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 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 19, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Delmon Young is on a playoff team for the sixth straight season and he has a postseason motto: "Keep your booty loose."

• Stoned Oven Gourmet Pizzas is a solid enough name, but given the product being offered I'd have probably gone with something simple like The Pizza Joint.

• If you only read one article this week about having sex in prison, make it this one.

• Only twice in the history of baseball has a manager not lost his job following four consecutive 90-loss seasons, so why should Ron Gardenhire be the third to keep his job?

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we shared a few beers with our guest, Twins beat reporter Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who had a lot of interesting stuff to say about covering the team and interacting with Gardenhire on a daily basis.

• Two weeks ago on "Gleeman and The Geek" we used the phrase "naughty postman" and John Bonnes jokingly encouraged listeners to send in photo-shopped pictures of me. Several of them actually did it, including me as Cliff Clavin and me as an adult movie star and also these two.

Charles Barkley's ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field went poorly:

And yet, still better than his golf swing.

• Wanna go golfing, support a good cause, and possibly win Vikings-Packers tickets? Check out the Todd R.W. Andrews Memorial Golf Tournament on September 27. There's a best-ball scramble tournament followed by dinner and a raffle where "all golfers will be entered for a chance to win tickets to the Vikings vs. Packers game on November 23." Proceeds go to cancer research.

Barry Bonds is already making excellent use of Twitter after joining last week.

• I'm burnt out on the Derek Jeter tributes at this point, but Bryan Hoch of MLB.com wrote about his coffee-drinking routine and it was a surprisingly fun read.

• After 20 years together the Twins have ditched the New Britain Rock Cats for the Chattanooga Lookouts, moving their Double-A affiliate from the Eastern League to the Southern League.

Rihanna is too good for the NFL anyway.

• NFL admits that brain trauma will affect one in three players and at "notably younger ages" than the general population.

• In addition to plenty of other sad quotes, Adrian Peterson's mother says "when you whip those you love it's not about abuse, but love."

• For some reason I'm entranced by videos like this one, showing all of Jose Altuve's hits this season in four minutes:

Altuve is on pace for the most hits in a season by someone other than Ichiro Suzuki since Darin Erstad in 2000.

Ben Revere has two home runs this season, which is two more home runs than I thought he'd ever hit, but it's still funny to read about the Phillies wanting him to hit for more power.

• As a "Top Chef" fanatic I'll definitely be watching Tom Colicchio's new show on Bravo, which will hopefully include some Gail Simmons cameo appearances.

• I'm less enthused about Richard Blais' new show on Food Network, but I'll give it a try because Blais is great and also I watch almost anything on Food Network not involving Guy Fieri.

• Friend of AG.com Mandy Lee is doing food stuff and interviews for City Pages. Perfect fit.

• New brunch spot recommendation: Libertine, which even offers Glam Doll donuts.

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

- "Why doesn't Glen Perkins shave?"
- "How did David Caruso lose 305 pounds?"
- "Get ride of Joe Nathan"
- "Brian Harper's brother"
- "Hugely fat guy on a plane"
- "Why would you eat brown rice?"
- "Jerome Felton girlfriend"
- "Chopped strategy"
- "Pedro Florimon can't hit"

• Finally, in honor of the debates about Gardenhire's job status this week's AG.com-approved music video is Irreplaceable" by Beyonce:


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 17, 2014

Should the Twins fire Ron Gardenhire?

Ron Gardenhire Twins

I started writing about the Twins during Ron Gardenhire's rookie season as manager, 2002, and for that entire time some fans have called for him to be fired. Such is life as an MLB manager, but now that winning division titles on a regular basis has given way to losing 95 games per season on a regular basis the fringe of Twins fandom has become the people thinking Gardenhire should be allowed to stick around rather than the people calling for Gardenhire to be fired.

I've never called for Gardenhire to be fired and I probably never will. That's just not my style and it has nothing to do with Gardenhire. However, anyone who's read this blog for any length of time surely knows that I'm not a Gardenhire fan and even during the Twins' run of success his batting orders, lack of platooning, small-ball tactics, public call-outs of young players, and various other traits never fit my personal managing ideal.

Once upon a time my criticisms of Gardenhire were met with people taking me to task for having the gall to question the manager of a consistent winning team, but now those same criticisms of Gardenhire--and surprisingly little has changed in terms of what irks me about him--are met with people taking me to task for not being harsh enough toward the manager of a consistent losing team. Such is life as a baseball blogger, I suppose.

Here's the thing, though: Gardenhire has managed the Twins to four straight 90-loss seasons and possibly four straight 95-loss seasons. Only two managers in baseball history have kept their jobs after four straight 90-loss seasons. One was Connie Mack, who did so with the Philadelphia A's from 1940-1943 and also happened to own the team. The other was Tom Kelly, who did so with the Minnesota Twins from 1997-2000 and also happened to be the manager Gardenhire replaced.

In addition to owning the team that continued to employee him as manager Mack was, at the time of his four straight 90-loss seasons, an 80-year-old five-time World Series winner and nine-time pennant winner with more than 3,000 career victories. Kelly didn't have quite that same level of job security, but it was pretty close and for fairly good reason: He managed the Twins to a pair of World Series titles before all the sustained losing started.

Gardenhire is not the owner of the team, nor does he have multiple World Series titles. In fact, during his 13 seasons as manager the Twins have never gotten to the World Series and have advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once, in his first season on the job. His career record is barely above .500 in the regular season and 6-21 in the postseason. He's managed the Twins to 90 or more wins just once since 2007.

Even his 2002-2010 run of six division titles in nine seasons came at a time when the American League Central was extremely weak and often there for the taking with only 87-92 wins despite the unbalanced schedule keeping the more powerful divisions away. You can only play the teams on your schedule and certainly the Twins took advantage of their good fortunate, but "six division titles in nine seasons" was, at the very least, propped up by mediocre competition.

In the entire history of baseball there are a grand total of two instances of a manager keeping his job after four consecutive 90-loss seasons and both cases included circumstances which clearly do not apply to Gardenhire. He doesn't own the team, he doesn't have a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, and his pre-losing run of success is not World Series titles but rather division titles against weak competition followed by historic ineptitude in the postseason. Why should he be the third?

Forget for a moment how much responsibility for four consecutive 90-loss seasons should fall on Gardenhire's shoulders versus the front office. Forget for a moment whether you think a different manager could have coaxed these awful teams to slightly less awful records. Here is the far more important question: If and when the Twins re-emerge as contenders is Gardenhire the manager you want at the helm to get the most out of that new core of young talent?


For a lengthy Gardenhire discussion featuring a reporter who's covered him for years, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode with Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

August 22, 2014

Link-O-Rama

Ron Gardenhire admitted to knowing of Fan Graphs and, despite this being 2014 and his being a highly paid baseball manager, everyone was rightfully shocked. Which is funny, but also not.

• I mean, did someone really "fake their own death" if one phone call to their parents immediately blows up the entire scheme?

• The American Reader examined how "bae" became a thing people say.

Phil Hughes, Ace. (Seriously.)

• One of my favorite writers, Gaby Dunn, put together an amusing Jezebel post about "ghosting" people via text, which I've regretfully done twice and constantly feel guilty about.

Pat Neshek gave up his number so John Lackey could keep wearing No. 41 after being traded from the Red Sox to the Cardinals and in return he received a ball autographed by Babe Ruth.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I finally got rid of John Bonnes.

• Comedy Central just made the entire first season of "Broad City" available online and I liked it so much I'm re-watching the whole thing. Here's a scene featuring Hannibal Buress:

Ilana and Lincoln might be the best couple on television.

• You'd think people mistakenly getting into random cars believing they'd paid the driver to pick them up would be crazy, but as someone who now uses Uber and Lyft regularly it makes sense.

Chipper Jones randomly bumped into Manny Ramirez at the Des Moines airport.

• Indians righty Corey Kluber came out of nowhere to become one of baseball's best pitchers and Jordan Bastian of MLB.com deftly mixed reporting and analysis to see how that happened.

• Good job, y'all. Negative feedback made Blue Plate Restaurants get rid of the "minimum wage" fee and increase their servers' base pay.

• This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" guest co-host, Parker Hageman, has his own podcast called "The No Juice Podcast" and I generally find it very amusing.

• Another catcher whose career may be in jeopardy due to concussions from foul tips.

• Thought Catalog occasionally has some interesting stuff and has given quite a few good writers their first sizable audience, but things have gotten pretty disgusting there lately.

• Sadly, it didn't work.

• Friend of AG.com Dana Wessel is back writing his weekly Premier League column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website.

• New Bohemia in Northeast has been a big supporter of "Gleeman and The Geek" and now the beer-and-sausage house is opening a second location in Golden Valley.

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

- "Roy Smalley, baseball player"
- "Your favorite Coen brothers movies"
- "What is Scott Ullger good at?"
- "Sad guy sitting alone in restaurant"
- "How much does Joe Nathan make per inning?"
- "Where did Nick Blackburn go?"
- "Are the suites at Target Field air-conditioned?"
- "Weight loss Zubaz"

• Finally, in honor of the Twins Daily light rail pub crawl Saturday this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Fast Train" by Solomon Burke:


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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