May 31, 2006

Creating The Gardenhire File

Whenever I criticize Ron Gardenhire here, people inevitably ask why I'm so harsh with him. That's understandable, because I can't take the time to recap all of Gardenhire's faults each time I bring one of them up. For instance, Gardenhire barely playing Jason Kubel for a week isn't a big deal by itself, and for someone who visits this site sporadically my being critical of that may seem like picking on him for something relatively minor.

However, when a pattern of similar behavior emerges it becomes noteworthy and when combined with a litany of questionable tactics and decision-making everything begins to pile up. Many things aren't necessarily relevant to each individual criticism I lob Gardenhire's way, but they're certainly relevant to the overall level of distrust I have in the Twins' manager.

That's a difficult point to make on a regular basis, although I've come up with a workable solution. With your help, I'd like to create a "Gardenhire File." We'll put together a list of everything Gardenhire does poorly, from the illogical to the counter-productive. Offer up as many criticisms as you want in the comments section or via e-mail, and I'll filter through them and pick out the ones that work.

To get the ball rolling and to show what sort of submissions I'm looking for, I'll offer up this:

GARDENHIRE FAULT NO. 1: Refusing to use Joe Nathan in non-save situations.

This is especially true on the road, where Nathan typically goes unused unless the Twins have a slim lead with three outs left to get. Gardenhire will go through the entire bullpen--from Juan Rincon to Willie Eyre--before he'll put the team's best reliever in with the game on the line.

The most recent example came in Monday's loss to the Angels, when Gardenhire brought Jesse Crain out for a third sudden-death inning rather than put Nathan in for the 11th inning of a tie game. Then in Wednesday's blowout win over the Angels Gardenhire put Nathan in to pitch the ninth inning with a six-run lead because he hadn't been used for several games.

The close-mindedness and strict reliance on an ultimately meaningless statistic like the "save" is why Nathan has just 18 innings through 52 games, while Crain (22.1 innings), Rincon (27.0), and Matt Guerrier (30.0) have each worked significantly more, and even a mop-up man like Eyre has thrown 18.2 innings.

Pretty simple, right? Identify and explain the fault, give an example of it in action, and then discuss why it's a negative thing. There are no strict guidelines for what type of fault I'm looking for, so anything from in-game strategy and lineup construction to newspaper quotes and run-ins with umpires are fair game. In other words, throw whatever you can think of against the wall and I'll determine what sticks.


May 30, 2006

More From the Jerk Store

Jason Kubel was recalled from Triple-A when Shannon Stewart went on the disabled list last week. After initially indicating that he'd find Kubel consistent playing time at designated hitter or in a left-field platoon with Lew Ford, Ron Gardenhire has predictably jerked Kubel in and out of the Twins' lineup much the same way he did the first time around.

Kubel started just two of the Twins' six games in his first week back with the team. Some of those benchings can be blamed on the team facing left-handed starting pitchers, but Kubel was also out of the lineup against right-handed starter Joel Pineiro. Plus, rather than benching a rookie for four of his first five games, Gardenhire certainly could have tossed Kubel a bone against one of the southpaws. After all, Kubel was hitting .306/.390/.639 against lefties at Rochester.

Instead, Kubel rotted on the bench. In addition to playing sporadically, Kubel's two starts came against Felix Hernandez and John Lackey--two of the best starting pitchers in the league--and his only other at-bats came as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter against elite reliever Rafael Betancourt and as a defensive replacement during C.C. Sabathia's complete-game shutout.

Here's what Kubel told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I'm not used to [being on the bench]. It takes me a while to get back into it that way. I haven't had a good feeling since I've been up here.

Earlier this season the Twins jerked Kubel around, which is bad enough. This time they're jerking him around and making life especially tough for Kubel by putting him in particularly difficult situations in the rare instances when he's been allowed to play. As you might expect from a rookie getting eight at-bats in a week against tough pitchers with days on the bench in between starts, Kubel struggled.

One of the main things I've harped on here over the years is that by jerking around young position players the Twins have stunted the development of many of their most promising hitters. There are numerous examples of this happening--from Michael Cuddyer and David Ortiz to Jason Bartlett and Michael Restovich--with the most recent being Kubel.

Last month I chronicled Kubel's journey from "winning" the right-field job out of spring training to being benched after a week and demoted to Triple-A after two weeks. In addition to laying out exactly how the Twins had jerked Kubel around, I concluded the piece with a prediction about Kubel's future:

When Kubel does return to the Twins he'll almost certainly be feeling added pressure because of how he was treated this time, which is the exact opposite of how you want a young player to feel.

Sure enough, it's clear that Kubel is feeling immense pressure to perform well immediately in order to avoid being jerked around again. Here's what Gardenhire told Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune:

Right now, he thinks every time he makes an out it means he's going back to the minors.

The amazing thing is that Gardenhire seems completely unaware of the fact that he and Terry Ryan are the people causing Kubel to feel that way. The reason Kubel "thinks every time he makes an out it means he's going back to the minors" is that earlier this season that's essentially what happened.

Here's what Gardenhire told Glenn Rabney of MLB.com:

It seems like he's trying to prove something to everybody while we don't necessarily want him to prove anything. We just want him to relax and get some at-bats.

How is it even possible for a manager to have this little awareness of what impact his actions have on players? And how exactly is Kubel supposed to "relax and get some at-bats" when he's playing twice a week?

Here's one last Gardenhire quote from that same article on MLB.com:

He thinks he has to get it done or he's out of here, and that's one of the issues with younger players.

If you ask "younger players" on teams that actually put them in the lineup and commit to keeping them there, I'll bet you'll find that they don't have nearly the same "issues" that the Twins' jerked-around hitters have. Through their own doing the Twins have created an environment where young hitters become basket cases who begin to doubt themselves and fear for their job with every poor at-bat.

The most maddening part is that Gardenhire seems surprised when it happens, completely oblivious about his own role in giving "younger hitters" those "issues" on an annual basis. Gardenhire and Ryan have gone out of their way to make life overly difficult for young position players over the years, and sadly they've been very successful.

Given a chance to start a game against a run-of-the-mill right-handed pitcher last night Kubel delivered his first homer of the season, a solo shot to center field off Jeff Weaver. If he's lucky, he might actually be in the lineup tomorrow too.


May 28, 2006

Riding With (And Beating) The King


Get on a TWA to the promised land
Every woman, child, and man
Gets a Cadillac or a great big diamond ring
Don't you know you're riding with The King?


- John Hiatt, Riding With The King

I managed to stay away from the Metrodome for the Twins' first 22 home games of the season, but Friday night's Felix Hernandez-Francisco Liriano matchup was far more than I was willing to pass up in the name of not watching baseball indoors.

Ranked second behind only Joe Mauer among my Top 50 Prospects of 2005, Hernandez made the case last season for being the best teenage pitcher since Dwight Gooden, blowing through the minors before posting a 2.67 ERA in a dozen starts with the Mariners. No slouch himself, Liriano ranked third behind only Delmon Young and Ryan Zimmerman among my Top 50 Prospects of 2006 after posting a 2.67 ERA and 204-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 starts between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

Hernandez, now 20 years old, was baseball's premiere pitching prospect heading into last season. Liriano, now 22 years old, was baseball's best pitching prospect heading into this season. I may be frustrated by the Twins of late and despise the warehouse that they call a ballpark, but it's not often in baseball history that a show like Hernandez-Liriano has come to town.


After living up to what may have been unmatched hype as a 19-year-old, King Felix has shown that he's human this season by coming into Friday's game with a 5.84 ERA while somehow allowing opponents to bat over .300 against him despite stuff that is second-to-none. Meanwhile, Liriano began the season by tossing 22.1 innings with a 3.22 ERA and 32 strikeouts out of the bullpen before the Twins moved him into the rotation on May 19. He turned in five innings of two-hit ball in his first start.

In many ways Liriano is where Hernandez was last season--a young pitcher on top of the world, blowing away overmatched big-league hitters who are getting their first real look at him. Hernandez is where Liriano--or any great young hurler--might eventually be, struggling to figure out what will work for him against those same, suddenly capable big-league hitters over the long haul.

Given those plot lines and the level of talent involved, perhaps the only way the Hernandez-Liriano matchup could have lived up to my expectations would have been with matching perfect games. They didn't quite provide that sort of show, but I came away from the game convinced that the experience is something I might look back on when they're each going into the Hall of Fame in 25 years or so.

The final pitching lines looked like this:

                 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
Liriano 5.0 4 0 0 1 6 0 83
Hernandez 7.0 5 3 3 1 8 1 104

Liriano was masterful from the first pitch, and only a lack of stamina from beginning the year in the bullpen limited him to five shutout innings. He threw strikes with his fastball and made hitters look silly chasing his slider down and out of the strike zone. On the other hand, Hernandez watched several balls maneuver their way through the defense for hits despite not being particularly well-struck early, and then Mauer smacked a solo homer on a chest-high fastball with one out in the third inning to make the score 3-0 Twins.


After the pitch to Mauer that ended up sailing over the fence in right-center field, here's how King Felix finished the game:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
4.2 0 0 0 0 7 0

Unfazed by Mauer's homer--or perhaps motivated by it--Hernandez retired 14 straight hitters. In doing so he worked so quickly and seemingly effortlessly that I'd be shocked if most of the 28,000 fans in attendance really noticed. Hernandez's overall line was good (7 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 8 SO), but it's the way he so thoroughly dominated after Mauer went deep that showed why his future remains as bright as any in baseball.

From my 14th-row seat along the first-base line I had a good view of where pitches crossed the plate vertically. Liriano consistently worked the bottom half of the strike zone, and got hitters to swing through balls that started low and got even lower as they either dove away or rode in on the batter. Hernandez seemed to work more up and down, and the pitches he gave up hits on were significantly higher in the strike zone than most of Liriano's offerings.


Once Hernandez settled in he also began to work low, although his pitches appeared to have less side-to-side movement than Liriano's. All of which makes sense, given that Hernandez is an extreme ground-ball pitcher and Liriano is merely a regular ground-ball pitcher. Hernandez's pitches plow through the bottom of the strike zone as they drop, while Liriano's pitches sort of scoot away from bats as they slice through the plate.

I've watched Hernandez on television as often as possible, and many times his mechanics seem somewhat out of whack. In particular he's shown a tendency in the past to fall off the mound with his follow-through. Friday night his delivery looked smooth and easy, almost like he was going at half-speed, and Hernandez didn't have a single exaggerated, Francisco Rodriguez-like follow-through in seven innings.

It's difficult to say for certain given how many lesser pitchers have looked like Cy Young Award winners against the Twins over the past two years, but I wouldn't be surprised if Friday's start is the beginning of Hernandez getting back on track. As David Cameron writes at The Hardball Times today, the root of Hernandez's problems this season don't appear to be based on his stuff, but rather his approach to using it. The beauty of Hernandez, of course, is that at 20 years old he's got plenty of time to work out the kinks.

The funny thing is that only when compared to Hernandez could Liriano actually take a backseat (he even lacks the cool-sounding nickname). With a 2.51 ERA and 43-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings this season Liriano now has 76 strikeouts in 56 career innings, striking out 37 percent of the batters he's faced. Quickly entrenched in the rotation alongside Johan Santana, the Twins could boast the best one-two combination in baseball by midseason (or whenever they ditch Liriano's pitch count).

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove told reporters after the game that he'd "just as soon not see Liriano again," adding that "the Twins probably say the same thing about Hernandez." Probably true, but I'm looking forward to a couple decade's worth of rematches.


May 25, 2006

Link-O-Rama

  • The Tigers placed Dmitri Young on the disabled list earlier this week and called up Jack Hannahan from Triple-A. Not only is Hannahan a Minnesota native who starred at the University of Minnesota, he grew up along with me in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, graduating from Cretin-Derham Hall (which also produced Joe Mauer and Paul Molitor) a few years before I graduated from Highland Park Senior High (which produced Jack Morris).

    I bring this up to note that a hometown boy has made good, but also to inform everyone that in addition to being a major-league baseball player Hannahan also participated in one of the greatest basketball games I've ever seen. Playing in the junior-high league at the St. Paul JCC while a grade school-aged Aaron Gleeman looked on, Hannahan's team battled Zack Neren's team in a multiple-overtime game that ended with both players having well over 50 points.

    I have no real point, other than to say that it's amazing how vividly you remember certain seemingly unimportant moments from your childhood. I never spoke to Hannahan and can't remember ever hearing of him as a baseball player before he played for the Gophers, but in my mind he'll always be the guy who scored a whole bunch of points in a basketball game that maybe a half-dozen other people can recall witnessing.

    Hannahan made his long-awaited big-league debut yesterday afternoon and may have made baseball history by going 0-for-6. Hopefully the Tigers give him a few more at-bats before sending Hannahan back to the minors, because that would be one ugly Baseball-Reference.com page.

  • Congratulations to friend of AG.com and fellow Twins blogger Seth Stohs, who is now the proud father of a baby girl named Jozie Sue-Elaine. Seth is without question one of the nicest, most genuine people I've "met" while doing this whole blogging thing, and his daughter is lucky to have him as a dad. In true Seth fashion, he apologized in advance for no longer having as much time to devote to his blog and then proceeded to pump out about 10,000 words over the next week.
  • Never before have I wanted so desperately to have my face bashed into a parking meter.
  • In last week's "Link-O-Rama" entry I described the amusement I received from reading Paul Katcher's pronouncement that "people who write open letters" are "hacks" and then immediately stumbling across an open letter on Will Carroll's blog. Well, it gets better. Jim "Shecky" Souhan's column in Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune began with the following:
    You've heard of open letters?

    This is an open thank-you note, addressed to those who made the new Twins ballpark possible.

    Sometimes life is almost too perfect.

  • If there's one thing I've learned in 23 years on this planet, it's that when Will Leitch of Deadspin deems something "the most brilliant thing you'll see all day" he's not kidding around.
  • Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune has a nice article today on the pitching matchup that I'm heading to the Metrodome to see in person tonight: Francisco Liriano vs. Felix Hernandez.
  • One of my biggest pet peeves is when people misuse the word "literally," so it gives me great pleasure to present this quote about the Twins' new ballpark from Bug Selig in the Star Tribune:
    This is the end of a long and painful journey. I know Carl [Pohlad] has taken some hits and the Pohlad family, but there's no family that wanted to stay there more in their hometown than they did. And Jerry Bell, who literally gave his life here and all the Twins people.

    For those of you unaware, Jerry Bell is very much still alive. On the other hand, Selig is literally still a creep.

  • I generally stay away from late-night talk shows because the celebrity interviews are so boring and scripted, but Artie Lange's nine minutes on Jimmy Kimmel Live was a tour de force performance.
  • Finally, a blog that's dedicated to a worthy cause.
  • I've already wasted far too much time on this, and the draft isn't for another month.
  • One of saddest aspects of my dog dying earlier this month is that people are now arriving here by way of Google searches for things such as "dog brain tumor" and "paralyzed right side dog" that are constant reminders. The worst part for me is that about a dozen of the people who have arrived here via search engines went on to send me e-mails asking for advice, as if I'm in any real position to give some.

    One particularly touching e-mail came from the owner of a 7-year-old Boston Terrier who is sadly experiencing many of the same symptoms that my 6-year-old Boston Terrier did before we found out that she had a tumor. I could sense the same sort of helplessness in the e-mailer that I felt at the time, and as much as it pained me to do so I advised her to think seriously about putting her dog to sleep.

    I'm hopeful that she didn't resent my "advice" too much, because I certainly would have if someone had suggested the same to me before we heard Sammi's terminal diagnosis.

  • On a related subject, a special thanks to Bat-Girl, who made a donation to the Minnesota Boston Terrier Rescue in Sammi's name, and to the anonymous reader who made a similar donation to the Humane Society.


  • May 24, 2006

    Twins Notes

  • The subject of yesterday's entry, Pat Neshek, tossed 2.1 scoreless innings last night to pick up his ninth save of the season. Neshek now has a 1.98 ERA and 56-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.1 innings at Triple-A.
  • Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the following note about Kyle Lohse yesterday:
    The Twins don't seem to be in any hurry to trade Kyle Lohse, who was demoted to Class AAA Rochester last week. But among the teams interested are the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays.

    I've heard several times from multiple sources who I trust that the Twins could have traded Lohse for what I would consider to be good value during the offseason, so there's some reason to hope that he's retained at least a fraction of that value despite his horrendous numbers this year.

    With that said, the Mets acquired Orlando Hernandez from the Diamondbacks yesterday, seemingly taking them out of the Lohse market, and given the Blue Jays' pitching depth in the high minors I'd be shocked if they wasted time on Lohse. I believe Lohse will be traded at some point in June, but I'll be surprised if it's for any real value.

  • I'm hopeful that Denard Span can eventually take over for Torii Hunter in center field, but within the same article that included the above note on Lohse Christensen presented another option:
    Torii Hunter flew home to Texas following the Twins' game in Milwaukee on Sunday, allowing him to watch his two sons play a Little League game for the first time in two years.

    It was quite a treat. Torii Jr. pitched a no-hitter in a four- inning game, and Monshadrik hit a homer, a double and had three RBI.

    I'll say this for the Hunter family: They've got some unique names.

  • Speaking of Christensen, he's now written two feature-length articles about Tony Batista within the span of three months. The first one romanticized Batista's religious beliefs, while the latest version focused on his odd batting stance. I criticized Christensen's first article for various reasons, but to his credit he makes a major effort to remain objective this time around.

    My favorite part:

    "Everybody doesn't like the way I hit," said Batista, a .251 career hitter in the majors with a meager on-base percentage of .298. "But everybody likes the results."

    The idea that "everybody likes the results" is absurd, of course. A more accurate quote might be: "Most people hate the results, but somehow I fooled Terry Ryan." I appreciate Christensen noting Batista's "meager on-base percentage" while pointing out that "the results have been disappointing," but rather than talk about his religion or the method behind his poor play, how about an article or two that are actually about his poor play?

  • With Batista hitting .241/.305/.404 while playing increasingly horrible defense and the season rapidly slipping away from the Twins, I've started to get frequent e-mails asking about Matt Moses. I wrote about Moses as part of my minor-league notes entry earlier this month and Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune discussed him a bit this week:
    The issue with Moses, the Twins' first-round draft choice in 2003, remains fielding, not his hitting. Riccardo Ingram, Moses' manager at Class AA New Britain, said: "He's getting better, but he's by no means Gold Glove caliber. Being in the right position to catch the ball, the footwork involved ... that's more of a problem for him than throwing."

    Moses has cooled down since a hot start and his .289/.331/.467 hitting line on the year doesn't look particularly impressive. However, the Eastern League has skewed so heavily towards pitching this season that the entire league is hitting a measly .241/.311/.361. For some context, Nick Punto is a career .243/.309/.325 hitter.

    If you take Moses' numbers at Double-A and adjust them for the current offensive environment in the American League, they come out looking like .315/.395/.520. That's damn good for a 21-year-old in the high minors and certainly a step in the right direction after Moses entered the season with a career line of .271/.337/.415 in 169 pro games.

    If he continues to hit like this Moses has a chance to be relatively valuable at designated hitter or a corner-outfield spot, which means a lack of defensively development won't kill him. With that said, if Moses can hit like this and turn himself into even a marginal defensive third baseman he has a chance to be a star.

  • I've grown tired of many things Ron Gardenhire does on a regular basis, but perhaps none more so than his embarrassing tendency to make a fool of himself while being thrown out of games. It accomplishes nothing and makes Gardenhire look pathetic, and the idea that it "fires up the team" is beyond laughable at this point. If someone in a management position in just about any other field behaved like that as often as Gardenhire does they'd no longer have a job.
  • Showing that he's stuck somewhere in the 1970s, the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Gordon Wittenmeyer discussed the Twins' leadoff options yesterday without once mentioning on-base percentage and suggested that Jason Kubel would be miscast in the role because he "struck out 23 times in 120 at-bats for Class AAA Rochester, putting him on a 100-strikeout pace for the season."

    I've heard it argued that strikeouts are worse than other outs for a middle-of-the-order hitter because it keeps them from driving runners in from third base with sacrifice flies or ground outs. Even if you buy into that--and studies have suggested that it isn't necessarily the case--the job of a leadoff man is primarily to get on base, so I fail to see how striking out in that situation is any worse than grounding out or popping out.

    What matters is not making an out, period. Perhaps in another couple decades the good people in charge of covering the Twins in the mainstream media can get past "batting average and RBIs good, strikeouts and errors bad."

  • I'm heading to the Metrodome tomorrow night for the Francisco Liriano-Felix Hernandez matchup, which has a chance to be the sort of thing you brag about seeing 20 years down the line. I've been avoiding going to games this year because I'm frustrated with the team and hate watching baseball in the Metrodome, but Liriano and King Felix are more than enough to change my mind for at least one night.


  • Older Posts »