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.

July 11, 2013

Twins Notes: Gardenhire, Gibson, Tonkin, Perkins, Morneau, and Colabello

ron gardenhire ejected

• With the Twins free-falling toward a third straight 90-loss season and Ron Gardenhire's job security becoming a popular topic locally I wondered how many managers in baseball history have avoided being fired after three consecutive 90-loss seasons. I knew there was at least one in Tom Kelly, but Jacob Pomrenke of SABR looked up the data for me and found that it's happened a total of eight times since 1945:

Larry Rothschild     Rays       1998-2000
Felipe Alou          Expos      1998-2000
Tom Kelly            Twins      1997-2000
Joe Torre            Mets       1978-1980
Darrell Johnson      Mariners   1977-1979
Preston Gomez        Padres     1969-1971
Casey Stengel        Mets       1962-1964
Zack Taylor          Browns     1948-1951

Four of the eight managers who kept their jobs after three consecutive 90-loss seasons were from expansion teams, so tons of losing was expected/accepted. And five of the eight managers who stuck around after three straight 90-loss seasons were fired by the middle of the next year. Kelly managed the Twins to four 90-loss seasons in a row from 1997-2000 and then went 85-77 in 2001, at which point he stepped down from the job at age 50 and was replaced by Gardenhire.

• After a solid debut Kyle Gibson has struggled in back-to-back starts, leaving him with a 7.27 ERA and 10-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings. Among all pitchers in Twins history through three career starts Gibson allowed the most hits (23) and second-most earned runs (14). LaTroy Hawkins is the only Twins pitcher to allow more earned runs in his first three starts and he's had a 19-year career, although all of his success came after shifting to the bullpen.

It's silly to analyze three starts too much, but Gibson has been done in by a .377 batting average on balls in play and nearly half the runners he's put on base coming around to score. Fortunately neither of those rates are sustainable and the good news is that he's averaged 92.5 miles per hour with his fastball while inducing 54 percent ground balls and has yet to allow a homer. And despite a modest strikeout total his swinging strike percentage is slightly above average.

Caleb Thielbar going on bereavement leave means Michael Tonkin will be getting his first taste of the majors at age 23. Early on Tonkin's biggest claim to fame was being Jason Kubel's brother-in-law, but since shifting to the bullpen in 2011 the 6-foot-7 right-hander has emerged as a high-upside reliever with dominant numbers to match his mid-90s fastball. Dating back to last season Tonkin has a 2.17 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 99 innings.

That includes a 1.85 ERA with zero homers allowed and a 46-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, so if Tonkin makes a good first impression the Twins may decide to keep him around at the expense of someone else in the bullpen. Either way, Tonkin is one of the most promising reliever prospects the Twins have had in a long time and it's easy to imagine him setting up for Glen Perkins at some point next season.

• As a follow-up to Perkins encouraging the Twins to use him more often in non-save situations, just 40 percent of his batters faced this season have come in "high leverage" situations compared to 43 percent in "low leverage" situations. By holding him back for save situations that often never materialize the Twins limit Perkins' overall workload, forcing lesser relievers into crucial spots, and end up using him in unimportant spots just to keep him from getting rusty.

But apparently they haven't started listening to Perkins yet. Last night the Twins lost a 13-inning game to the Rays in which they used six different relievers, but not their All-Star closer. Rule 5 pick Ryan Pressly, who's served as a mop-up man for most of the season, took the loss while Perkins went unused because it wasn't a so-called "save situation." Of the seven relievers who've been with the Twins all season Perkins has thrown the fewest innings. Saves are a helluva drug.

Justin Morneau has finally started to show a little power with four homers in 11 games after totaling six homers in his previous 115 games dating back to last year, but his overall production hasn't improved. It's hard to imagine there being much of a trade market for the impending free agent, but getting a compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere this winter is also no longer really an option for the Twins because he'd probably just accept the $15 million qualifying offer.

It's possible that Morneau would be willing to take a major pay cut to remain in Minnesota beyond this season, but do the Twins really want to block various young, cheap hitters with a 32-year-old first baseman who's hit just .259 with a .321 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage in 285 games since 2011? That's a harsh reality considering his decline began with a concussion, but even at half of his current $14 million salary Morneau just doesn't make much sense to retain.

• If the Twins do trade Morneau before he walks as a free agent Chris Colabello deserves a long look in his place. After a so-so season at Double-A last year Colabello has crushed Triple-A this season, hitting .357/.435/.656 with 23 homers, 22 doubles, and 41 walks in 81 games. Colabello is 29 years old and was signed out of an independent league, so he's hardly a top prospect, but he leads the International League in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and homers.

Maybe that won't translate to the big leagues, but one of the only benefits to being a bad team is that the Twins are in a position to find out. At worst Colabello struggles and gets written off as a Triple-A player as the Twins continue their march toward another 90-loss season, but he might also prove to be a decent stop-gap first baseman while making just $500,000. And if nothing else he'd give them a right-handed bat to help balance a very left-handed lineup.

Josh Willingham limped around on a bum knee for a month before finally being placed on the disabled list amid reports that he planned to avoid surgery and return after the minimum 15 days. Instead literally the next day it was announced that he'd undergo surgery and miss 4-6 weeks, which is definitely on the optimistic side for a torn meniscus. And sadly all of that has become a pretty standard injury progression for the Twins during the past three seasons.

Willingham hit just .250/.337/.325 in June with even worse defense than usual, making him one of the worst all-around players in baseball. Allowing him to play at what was clearly less than full strength hurt the team, hurt Willingham, and now leaves the Twins with little chance to trade him. We may never know what they could have gotten in exchange for him last July or this offseason, but as someone who implored the Twins to shop Willingham around it's a question that looms.

Aaron Hicks' season totals still look awful, but that's what happens when you start 2-for-48. Since then he's hit .249/.301/.462 with seven homers in 50 games, which is actually pretty damn impressive for a 23-year-old center fielder. He continues to strike out a ton and Hicks has stopped walking, but here's a list of all the 23-year-old center fielders to slug .450 or higher in the last 10 years: Colby Rasmus, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, Chris Young, Grady Sizemore.

I still think it was a mistake to hand Hicks the Opening Day job without any experience at Triple-A and it's a shame that he's going to burn through an entire season of service time when that wasn't necessary, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he's turned things around following one of the most brutal starts to a career you'll ever see. Even his defense has graded out much better recently and he's done some nice work as a baserunner.

P.J. Walters is a 28-year-old with a 6.28 ERA in the big leagues and a 4.45 ERA at Triple-A, so he predictably passed through waivers unclaimed after being designated for assignment to make room for Gibson's arrival and Mike Pelfrey's return. Walters accepted the assignment, so he'll stay with the Twins at Triple-A while no longer being on the 40-man roster. This is the second time in two years none of the other 29 teams claimed Walters off waivers.

• Since being called up from Triple-A in July of last year Casey Fien has thrown 71 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 71-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while holding opponents to a .187 batting average. Last offseason the Twins signed Fien to a minor-league deal and based on his track record in the minors he looked like a potentially useful middle reliever, but the 29-year-old right-hander been a whole lot more than that so far.

• After last night's loss the Twins are 37-51, which puts them on pace to go 68-94. At this same point in the season they were 36-52 in 2012 and 40-48 in 2011, so not much has changed.

Brian Dozier since June 1: .264/.386/.500 with six homers, eight doubles and as many walks (19) as strikeouts (19) in 35 games. Six weeks are six weeks, but it's a sign of life.

• Twins Daily blogger and "Gleeman and The Geek" regular Parker Hageman wrote a good guest column for Baseball Prospectus about how the Twins develop their prospects.

• For a lot more about Willingham's injury situation, Walters' exit, Dozier's nice run, and the many former Twins on the All-Star team check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

July 26, 2012

Minnesota fashion icons of the 1980s

Just in case you read yesterday's "Twins Notes" post and thought Tom Kelly was the only one who looked amazing wearing Zubaz back in the 1980s ...

I wasn't much into cigar smoking back then, but the white limousine is a nice touch.

July 25, 2012

Twins Notes: Deadline duds, spreadsheet nerds, back hair, and Zubaz

• In what may have been his final start in a Twins uniform Francisco Liriano turned in a clunker Monday night in Chicago, failing to make it out of the third inning while the White Sox got to him for seven runs. Coming into the game Liriano had gone at least five innings in every start since April 27, but he allowed three homers in 2.2 innings after allowing a total of three homers in his previous 71 innings.

Obviously one bad start isn't likely to significantly impact someone's trade value and even with the ugly outing Liriano has a 3.68 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 starts since rejoining the rotation in late May. Still, it was rough timing considering he has a maximum of one more start before the July 31 trade deadline and at least a half-dozen scouts were on hand to file reports to interested teams.

In terms of what the Twins might actually get for Liriano, the Marlins' haul for fellow impending free agent starter Anibal Sanchez offers some clues. Miami sent Sanchez and good but not great infielder Omar Infante to Detroit for a three-prospect package led by 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner, a 2009 first-round pick who ranked among Baseball America's top 30 prospects in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Fans should be thrilled with a Turner-like prospect.

• On a related note, this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode featured me arguing with John Bonnes about whether or not Liriano's trade value was likely to continue rising if the Twins held off making a trade until right before the deadline.

Terry Ryan made it clear he'll be looking for high-upside prospects rather than MLB-ready prospects at the trade deadline, which is good to hear. Putting a decent team on the field for 2013 would be nice, but taking a short-term view of a long-term problem would be a mistake and Ryan deserves credit for recognizing that even when he might not be general manager for the long haul. They simply need talent and putting any limits on that search is silly.

• Two weeks ago Glen Perkins publicly outed himself as a Fan Graphs-reading, batting average on balls in play-quoting stat-head, which means he's now subject to the same anti-sabermetrics taunting that lowly bloggers like me have long endured on a regular basis. Case in point, this Twitter exchange between Perkins and a media member bully following Monday night's game in which Twins hitters grounded into five double plays:

Nerds are the worst, amirite?

Carlos Gutierrez has been limited to 10 appearances at Triple-A due to shoulder problems and now the 2008 first-round pick may be out until next season following arthroscopic surgery. If healthy Gutierrez still projects as a potential ground ball-getting middle reliever, but with a 4.90 ERA in 257 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his on-field performance has never matched the Twins' frequent touting of his raw stuff and he'll be 26 years old in September.

Brett Jacobson, the minor-league reliever acquired from the Orioles along with Jim Hoey for J.J. Hardy, has been released. Jacobson was always a marginal prospect and completely fell apart at Double-A this season, walking 45 batters and allowing 41 runs in 42 innings. Hoey was lost on waivers to the Blue Jays back in December, so the Twins officially got zero value out of the Hardy trade that was all kinds of misguided even if they'd gotten a better return.

Jason Kubel had a three-homer game this week and is hitting .297/.368/.577 with 21 home runs and an NL-leading 71 RBIs for the Diamondbacks, but it's tough to blame the Twins for letting him walk. Ryan Doumit has matched his Twins production at a fraction of the cost and Kubel has hit .257/.320/.414 away from Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark. And for all the talk about Target Field killing Kubel's power he hit .275/.335/.450 on the road in 2010-2011.

• I'm not saying this couldn't have been me, but it wasn't me:

My favorite part? Someone else had to do the sculpting of that Joe Mauer back-hair jersey.

• It's too bad that so much of Chris Parmelee's season has been spent collecting dust on the Twins' bench, because when given a chance to play regularly at Triple-A for the first time in his career he's been very impressive. Parmelee, who initially skipped Triple-A to begin this season in the majors, has hit .302/.446/.510 with four homers, eight doubles, and more walks (24) than strikeouts (18) in 28 games for Rochester.

• In their never-ending search for pitching depth the Twins have signed Eric Hurley, a former first-round pick who was released from Triple-A by the Angels. Hurley is still just 26 years old and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects in both 2007 and 2008, but hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008 and has a 5.43 ERA in 60 career starts at Triple-A. He's purely depth for Rochester at this point.

Trevor Plouffe's thumb injury is a shame, because even after his power binge of 13 homers in 22 games came to an end in mid-June he's hit .283/.354/.460 with five homers, five doubles, and 11 walks in 26 games since. And overall since carrying a .133 batting average into May 15 he's hit .296/.344/.618 with 18 homers in 52 games.

• When asked by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com if the Twins are shopping Josh Willingham an unnamed general manager replied: "He's out there if you want to pay, like, forever."

Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune passes along the best Tom Kelly picture ever:

I'm waiting for Zubaz to make a comeback. Maybe we can get hipsters to wear them ironically?

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

April 25, 2012

Twins Notes: Hughes, Liriano, Revere, Ortiz, Kelly, Capps, and Sano

• Last year after 18 games the Twins were 6-12 and had been outscored 88-54. This year they're 5-13 and have been outscored 102-65 for MLB's worst run differential. And dating back to the final 10 games of the 2010 regular season the Twins are now 70-123 (.363).

Designated for assignment by the Twins last week, Luke Hughes was claimed off waivers by the A's and is getting an opportunity for regular playing time at third base. Hughes manned third base in just 14 of his 74 total starts for the Twins, but actually played there more than any other position in the minors. That didn't stop him from committing three errors in his first 10 innings at third base for the A's and his bat remains iffy for the position.

• On this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode we wondered what the Twins would do with Francisco Liriano following his latest ugly outing and their answer, for now at least, is to use an off day on the schedule to skip his turn in the rotation. Liriano will basically take a week off from game action, with bullpen sessions scheduled for Thursday and Saturday, and then will start May 1 versus the Angels. And if that goes poorly, things could get interesting in a hurry.

• Since the beginning of last year the Twins are 12-16 (.429) when Liriano starts and 56-96 (.368) when anyone else starts. He's clearly a problem, but he's not exactly the problem. In fact, Twins starters not named Liriano have a 5.83 ERA and just 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings while allowing 17 homers and a .307 opponents' batting average in 78.2 innings. Is it against the rules for a team to skip every member of the rotation for the entire season?

Josh Willingham is taking a paternity leave for a few days and to fill his roster spot the Twins have recalled Ben Revere from Triple-A, where he went 6-for-27 (.222) with zero extra-base hits and zero walks in six games. His initial replacement, Clete Thomas, is 4-for-21 (.182) with 13 strikeouts while oddly seeing far more playing time than Revere was getting before the demotion.

David Ortiz launching a massive homer off a Twins pitcher last night while Tom Kelly looked on from the broadcast booth brought back memories of this 2006 article by Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

David Ortiz has his own theories about the Twins' struggle for home run power. Mostly, he blames Tom Kelly. And when Ortiz speaks, he packs the punch of a one-time Twins discard who blossomed into a home run-hitting star with the Boston Red Sox. So, why haven't the Twins had a player hit 30 home runs since 1987?

"Because they're stupid," Ortiz said. "You take a hard swing, and the manager [Kelly] was screaming at you from the dugout, 'Hey! Hey!' Then you finish the season with 10 homers. They ask you what happened, why you don't hit for power?"

There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but six years later Ortiz is hitting .444/.486/.714 and "the Twins' struggle for home run power" is still a thing.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel won a spot in the MLB Fan Cave and recently wrote an MLB.com article about her experience there, including a visit from Joe Mauer, Matt Capps, Brian Duensing, and Liam Hendriks when the Twins were in New York last week.

Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press used to cover the Nationals when Capps was their closer and wrote a good article about how things have changed for the worse. Capps has now served up 12 homers in his last 66 innings dating back to last season.

• Liriano, Hughes, Nick Blackburn, Matt Maloney, Chris Parmelee, and Danny Valencia had the Twins' most impressive spring training performances. Something to remember next March.

Justin Morneau is 0-for-16 against lefties and 13-for-42 (.310) with four homers and a 1.100 OPS against righties.

• Mauer started the season 1-for-10. Since then he's hitting .351 with a .440 on-base percentage and has yet to sit out a game.

Jared Burton has been one of the few bright spots for the Twins' pitching staff and Mike Axisa of Fan Graphs took an interesting look at his changeup-splitter hybrid pitch.

No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers battled back from extreme control problems to finish last season on a high note, but now he's on the disabled list at Double-A with a strained elbow.

No. 1 prospect Miguel Sano, two weeks shy of his 19th birthday, has hit .292/.432/.662 with six homers, four doubles, and 15 walks through 19 games at low Single-A, where he's the sixth-youngest player in the entire Midwest League.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Snap Fitness in Uptown, which offers convenient and affordable workouts with industry best equipment. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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