Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Managing To Win

By throttling the Royals 10-3 at Target Field last night for their fifth straight victory, the Twins were able to expand their lead in the AL Central to 4 1/2 games, thanks to a White Sox loss in Detroit. Having built up a seven-game lead over the Rangers in the win/loss column, the Twins' latest hot streak has helped ensure that they'll get home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs should they get there. By quietly moving within 2 1/2 games of the Rays in the standings, the Twins have also positioned themselves for a possible wild card berth in the event that the Sox manage to overtake them in the AL Central.

That the Twins have gotten to this point is impressive. That they've done it without the services of Justin Morneau almost defies belief.

Consider this: When Kendry Morales seriously injured his knee while celebrating a walk-off home run back on May 29, the Angels were 3 1/2 games out in the AL West. He hasn't played since, and the Angels now find themselves 9 1/2 games out in September -- effectively eliminated from the postseason.

The Twins were 1 1/2 games out after Morneau suffered a concussion on July 7. But instead of folding faced with the loss of their best hitter, the Twins regrouped and made a second-half charge with help from a number of contributors who were able to step up. Now, they find themselves in the favorable situation I described above.

Morneau and Morales both served as key sluggers in the middle of their respective lineups. Both are widely viewed as elite players; Morales finished fifth in the AL MVP voting last year, while Morneau finished second the year before. Both injuries were flukes, but both were the type that could potentially ruin a season.

The Twins deserve a lot of credit for refusing to fall apart despite Morneau's lingering absence. He's been gone for so long now that it's hard to remember, but the Canadian slugger essentially carried the Twins offense through the first couple months of the season. When he went down, Morneau led the league in OPS and was looking more locked in at the plate than ever before in his career. He was an MVP front-runner, and yet somehow the Twins have managed to sustain his loss without flinching.

The Twins are on pace to win 96 games. They rank first in the American League in batting average. Third in OPS. Fourth in runs per game. They've done this without Morneau -- who was the league's best hitter -- for 40 percent of the season. That is some kind of amazing.

A multitude of factors have made it possible. Joe Mauer hit .400 in the weeks following the All-Star break, picking his game up when the team was in desperate need. The value of Michael Cuddyer, who has played a very decent first base while contributing with the bat, has been underrated. Jim Thome has somehow morphed back into one of the league's most feared hitters at the age of 40, while making $1.5 million (can someone get Bill Smith a trophy already?). The Twins are getting production from third base that they never expected.

And on top of it all, there's a captain who's been holding the leaking ship together, just like he did last year when the Twins lost their star slugger down the stretch. Managers get judged by fans based on a lot of trivial minutia, but ultimately it comes down to winning and Ron Gardenhire has overseen an awful lot of winning. This year, he's paced to lead a flawed and injury-riddled team to 96 wins and a sixth division title in nine years.

Bill Smith's trophy can wait. This year, I think Gardy deserves his.


Nicole Margaret said...

Awesome. I think Gardy is brilliant and glad to see him recognized as such. He has his faults but as Twins fans, I think we're just plain lucky to have him at the helm.

Anonymous said...

Gardy really is a great manager who's moves also go unnoticed. I think he really knows how to get a lot out of players.

He benched Mauer for a while to rest him up and then he went on a tear. Butera played confidently and held the team together. I think a lot of managers would have kept playing Mauer, an elite player, at catcher and his slump may have continued.

I think more than anything Gardy is able to balance the benefits of a matchup with the long term affects of how he plays guys.

Think of Delmon early in the year. People were saying that dude has to sit cause he sucks. Gardy kept marching him out, even against righties. With his defense I'd say his overall ability is just over average. But if he was getting benched against every righty early this year he'd be nothing right now. And Thome might be worn out already.

I don't know. Gardy just knows how to manage a baseball team. Stats are fun and have their place but there is definately a balance. Gardy might be too far to the non-stat side of that balance but he's still pretty good with it.

Anonymous said...

when the team isn't playing well, it's never gardy's fault because he "can't play the game for them," but when they are playing well, he deserves tons of credit?

Matt said...

He's a talented manager of young guys. Not sure how he'd fit on a team packed with high buck veterans, but as far as getting something out of young guys or getting guys to over achieve (think Nicky Punto's 2006 .285 batting average), he's top notch.
I think he lacks creativity in the "in-game" realm sometimes and he gets out managed from time to time, but the guys like playing for him and that counts for a lot.

Ben said...

Let's talk after Gardenhire wins some series in the postseason as he can usually get there, but then manages to not be able to get past the big dogs.

rghrbek said...


Cuddy has been more than adequate? He is not an adequate first baseman. He cannot pick a ball or move laterally. Just because a guy bats over .280 while playing 50 games there, with no power or rbi (relatively speaking), does not means he is more than adequate. We could get the same production there out of Jose Morales (well, maybe a taller JM) with much better fielding results.

Agree with Ben, let's wait until the post season before we shower Gardy with love.

Ed Bast said...

Gardy's a good regular season manager, especially when he can play the "little engine that could" card. He's a good fit for a small market team, like the Twins used to be, whose season goals begin and end with a division title.

He is not a good postseason manager. Give him all the "trophies" you want, but if you want to give him credit for steering the ship in the regular season, you've got to give him some of the blame for these postseason shipwrecks.

I'll wait to see what happens this postseason before handing out any trophies. I can already hear the excuses, though. "Well, we didn't have Morneau, how could we really be expected to win a playoff series?"

Dave Nelson said...

Michael Cuddyer has a 1b uzr of -4.4 in a partial year so far. While thats an improvement over his putrid outfield defense its still bad. I wouldn't call well below average defense at the lowest leverage defensive position "very decent". He has an ops of .763 which is 100 points lower than his output last season, and has an wRC+ of 108 which rates his hitting as just above average for a guy hitting at a premium power position. The team clearly values him as they are paying like hes one of their top 4 players, the media treats him like a star, and most fans i think view him as atleast a very good player, while his numbers suggest that hes at best average, and this season below average. In fact, this season hes produced a WAR of .6 for 10 million dollars, and that makes him one of the worst values on the rosters. I dont think theres anything undervalued about michael cuddyer because i think just about everyone thinks hes a better player than he is. If youre looking for undervalued how about someone like jj hardy, whos produced a war of 1.9 in many fewer games that cuddyer, at a premium defensive position, for roughly half of cuddyers salary, and many fans believe the twins should non tender him after the season.

Erica said...

I don't quite understand the "get rid of Cuddyer" crowd. Without Cuddyer, who's playing first right now? Jose Morales? Some AAA guy? Danny Valencia's worked out great, but I don't think you can push your luck too much relying on rookies. If anything, the last few months have proved how capable Justin Morneau is at first base.

Also, the "nontender JJ Hardy" faction must be pretty shy, because I haven't heard much about Hardy recently (I agree that he's done a nice job defensively, and especially in the last few weeks, offensively).

Anonymous said...

Dave, In addition to your negative defensive numbers for Cuddy he also is negative in win probability (WPA) which means that his contributions (lack thereof) at the plate have directly contributed to more losses than wins. I.e. he fails in clutch situations of games we lose more than he comes through with a big hit to help us win.

So basically the guys a below avergage fielder and terrible in the clutch and so were paying him $10 mil to hit solo home runs in blowouts, ground into 9th inn. DPs with the tying run on base and play 3 different positions poorly. That's the greatest job in the world, man, where can I sign up?

Dave Nelson said...

No on is saying cuddyer must go. Hes a solid player and seems like a good teammate. I simply dont think theres anyway hes "undervalued" by twins fans. I think the opposite is true for many.

Anonymous said...

I don't quite understand the "get rid of Cuddyer" crowd. Without Cuddyer, who's playing first right now?

it's not hard to play first base as well as cuddyer is. i would vote for anyone besides punto, span and tolbert.

Anonymous said...

What a joke!
Sorry, I love Morneau as much as any Twins fan, but the Twins going on their run Does Not "almost [defy] belief". We already have precedent from 2009! No one is irreplaceable!
Yes, Cuddy has done yeoman work at 1st base (but he's hardly underrated), his production at the plate has left much to be desired for a guy that has been batting in the 5 and sometimes 4-spot (especially at nearly $10 Mil/yr!). He's seemingly made no effort at laying off the low and outside pitches or at least look to go opposite field with them. Leads the league in GIDPs and has failed to dig out many of the infield relays that Morneau was so adept at doing.
Joe Mauer obiously deserves some credit for carrying some of the hitting load, but overall he has been a disappointment at the plate by failing to build on his career-year numbers of 2009 and is a legit concern that the Twins overpaid and will be hamstrung in the out years of his hefty contract extension.
I just don't get the hatred that the writers have towards Delmon Young. He's 24 and looks to have the potential to end up with a Vlad Guerrero or David Ortiz-type career.
Batting 7th or 8th in the order, all he did in July was bat .434/.455/.736/1.191. He had 30 RBI, 6 homers and 12 doubles. Morneau's short stint in July produced .292/.320/.625/.905.
Morneau was already fading in June from his hot start in April and May- his numbers were
.299/.349/.505/.854 in June, with 16 RBI, 5 homers and 5 doubles.
Wondering about Delmon in June? Besides his 24 RBI, 5 homers and 3 doubles his batting line was .320/.333/.470/.807. DY has been a league leader wtih a .367 RISP and a .391 average with bases loaded (Morneau has a .284 RISP and .222 with bases loaded). Yes, I get that he's not the greatest outfielder, he can and will improve, but for badly-needed right-hand pop in a left-hand dominated line-up, Young made major strides this season in taking a leadership role on the club and hopefully establishing himself as a long-term Twin.

here we go again said...

Yeah Morneau is either hurt or slumping by the end of pretty much every year anyway, this year they might have missed out on a few more weeks of solid production, but basically it's par for the course, by this time each season either he's not playing or he's at or below replacement level offensively.

And since morneau's been out Thome's gotten way more at bats than he would have and we can all agree that has worked out, leadin the team in HRs.

Anyway with or without Morneau the Twins are the best team in the division on paper, and it's not like the Tigers and White Sox (Ordonez? peavey?) haven't had injuries either. again this is a puff piece to frame this season like a success no matter what happens in the playoffs.

Nick N. said...

I'm always amused by the crowd that thinks Gardenhire is a "good regular season manager, bad postseason manager." As if a guy with a .551 winning percentage and five (maybe six) division titles in nine seasons going 6-18 in a measly 24-game sample demonstrates some innate fear of manage under pressure.

Do you people really believe Gardenhire manages differently in the playoffs than in the regular season? A manager has got to win a lot of big games just to make the playoffs six times, you know.

Matt said...

Do you people really believe Gardenhire manages differently in the playoffs than in the regular season? A manager has got to win a lot of big games just to make the playoffs six times, you know.
Good point, Nick. But, I think of the 2006 opening loss to the A's. Punto jumps up trying to bunt a ball; Zito was wild as heck yet they kept swining in the name of "aggresive team approach"; Castillo gets thrown out in the first inning. Essentially, the "aggressive team approach" let Zito off the hook and rest of the series ended up going horribly wrong for a favored team.
Look, I think he's a good manager and has won lots of big games. But sometimes in the post season, the style of game management has to change; not drastically as "you are who you are," but some creativity would be nice. I'm not going to make claims that some have about his post season failures (I'll mostly blame inferior rosters going against superior Yankee ones), but a 6-18 record is pretty darn bad.
I'll take Cuddy on my team. Stat stuff aside (no, not dismissing stats here, stat heads), it's not easy to find a guy who is willing to change positions so many times in a season and not take any breaks. He's played in 82 straight and done what his team asked him to do. Big paycheck or not, the value of a guy like that speaks for itself.

Dave Nelson said...

I personally believe the manager has very little impact on the teams W-L as far as his game day management is concerned. Im sure they have some impact with their behind the scenes stuff but thats unquantifiable. I think gardy typically does a bad job with his in game management as far as optimizing the lineup, when guys get days off, the bullpen and all the small ball crap. That being said it probably costs them very few wins from their maximum W-L potential. One thing i have noticed when the twins play tough teams like the yankees, gardy tends to manage more than he does in games against KC. Early game bunts, hit and runs and such. Playing for one run early in ball games while reducing maximum run expectancy in "big games", especially against a potent offense like the yankees, does hurt the twins chances to win. Im sure its a tiny effect in the sample size of gardenhires playoffs games, but i think its probably real.

Anonymous said...

I would play multiple positions and take no days off for 10 mil. Not that hard to find people willing to do it.

Anonymous said...

Well put, Dave

Matt said...

The problem is, Anon (no, I'm not bashing you, this is reality), you lack the talent to play MLB first base every single day.
Sure, there are lots of guys who the stat heads say are a better value than Cuddy, some even were on the wavier wire. He got the big contract after 2006 when he got 100 RBIs. Yes, he's overpaid right now, but I'd still take him and so would lots of other teams.

Ed Bast said...

Nick, as much as I like to nitpick Gardy's in-game management, it really doesn't have a huge impact on wins and losses. Some of his decisions factor in wins, some factor in losses. But where a manager really shows through is in the overall attitude and demeanor of a team. For example: in '06 he lets the team celebrate with champagne showers and parades in front of the Dome after they won the Division, even though they'd clinched the wild card a week ago. A two-day party, basically. What happens? They get SWEPT by a completely average Oakland team in series in which they have home field advantage.

Say what you want about the Yanks being so much better, blah blah blah, but the Twins were in a lot of those games. Should have won a lot of those games. Didn't.

24 games is a bigger sample size than most managers ever get. 6-18 in the posteason is unacceptable. He hasn't won a playoff game not pitched by Johan Santana since 2002. That's pathetic.

You can't have it both ways and give him credit for the wins and a pass for the losses. In the playoffs, the stakes are higher, the lights are brighter. Teams need to be mentally tough to succeed. Gardy's teams aren't. This style works well in the regular season - he's a player's manager, guys like playing for him, he listens when they want days off, he defends his guys in the media, is patient/loyal with "his guys", etc. It works for that marathon-not-a-sprint mentality of the regular season. But when the playoff sprint begins, his clubs just don't seem to adjust.

Erica said...

"It's not hard to play first base as well as cuddyer is. i would vote for anyone besides punto, span and tolbert."

I don't think your plan works- if you move any of the infielders to first, you've got a hole in the infield that will be filled by Punto/Tolbert/Casilla (and since Punto and Casilla have both been out with injuries, there goes that option). Obviously, Span and Repko aren't going to play first.

Stick Delmon Young at first? Kubel? Neither of them have tried the position at all. Thome's been handled with care, which is partly why he's been so effective this season. He's not going to do anything except DH.

Cuddy's got experience and the ability to play every single day. His bat breaks up a lineup of lefties. He can play any position you ask him too (if the Twins get in a 20-inning marathon, you bet Cuddy's going to ask to pitch...) To me, that's plenty valuable.

Anonymous said...

The Twins cannot be ensured a home field spot in the 1st round if they are the wild card. The 1st paragraph is a little confusing.

I'm not a big Gardy guy but his ability to get his team to play hard for him and legitimately compete for the playoffs anually is 2nd to none in the game. I do believe he needs to win in the playoffs before i'd sign him to another contract.

Michael Cuddyear is overrated as a 1st baseman offensively and defensively. He seems like a nice guy and all but he rarely comes through in the clutch, is down 0-2 in too many ab's, and in all fairness should have about 100 rbi's right now considering he's more protected than Barrack Hussein Obama. Defensively he's not very good at 1st where saving errors is more telling than not making them.

Tom Dewey

Anonymous said...

The only problem I have with Gardy is that he uses Guerrier too often, tiring him out. Otherwise I think he sets the right tone for the team and manages the team well through all the trials of a 162 game season (ie winning without Morneau). I think this is his year to win in the playoffs.

Ed Bast said...

It would be real interesting to see the Twins host the Rays in Round 1. All the Gardy apologists won't be able to fall back on the usual excuses: it's not the Yankees, it's not on the road, the Twins have a higher payroll than the Rays...I suppose that's part of the purpose of today's post - the Morneau pre-excuse - but still...

Jesse said...

In regards to Nick's comments above I would point out that even though Gardy has feasted on bad central teams to get to .551 he still gets his ass kicked by the Yankees in both the regular and post season. I wonder what his record would be as manager of the Jays?

Anonymous said...

We could get the same production there out of Jose Morales with much better fielding results.

This is a truly ridiculous post. Truly.

Nick said...

A lot of people do get on Gardy's case a lot, and I won't lie I sometimes do too. Especially with how he manages the bullpen some nights. But he deserves a TON of credit for having this team 5 1/2 games ahead of the Chi Sox right now. He's had to coach through injuries too Mourneu, hardy, hudson, punto, slowey, and half the bullpen's been hurt. And even with all of that he manages to keep winning. He's thrown out lineups with guys like Matt Tolbert, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, and pitched a rookie Matt Fox in a critical game against the Rangers and they still won. I don't care what anyone says, Gardy knows how to get the best out of his players.

Anonymous said...

Cuddyer has a career WAR of 11 for the twins in 9 seasons. And was voted one of the 50 greatest twins by someone. Scott baker has a career WAR of 14 in 5 seasons for the twins. Jacque Jones had a career WAR of 14.5 in 10 seasons. I think cuddyer gets more than enough credit for the things he does. I think he gets way to much run from the fact that he can play multiple positions really poorly. If morneau hadnt gotten hurt cuddyer would be your starting 3b right now and would probably have sub replacement value for the year while still getting praised for being willing to do it.

Dr. Truth said...

Cuddy was one of the 50 greatest Twins? Of 2010, sure. All time though? That was a joke, right?

It just goes to show how little we Twins fans expect out of our teams and players. Being a nice guy is enough to make you one of the better players in team history. Division titles is enough to make you a great manager.

It's no wonder decent teams feast on us in the playoffs, when things like defense, clutch hitting, doing the little things, bullpen management, and so on actually matter.

Matt said...

Yeah, Cuddy as a 50 greatest was pretty bad.

I wish Gardy could get more out of Cappy. Kinda scary last night. I hope we're not undone by a closer come playoff time, but it looks more and more likely like we could be...