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and ripped his young players over “what he considers a general misunderstanding of baseball fundamentals on the part of his young players…. ‘We’re doing all this stuff so we don’t have to tell them. We shouldn’t have to. They should learn this in the minor leagues.’” In particular over the past several days, the Twins manager has called out Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia, and Alex Burnett.

It’s certainly easy to pinpoint the mistakes of these youngsters. None of the hitters have an OBP over .300 and Burnett’s ERA is just under 6.00. Their performances have not been good, to say the least. However, Gardenhire goes further, questioning the wisdom of Burnett’s pitch selection to Francisco Cervelli (never mind that the pitch was called by Joe Mauer), Plouffe’s baserunning (which was poor) and his defense (which…come on, he’s been asked to play 6 different positions this year, and was never considered a defensive whiz to begin with), and Valencia’s focus and defense.

What’s interesting is who Gardenhire has chosen not to focus on. He’s not gotten on Mauer for his pitch-calling. Or Butera for his inability to hit like he actually takes a bat to the plate with him. Or Cuddyer for his baserunning mistakes. Or Delmon for everything that he ever did on a baseball field. Or Pavano for just plain sucking this year.

Pavano’s a particularly interesting case. Gardenhire wants Twins batters to, “Listen to (Carl) Pavano. He comes in right away and tells you, 'This guy's diving. This guy was cheating over the plate and he got it.' So Pav knows what he's going to do the next time. I want some of these guys to do that, too.” But Pavano has been terrible in 2011, striking out just 10% of the batters he faces and walking more than he did last year. His ERA (4.52, an 87 ERA+) is very in line with his career norm. So while Pavano may be crafty, he’s also not getting any batters out in 2011. Yet Gardy spares him from public embarrassment. (Update: Especially regarding his embarrassing inability to hold runners on.  While ultimately this doesn't add a lot of runs to Pavano's total, it does add some, and some cursury attention to the runners would have helped tonight after Andino's 3rd inning single.)  Maybe all the rules about fundamentals and playing the game right would be more powerful if the Twins weren’t so selective about when and to whom they should apply them.

Instead, they ignore the sins of some players while Gardenhire pours all his frustration onto youngsters, saying that they are taught well in the minors but, “they're just not paying attention. This is the stuff. They should learn to run the bases when they're growing up through the minor leagues, but they don't pay attention. Maybe we have to be more forceful in the minor leagues about this stuff.” Gardenhire has been happy to take the credit when the Twins have “played the game the right way,” but now that the team’s fundamentals are flagging, it’s the fault of the players and not the instruction they receive. Indeed, if players aren’t paying attention in the minor leaguers, isn’t that a failure of their instructors as well? Shouldn’t teachers be able to get through to most of their students, especially those with the tools to be successful?

Back in the late days of the Tom Kelly Era, TK would similarly pick his young players apart, destroying their confidence and making players like David Ortiz, Marty Cordova, and Todd Walker play away from their strengths. TK started in 1986 as the youngest manager in the Big Leagues, a teacher who grew with his team into a World Champion. But by 2000, he had lost the ability to relate to the youngest players, and the tolerance for them. After a last hurrah in 2001, Kelly resigned and let a man with more energy take over.

Now Gardenhire seems to be taking the same approach, and just like in TK’s day, it doesn’t seem to be working. Players aren’t responding to the criticism. The communication is not getting through to the players. That’s the fault of the communicator as much as it is the people being communicated to. So if this message isn’t getting through, it’s incumbent on Gardy to find one that will. After all, his job is to build a winning team, and based on the response of his players to his efforts, he doesn’t seem able to do that through the media.  Put another way, while these players perhaps should have learned all there was to learn in the minors, the fact is that they're in the Majors, they still apparently need some teaching on the job, and what are Gardy and the Twins going to do about it?

It’s time for the Twins to go back to school. It’s time for them to have a teacher to lead them. Perhaps Gardenhire can still be that teacher that they need.  But if he can't, he needs to take another lesson from his predecessor. He needs to step down and let someone else with more energy and tolerance take over.


Axel Kohagen said...

Unfortunately, I agree with almost all of your arguments, though I'm not sure I'm ready to release Gardy back into the wild.

The Twins seem to win best when they win maximizing potential instead of over-examining failures. Many of our players simply aren't superior in their positions, and reminding them won't change that.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole mentality of "Why do you insult youngsters but not vets" thing is somewhat unfair.

You have to remember that every player starts out as a youngster. Cuddy was moved around the field just as much as Plouffe (though to be fair it wasn't seemingly all in the course of 6 months)

The youngsters are the ones that need to hear that kind of thing when they get to the bigs, because they're the guys you can still hopefully reach before they get set in their ways.

You can't tell Mauer "Stop getting hurt" nor can you look at Span or Morneau and say "Stop being concussed!" likewise you can't tell Thome "stop being 40".

Part of being manager is knowing who needs motiviation and how to motivate them. And as far as not getting after Butera for sucking at the plate...what do you tell him to do? He is what he is...a crappy hitter.

But when you're making mistakes in the field that seem to come from mental mistakes, or trying to do too much instead of just turning the basic play, that's the kind of thing you still can learn.

Cuddy made a gaffe in the basepaths? Oops, but at least you can count on him to play any position you want and rarely ask for time off. And this season he's hitting pretty damn well to boot.

I look back at Slowey vs. the Twins this year. People got on Gardy/FO about their treatment of him, but I say "So what." Look at Perkins. The guy was viewed as "dead in the water" and was just sorta in the bullpen because they needed SOMEBODY there. But he took his lumps and accepted his role and has done a damn good job. To the point where he may be looking at a reinvigorated career in the bullpen.

Part of being a team player is accepting the role you're given and doing your best to contribute. Hell, looking at this quickly would Slowey have been moved back to the rotation had he shut up and accepted his bullpen role?

But that's all beside the point. Could Gardy stepping down help this team get turned around sooner than later? Perhaps. But that's only if you believe that some of the issues that you are concerned about (use of youth, value on speed, defense, etc) stem from HIS managerial decisions and not an organization wide opinion.

That is to say, do you think the Twins will hire somebody with a coaching approach/philosphy that will help them right the ship...or just somebody else that will do things the way they want to do it without making too many waves?

The Common Man said...


You raise some good points. First and foremost, in no way was TCM criticizing Morneau and Mauer for being hurt, or Thome for being old. But that also doesn't mean they're immune from criticism related to their performance. And if they're still hurt, they need to be off the field and healing.

Second, TCM agrees that part of being a manager is knowing how to motivate different kinds of players. But the consistent message out of the Twins regarding their young players is a public statement about how they don't measure up. Not every player is going to respond to that, so it's up to Gardy and the Twins to find other motivators, which they apparently haven't done.

Third, TCM think Slowey probably handled his situation poorly. But his reaction is also understandable. The Twins asked him to do something he had never done before, something that could affect his long-term performance and earning potential. Many of us would be looking for alternate work in those conditions as well. Perkins had no real alternatives to accepting his new role, as he needed to rebuild some value after his injuries.

Finally, your point about the organizational philosophy is well taken. Indeed, the Twins could probably use a near total housecleaning of everything but the scouting department.

The Baseball Idiot said...

We'll trade Ned Yost for Ron GArdenhire any day.

The Common Man said...

HA! No way. We need a new manager, not a psychiatrist.

Bill said...

Carl Pavano's FIPs, 2009-11: 4.00, 4.02, 4.02.
Just an observation...

Ben said...

Funny how catchers never "call a bad game" only good ones. I was puzzled by the approach to Fist pumping catcher idiot as well but of course it's not Mauer's fault.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

It's funny. As I was reading this post, I kept reading it faster and faster as it went along. It's almost like I was picking up on the load of steam you were hitting there.

I don't like calling out players in the press. A manager shouldn't do that to kids or vets.

The real problem is the construction of this team. You have a rotation built around contact and nobody to catch the ball. I blame the GM and Gardenhire more for that than anything else.

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