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.