Thursday, April 08, 2010

Playing Against the Percentages

I'm generally supportive of Ron Gardenhire. He runs a good clubhouse and you can't argue with the results he's gotten since taking the helm here in Minnesota. With that being said, it is not infrequent that the man makes a completely illogical managerial decision that drives me bonkers. I had been wondering when the first such occasion would arise in this young season; it happened last night, when Gardenhire elected to work Jim Thome into the starting lineup by benching Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young.

Ervin Santana, who started the game for the Angels, was basically a nightmare match-up for Young. Over the course of his career, Young has hit just .232/.266/.308 against "power pitchers" -- a term referring to hurlers who rank among the top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks. That's a category that Santana will typically fall into with his nasty stuff and somewhat shaky control. Additionally, Young has posted a weak .715 OPS against right-handed pitchers, while the righty Santana has been substantially more effective against same-handed batters over the course of his career. It was a fairly obvious instance in which Young should have sat.

Instead, Gardenhire decided to bench Kubel, one of the league's premier hitters against right-handed pitching. Last year, Kubel posted a phenomenal 1.014 OPS against righties, and Santana was clubbed by lefty hitters to the tune of .323/.385/.526. Perfect match-up. Yet, Gardenhire didn't see it that way -- likely because Kubel had previously only managed two hits against Santana in a meaningless 14 at-bat sample.

Giving Thome a start at DH last night was a good choice. Doing so by sitting Kubel against a pitcher he was almost ideally suited to face was astonishingly misguided. Some might argue that it's a moot point, given that the Twins won the game in spite of Young's 0-for-4 performance. But the guiding philosophy behind this decision is a significant flaw in Gardy's managerial approach, and one that is likely to manifest repeatedly throughout the season.

Gardenhire's a good manager overall, but he's far from perfect. Last night, we were reminded of that. Fortunately, the Twins still won, reminding us that -- while impactful -- singular lineup decisions don't determine who wins and loses games. The players do. Hopefully Kubel will be back in the lineup to help the Twins win tonight with another right-hander on the hill.

11 comments:

Zach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick N. said...

A 14 at-bat sample size is meaningless, regardless of how he performed in them. Kubel has a much, much larger body of work against right-handers in general to suggest that he's a pretty good bet against someone like Santana.

thrillho said...

Zach, 14 AB's is a small sample size no matter the outcome.

thrillho said...

Or what Nick said.

steven said...

Also, putting in Harris against Pineiro, and Punto against Saunders. Just silly. And yes, I still think this after Harris hit a bomb of Pineiro.

Leslie said...

I am still wondering why Gardenhire pitched Brian Freakin' Bass in a tight game at Fenway late in the game. My guess is that Gardy wanted Bass out of the team so he put him in a position to fail. That had to be it. I did not think Gardy cared for Bass back then.

As for last night, I had no problem with benching Kubel and playing Young. Delmon Young needs to get playing time. If he gets benched, Gardenhire runs the risk of losing him for good. I thought Young did okay in the series against Anaheim.

SoCalTwinsfan said...

I totally agree about starting Delmon. As for Punto and Harris, it looks like he's sticking with Punto as the starter, but he'll make lineup changes based on defense hear more than offense. Slowey started last night, and he is an extreme flyball pitcher, so Harris got the start. Also, since Thome started over Delmon, the Twins already were starting six lefty/switch hitters, so Harris kind of prevented too much of a left-handed lineup. When Saunders started against the Twins, the Twins started Blackburn, who gets more ground balls than any Twins starter, except for Liriano when he's right, so keeping Punto in kept the better defender in for more ground balls.

Agreed said...

Ugh, Gardy sitting Kubel drove me nuts too. I couldn't believe it. Kubs was arguably a top 10 hitter in the AL last year, and to sit him the 3rd game is just ridiculous. Killed me. Hopefully Kubs is confident in his place with the team, but I could see how this might shake him a bit. He doesn't get a hit in his first two games, and bam, he's sitting the 3rd. The last thing we want is for Kubs, who may or may not be a touch fragile, looking over his shoulder at potential replacements. That probably won't happen, but why risk it?

Anonymous said...

"With that being said, it is not infrequent that the man makes a completely illogical managerial decision that drives me bonkers."

The arrogance of you Stat worshipers is astounding.

Although the angst is often worth a good laugh, from time to time.

It might be useful, if you folks kept a "stat" of how often you are incorrect. I suspect it would rank right down near Mr. Gardenhire's lamented record.

First, I have no problem with anyone's opinion, that's what makes the world go round. I'd take your prescience a bit more seriously once the "stats" guys can give me an at bat by at bat preview of the upcoming game and get it 10-15% correct for 3 games running. I mean, with all the designer stats available, that should be a piece of cake, right?

End of Rant.

David "the Dragon" McGraw

Jacob said...

Let me break this thing down for you from a manager's perspective.

Gardy knows Kubel hits righties better than Delmon. Everyone does.

Gardy is committed to getting Delmon 50% or more of the starts in left. Debating this logic is for another thread. Let's just accept that he has committed to this.

There are more right handed pitchers in the league than left handed pitchers. Delmon has to occasionally start against a RHP if he is to start 50% (probably more actually) of the games.

Gardy has to focus on the best situations in which to do this. 95% of the time Kubel will be the better statistical offensive choice against a righty. That part is irrelevant.

So how does he decide? Well, you look in advance and see who is on tap. You circle the names of pitchers that Kubel and/or Thome have dominated in the past. You have to make sure they play against these dudes.

Then, you pick times to bench Kubel or Thome from the names left. Since Kubel is 2-14 with limited at bats against Ervin Santana that was probably as good of a starter as any.

Gardy is not "astonishingly misguided". He is an intelligent and thoughtful manager. He is making moves based on complex strategy, ego's, health, player development and a crapload of other factors. It is just so much deeper than looking at two numbers and picking the big one.

There will be a time for that come playoffs. For now the team wants Delmon getting lathered up and the only way to do that is to occasionally bench Kubel or Thome against right handed starting pitchers.

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