September 30, 2014

Twins fire Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons as manager

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan

Ron Gardenhire will not join Connie Mack and Tom Kelly as just the third manager in baseball history to keep his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons, as the Twins fired him Monday after 13 seasons on the job and nearly three decades in the organization. In a rarity for a fired manager Gardenhire attended the press conference announcing his dismissal and was in relatively good spirits while answering questions, even cracking a few smiles.

Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan seemed to be in agreement that it was time for a change, although last month Ryan said publicly that Gardenhire would return. Yesterday the GM hinted that ownership pushed him to make the move, which apparently may or may not include firing Gardenhire's entire coaching staff depending on whether the new manager wants to keep anyone around.

Gardenhire took over for Kelly in 2002 and had immediate success, winning 94 games and taking the Twins to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. They went on to win six division titles in his first nine seasons at the helm, but the competition in the AL Central was more often than not underwhelming during that time and the Twins went just 6-21 in the playoffs with five straight first-round exits.

His early teams were good but not great in a window of time when that was enough to capture a weak division, but then that window closed and later the team fell apart. They have a grand total of one 90-win season since 2007 and combined over the seven-year span of 2007-2014 the Twins went 613-685 for a .472 winning percentage that ranks 23rd in baseball. Only the Astros have a worse record than the Twins since 2011.

I started writing about the Twins in August of Gardenhire's rookie season as manager in 2002 and to say I've never been a fan would be an understatement, so I certainly don't think he's performed well in recent years. However, for better or worse his impact was hardly enough to be responsible for four straight 90-loss seasons just as it wasn't enough to be responsible for six division titles in nine years.

Because they're the day-to-day face of the team managers receive too much praise when things go well and too much criticism when things go poorly. Collective front office decision-making is far more important to the overall well-being of an organization. Ultimately talent trumps all and while a good manager can certainly help develop that talent and utilize that talent properly, squeezing a few more wins out of a team pales in comparison to building the team in the first place.

To believe differently is to think managers have more value to a team than the very best players even while they're consistently paid less than mediocre middle relievers. Gardenhire's firing was justified, but it has little to do with whether another manager could have avoided four consecutive 90-loss seasons with sub par talent and a lot to do with whether Gardenhire is the manager the Twins want leading them for the next 5-10 years when the talent improves.

And it will improve. This team will be better in 2015 than it was in 2014 and better in 2016 than it was in 2015. They have too much high-end talent in the minor leagues--and some high-end talent already faring well in the major leagues--for that not to happen, so even though the next manager may have to deal with low payrolls and shaky front office decision-making the combination of an impending influx of young talent and minimal expectations should make it an appealing gig.

Basically, there's nowhere to go but up. And after 13 seasons of a .507 winning percentage with almost zero postseason success and historic ineptitude for the past four years it would be hard for even his biggest supporters to argue Gardenhire is the best manager to maximize that ascent. He wasn't the biggest problem, but he was too often part of the problem and is not the best possible option for the solution. Of course, the Twins' ability to identify that best option is another issue.

Ryan has been the Twins' general manager for two stints and 17 total seasons, during which time their combined record is 1,278-1,406 for a .476 winning percentage and one playoff series win. With a GM originally hired in 1994 and numerous long-tenured assistants still at his side--including Bill Smith filling a different role after flopping as GM--the front office responsible for getting the Twins into this mess remains largely intact.

Like the difference between a fresh coat of paint on a car versus overhauling the engine, the front office's performance always outweighs anything a manager does. Now their duties include finding a better manager in addition to putting all the roster pieces together well enough to re-emerge as contenders. Gardenhire's firing was about the future, but there's every bit as much reason to be skeptical that Ryan and his assistants are the best option to lead the Twins there.


For a lengthy discussion and debate about everything related to the Gardenhire firing, check out our emergency "Gleeman and The Geek" episode recorded after the news broke.

September 29, 2014

Gleeman and The Geek #163: Another Season In The Books

Topics for this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode included the end of another Twins season, the fates of Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, and Rick Anderson, Phil Hughes and his $500,000 bonus, which players to purge from the 40-man roster, Glen Perkins pitching hurt, pitchers and MVP awards, Ricky Nolasco being not terrible, and getting shoutouts during Derek Jeter's last game.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 163

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

September 26, 2014

Link-O-Rama

• Yankees announcer Michael Kay gave me a little shoutout on YES Network during Derek Jeter's final home game Thursday night:

And during the same game, on the Orioles' broadcast, they quoted me about J.J. Hardy's value.

• In terms of trolling for truth, "Jay Z was better than Beyonce is" might be even more effective than Keith Olbermann's anti-Jeter tirade.

• Wednesday's rain delay meant Phil Hughes finished one out short of reaching 210 innings for the season to receive a $500,000 bonus. After initially saying they wouldn't the Twins later offered him a chance to pitch in relief during Sunday's season finale ... and Hughes turned it down. Still, considering he set the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record in a season worth several times his salary and the rain delay is the only reason he didn't reach the bonus perhaps the Twins should donate the money to charity in his name or something?

Darko Milicic is done with playing basketball and is now a kickboxer. Seriously.

• For combining simplicity and effectiveness you're not going to find a better opening sentence: "Dale Decker is a man who says he orgasms in his pants over 100 times per day."

• Legalizing marijuana in Minnesota could raise enough revenue in one year to pay off Ricky Nolasco's entire contract. And everyone would be less stressed out watching his starts, too.

Lauryn Hill at her peak was an inner-circle Hall of Fame talent, but this is why I couldn't talk myself into paying $65 per ticket to see her at First Avenue earlier this year.

• I tore my ACL walking from CC Club to VFW two minutes after turning down a ride and one minute after mocking someone for slipping on ice, but this is arguably an even dumber way.

• Oh god. Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal has an article about John Bonnes and he looks all annoyingly super happy in the photo.

• Friends of AG.com and "No Juice Podcast" co-hosts Dan Anderson and Parker Hageman tried to show what it's like to pitch-frame a 100-mph fastball. It did not go well:

"You're gonna be on the whacking DL for a while" is a great line. (Also: They couldn't hit it either.)

• Read this Ben Lindbergh article about the Pirates' extensive use of sabermetrics and tell me the Twins aren't at a basic, fundamental disadvantage.

• Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster? Almost half of the players are droppable.

• My big takeaway from Mitch Williams' lawsuit is that MLB Network was paying him $2 million.

Benjy Bronk from Howard Stern's show is the guy who got tossed from Roger Goodell's press conference, which should not surprise any longtime Stern fans.

• My blog-mate Craig Calcaterra is one of 24 writers selected for Amtrak's residency program.

Andrew Baggarly is one of the best, most experienced baseball reporters around, but the San Francisco Giants are boycotting him for reporting something no one seems to deny happened.

• In addition to being dashingly handsome to the point of intimidation, Steve "Randball's Stu" Neuman tells a really good story.

• It turns out the new iPhones could be big news for schlubby guys.

• Chicago deep-dish pizza chain restaurant Giordano's is coming to Uptown, just a few doors down from Green Mill.

• Restaurant recommendation: The Bad Waitress has become one of my go-to spots. It's great for my fellow breakfast-for-dinner lovers and it's on Bite Squad.

• I still need two more owners for my "Hardball Dynasty" league on WhatIfSports. Details here.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Happy dirty thirty"
- "Ron Gardenhire contract"
- "How much does Joe Nathan make per game?"
- "Who did the Nationals trade for Wilson Ramos?"
- "Marney Gellner rain delay dance"
- "Bill Smith on Seinfeld"
- "Is Justin Morneau French?"

• Finally, in honor of Jeter's retirement this week's AG.com-approved music video is "The Captain" by Kasey Chambers:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

September 24, 2014

Twins Notes: Hughes, Perkins, Vargas, Liriano, Worley, and Arcia

Phil Hughes Twins

• With one start remaining Phil Hughes has an incredible 181-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202 innings. Not only is that by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball this season, it's the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history among all pitchers with 150 or more innings:

                    YEAR     SO/BB
PHIL HUGHES         2014     11.31
Bret Saberhagen     1994     11.00
Cliff Lee           2010     10.28
Curt Schilling      2002      9.58
Pedro Martinez      2000      8.88
Greg Maddux         1997      8.85
Pedro Martinez      1999      8.46

That's a helluva list to sit atop.

Hughes is 15-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts. The rest of the Twins' rotation is 31-58 with a 5.60 ERA in 126 starts.

UPDATE: The good news is Hughes finished his final start with the all-time K/BB ratio record intact. The bad news is thanks to an ill-timed rain delay he might finish one out short of $500,000.

Glen Perkins tried to pitch through what was initially believed to be a minor neck injury, but after several bad outings in which he clearly wasn't right physically the Twins sent him for more testing. He was then shut down after being diagnosed with what they're calling a forearm strain and nerve irritation. It's unfortunate, because not only does Perkins head into the offseason as a question mark, his attempts to pitch through the injury ruined his strong season totals.

As of August 25 he had a 2.44 ERA and 64/9 K/BB ratio in 55 innings, but then Perkins allowed 10 runs in 6.1 innings to inflate his ERA to 3.65. During that span he gave up five home runs in eight games after giving up a total of seven home runs in his previous 116 games since the start of last year. Everyone acts like playing through injury is to be commended, but it usually goes badly for player and team. Perkins says he learned his lesson about "trying to be a tough guy."

Kennys Vargas and Jose Berrios were named the Twins' minor league player and pitcher of the year. Vargas hit .281/.360/.472 with 17 homers in 97 games at Double-A as a 23-year-old before being called up to the majors on August 1. Berrios split his age-20 season between high Single-A and Double-A--with a late cameo at Triple-A--posting a 2.76 ERA and 140/38 K/BB ratio in 140 total innings. Last season's winners were Byron Buxton and Andrew Albers.

• Vargas' early success for the Twins has been hugely fun to watch, although his horrific 58-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 48 games is a massive red flag and surprising considering his solid walk rates in the minors. Vargas was handed the cleanup spot after one week in the majors, which is very rare in Twins history. In fact, here's a list of Twins with the most starts in the cleanup spot through 48 career games:

KENNYS VARGAS     44
Kent Hrbek        20
David Ortiz       19
Justin Morneau    16
Todd Walker       14
Chris Parmelee    13
Tom Brunansky     12

Vargas also has nine homers through 48 games, which is tied with Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, and Josmil Pinto for the third-most behind Marty Cordova and Tom Brunansky with 10 apiece.

Francisco Liriano is in the midst of a 28-inning scoreless streak and now has a 3.32 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 157 innings for the Pirates after posting a 3.02 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 161 innings for the Pirates last season. His rotation-mate, Vance Worley, has a 2.93 ERA and 75/22 K/BB ratio in 104 innings. Add it all up and Pittsburgh has gotten 417 innings of a 3.15 ERA from Liriano and Worley for less than the Twins paid Mike Pelfrey.

Terry Ryan brushed off questions about Worley's turnaround in June, saying:

Give him a little time to see what he does over the course of starts. We'll talk about that in October. See how it goes.

Well, it's almost October. Also, just a reminder: Before selling Worley to the Pirates at the end of spring training the Twins sent him outright to Triple-A, which means they could have stashed him there all season without even taking up a 40-man roster spot. They gave him away for no reason other than they were convinced he had zero value. Worley, still just 26 years old, now has a 3.35 ERA in 382 career innings for non-Twins teams. And even Carlos Gomez is impressed.

Oswaldo Arcia has the seventh-highest Isolated Power in Twins history among all hitters with 750 or more plate appearances:

Harmon Killebrew     .258
Don Mincher          .239
Bob Allison          .225
Josh Willingham      .214
Jimmie Hall          .212
Justin Morneau       .207
OSWALDO ARCIA        .202
Tom Brunansky        .202
Kent Hrbek           .199
Torii Hunter         .198
David Ortiz          .195

Arcia has 33 homers, which is the fourth-most in Twins history through age 23 behind Brunansky (80), Hrbek (40), and Zoilo Versalles (34). He can't control the strike zone, can't hit lefties, and can't catch much in the outfield, but Arcia's power potential is special. And on the subject of his terrible defense, here's a fun little tidbit: Arcia played 77 games in center field as a minor leaguer, including some at Double-A. Think about that.

• Ultimate Zone Rating calculates the Twins' defense has been 85 runs below average since 2011, including -48 for the infield and -37 for the outfield. Obviously the Twins' pitching has been awful, but if you take awful, low-strikeout pitching and put awful defense behind it you have no chance.

• Post-trade performances: Josh Willingham has hit .243/.361/.400 in 23 games for the Royals to almost exactly match his .210/.345/.402 line in 68 games for the Twins. Sam Fuld came back down to earth, hitting .211/.270/.320 in 48 games for the A's. Kendrys Morales has continued to be terrible, hitting .206/.274/.335 in 53 games for the Mariners. Kevin Correia has continued to be Kevin Correia, posting an 8.03 ERA in 25 innings for the Dodgers.

And since the Twins decided not to trade him and gave him a two-year contract extension instead, Kurt Suzuki has hit .256/.291/.383 with a 15/3 K/BB ratio in 37 games.

Pedro Florimon, who began this season as the Opening Day shortstop, was claimed off waivers by the Nationals when the Twins took him off the 40-man roster. He's a good defensive shortstop, but Florimon hit .205/.266/.300 in 210 games for the Twins. The only players in the history of the Twins to log more appearances with a lower OPS than Florimon are Jerry Zimmerman and Jim Kaat. Kaat was a pitcher.

• Across baseball this season there have been more than 1,700 games started by pitchers younger than Kyle Gibson. He might be inexperienced and he might be inconsistent, but he's not young.

• By my calculations the Twins have as many as 19 players on the 40-man roster they could cut, although my guess is that they'll keep half of them.

• It's official now: If the Twins don't fire Ron Gardenhire he'll be just the third manager in the history of baseball to keep his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons.

• Last time the Twins won 90 games in back-to-back seasons was 2003/2004. Since then they have a 789-828 record for a .488 winning percentage.

September 22, 2014

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

Jared Burton Twins

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. As one of baseball's worst teams for a fourth straight year the Twins have no shortage of dead weight on the 40-man roster, plus plenty of marginal talents clinging to spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

A.J. Achter: Added to the 40-man roster in September after a nice season between Double-A and Triple-A, the former 46th-round pick debuted at age 26. His success this season was driven largely by an unsustainably great batting average on balls in play and Achter's control has never been particularly good, which along with a high-80s fastball and unspectacular strikeout rates makes him unlikely to project as more than a middle reliever.

Doug Bernier: Last year the Twins called up Bernier to fill a little-used bench role and dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season, which is presumably the plan again this time. He had a solid season at Triple-A, hitting .280/.348/.396 in 124 games, but Bernier is 34 years old and the epitome of a replacement-level player. Great to have stashed at Triple-A, not great to have in the majors or even taking up a spot on the 40-man roster.

Jared Burton: One of the Twins' better scrap-heap pickups, Burton was a high-end setup man for a year-and-a-half before struggling down the stretch last year and showing major signs of decline this season. Dating back to August of last season Burton has a 5.12 ERA and 50/28 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. His velocity is down, he's ceased missing bats, and at age 33 it's hard to see him being trusted enough in a high-leverage role to justify picking up his $3.6 million option for 2015.

Chris Colabello: He was a good story and absolutely deserved a shot in the majors after crushing Triple-A pitching, but Colabello hit .214/.284/.364 with a ghastly 124/34 K/BB ratio in 114 games. He has no defensive value and, unlike most right-handed hitters, his approach at the plate doesn't lend itself to crushing left-handers. At age 31 it's tough to imagine giving him another extended opportunity, especially considering the Twins' depth at first base and designated hitter.

Logan Darnell: It's tough to see Darnell sticking in the big leagues as a starter. He has a 3.82 ERA with a poor strikeout rate and mediocre control in 172 innings at Triple-A, his average fastball so far in the majors is 89 miles per hour, and he struggles against right-handed hitters. At age 25 he may still have a future in the bullpen, but the same could be said of nearly every left-handed starter and there isn't much in his track record to suggest his upside there is notable.

Brian Duensing: It's masked by a strong ERA, but Duensing's secondary numbers collapsed with a 32/20 K/BB ratio in 53 innings. His inability to handle righties means he can't be trusted in the late innings and he's not dominant enough against lefties to be a southpaw specialist. Duensing is a perfectly decent middle reliever, but at age 31 and with an arbitration-fueled raise to at least $3 million coming for his final pre-free agency season he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Tabbed to fill the Drew Butera role as a catcher who can't hit enough to warrant a roster spot, Fryer took over as Kurt Suzuki's backup when the Twins demoted Josmil Pinto to the minors. He's hit .248/.325/.345 in limited MLB action, which is actually much better than his .217/.314/.316 line in 204 games at Triple-A. Even if the Twins are convinced Pinto has no future behind the plate they can do better than Fryer as a second (or third) catcher.

Chris Herrmann: In theory Herrmann brings versatility to the table as a catcher/outfielder, but the Twins want nothing to do with him behind the plate defensively and he doesn't hit enough to have any business in the outfield. He's hit .184/.256/.268 in 91 games for the third-worst OPS in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014, ahead of only Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. And at age 27 his .262/.331/.399 line in 129 games at Triple-A is barely any better.

Kris Johnson: Acquired from the Pirates as part of the Justin Morneau trade, it was never clear why the Twins wanted Johnson unless they focused on his misleadingly good 2.39 ERA at Triple-A last season. He posted another decent-looking 3.48 ERA at Triple-A this year, but managed just 102 strikeouts in 132 innings while walking 3.8 per nine frames. Johnson is 30 years old with 6.2 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings for his career at Triple-A.

Eduardo Nunez: When the Twins acquired Nunez they talked up his offensive potential as if he hadn't hit .267/.313/.379 for the Yankees or had similar numbers in the minors. He's been even worse for the Twins, hitting .251/.274/.385 in 67 games. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as one of the worst shortstops in baseball at 30 runs below average per 150 games and he's looked shaky at third base as well. It's unclear where exactly the upside is with the 27-year-old Nunez.

Lester Oliveros: He hasn't looked good in the majors yet, but Oliveros put together an excellent season between Double-A and Triple-A in his first full year back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He struck out 88 batters in 66 total innings, posting a 1.64 ERA while allowing zero home runs. His control remains spotty, but with a mid-90s fastball and outstanding strikeout rates Oliveros seems deserving of an extended chance. It's just unclear if he'll get that in Minnesota.

Chris Parmelee: Since his big September debut Parmelee has hit .237/.303/.372 in 248 games for the Twins, showing mediocre power while failing to control the strike zone. Good numbers at Triple-A suggested the former first-round pick may have finally figured things out, but he's failed to do anything with semi-regular playing time in three straight seasons and will soon be 27 years old. Why keep waiting for what might be, at best, an average first baseman/corner outfielder?

Mike Pelfrey: Re-signing Pelfrey to a two-year, $12 million deal never made any sense and he allowed 23 runs in 24 innings before being shut down with an elbow injury. He's owed $5.5 million next season, so Pelfrey being cut loose would be a surprise, but he's 12-29 with a 5.00 ERA in 390 innings since 2011, throws one mediocre pitch, and injuries have wiped out two of his last three seasons. He's a sunk cost, but perhaps they can salvage some value out of Pelfrey in the bullpen.

Yohan Pino: When he was a prospect posting great numbers in the minors from 2005-2009 the Twins never called up Pino, but they finally gave him a chance as a 30-year-old journeyman in his second stint with the organization. Pino had an ugly 5.07 ERA in 11 starts and struggles to limit home runs, but his 50/14 K/BB ratio in 60 innings was solid. As the past four seasons have shown there's always plenty of need for rotation depth, but elbow problems cloud his status for 2015.

Ryan Pressly: After spending all of last year in the majors as a Rule 5 pick Pressly spent most of this year at Triple-A, throwing 60 innings with a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio. He throws hard, but it has never led to big strikeout rates and Pressly has just 63 strikeouts 102 innings for the Twins. He has a nice-looking 3.54 ERA and the Twins have been to known to let that sway their opinion more than it should, but at age 26 it's tough to see significant upside.

Stephen Pryor: Acquired from the Mariners in the Kendrys Morales swap/salary dump, Pryor is one of the few players on the 40-man roster not to receive a September call-up. He was once a top reliever prospect with a high-90s fastball, but he's struggled to regain velocity after shoulder surgery. He posted a 3.93 ERA at Triple-A with awful control and just 52 strikeouts in 55 innings. Still just 25 years old, presumably the Twins liked Pryor enough to see what he looks like in 2015.

Jordan Schafer: It seems unlikely that the Twins would get rid of Schafer after how well he's played in 40 games since they claimed him off waivers in early August, but he's the type of player who regularly gets dropped from 40-man rosters. Schafer is a 27-year-old career .230/.312/.311 hitter who also batted just .225/.278/.294 at Triple-A and despite great speed he's a mediocre defensive center fielder. He's a decent fit as a backup outfielder, but that skill set is plentiful.

Anthony Swarzak: After flopping as a starter Swarzak found a fit as a long reliever able to soak up low-leverage innings, but his effectiveness slipped this year and he's due for a raise to around $2 million via arbitration. Swarzak's strikeout rate of 5.2 per nine innings ranks 125th out of the 131 pitchers with at least 50 innings as relievers and his career rate as a reliever is 5.8 per nine innings. His role could be better utilized to break in a young starter.

Aaron Thompson: His flukishly good numbers versus lefties this season caught the Twins' eye and earned him a call-up, but Thompson is a 27-year-old journeyman with a high-80s fastball and a 4.33 ERA in a decade as a minor leaguer. That includes a 3.52 ERA and 107/51 K/BB ratio in 120 innings at Triple-A. Like most reasonably effective lefties he could probably hold his own in a southpaw specialist role, but the Twins should be aiming higher for a Duensing replacement.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

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