Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Twins settle on continuity with Gardenhire

How many teams in Major League Baseball would give a two year extension to a manager whose team has had two identical 66-96 seasons in a row? I cannot think of many. Thus, it was somewhat surprising that the Minnesota Twins gave Ron Gardenhire a two-year extension. After reading the link provided to you here, I can understand some of the thinking behind the Twins' decision. What I am still unsure about is whether or not I buy into the decision.

One of the difficult things about writing a piece like this is not really knowing the situation as a "blogger" versus being a beat writer who knows the organization better. For example, I cannot write with certainty over where the Twins' organizational philosophy of starting pitching comes from. The perception is that it comes from Gardenhire. But is that true? The only nuggets or hints of that being the case are his famous statements back in the day about Francisco Liriano throwing too many strikeouts. But is that a smoking gun?

The facts are that the Twins' pitching staffs have finished dead last in pitching strikeouts in the American League for three straight seasons. And the two previous seasons before that, the Twins finished tenth out of fourteen AL teams. In an era that has seen the strikeout become more prevalent everywhere, the Twins have refused to join the party.

Preventing walks has also been part of that philosophy. And to a degree, they have been successful. Since 2009, they have finished first, first, sixth, sixth and third in the American League in preventing walks.

Whether Gardenhire is behind this organizational philosophy or it can be attributed to someone else, it obviously is not working. Think of the pitchers the team has brought in over the last several seasons. Guys like Carl Pavano, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and others are all of the low strikeout rate ilk.

Then you have pitchers they have developed and brought to the Majors like P.J. Walters, Andrew Albers, Liam Hendriks, Scott Diamond and Anthony Swarzak. There is not a strikeout pitcher among them. And their minor league system continues the same way.

At the Triple-A level, their top seven pitchers in games started feature strikeout rates from 4.3 to 7.9 with five other rates in between. At the Double-A level, Trevor May and Alex Meyer average over nine strikeouts per nine. The rest are in the 3.8 to 7.1 range. At the Advanced A level, their pitchers with the most amount of starts range from 4.4 to 6.5 strikeouts per nine.

So in their top three minor league levels, they have two starting pitchers with a K/9 rate over 7.9. This is a pitch-to-contact-limit-walk philosophy. As the last couple of seasons have shown, this is not the new market inefficiency.

It is clear that the Minnesota Twins need to do something different. Their acquisitions from the outside and their drafting on the inside has to include the possibility that a guy is going to strike people out. Retaining Ron Gardenhire and his entire staff seems to work opposite of fixing what has been an organizational problem.

But perhaps those philosophies are not Gardenhire's fault or that of his staff. Perhaps removing him would not solve the problem. Perhaps the fault lies elsewhere in their organization. I just don't know enough to validly answer. But from the linked piece, Gardenhire's bosses don't see him as the problem and say they need to get him better pitching. And pitching is just one aspect of the organization's failure.

Let's just conclude that Gardenhire would not have survived two such seasons just about anywhere else. Twins fans are restless and did not receive the news very well (for the most part). Time will tell if the Twins made the right call.

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