Covering The Bases Of Inaccuracy

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Considering his success as a manager, it’s odd that certain factions have chosen to take the Twins awful start and a statement he made yesterday as an all-encompassing indictment of the entire tenure of manager Ron Gardenhire.

Gardenhire said that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson have been trying to convince Francisco Liriano to “pitch to contact” rather than try and rack up strikeouts.

Was this a discouragement against the strikeout? No, I doubt it. I see this as an entreaty for Liriano to trust his stuff and stop being so concerned with missing bats; make the pitches and let the movement, velocity and location take care of itself.

Laying the blame for the Twins slow start at the manager’s desk an after-the-fact emergence of those who’ve surreptitiously criticized the Twins and their style for years, but didn’t have the courage to do so while the team was making the playoffs on an annual basis.

Because they do things their own way, the stat people have ridiculed them as a creation of luck; that Gardenhire was along for the ride as they’ve made the playoffs in six of his nine years as manager; the one year they didn’t, they lost in a one-game playoff. His faults have been perceived as evident in their consistent playoff losses.

It’s a fact that they’ve only gotten past the ALDS once.

But facts don’t always tell the entire story. The reasons for the criticisms of Gardenhire may be accurate and factual in the bottom line, but it doesn’t make it fair.

You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t say the manager is at fault for the negatives and deserves no credit for the positives. In stat circles as an excuse more than a reason, the playoffs are seen as a crapshoot. If that’s the case, you can’t hold Gardenhire responsible for continually running into the Yankees in the ALDS and losing; nor can you say his strategies didn’t work if there’s no blame to be doling out.

Now the Twins are off to an atrocious start not because of anything Gardenhire has said, done or not done; they’re off to an atrocious start because they’re a strangely constructed team that endured heavy under-the-radar free agent losses that undermined their template for winning.

Without the bullpen arms Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain; and the departure of defensively superior shortstop and second baseman J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, how do you think the pitchers—none of whom apart from Liriano are particularly good—are going to fare?

When a contact-based, bullpen reliant starting staff has their defense compromised and relievers dispatched, what’s going to happen?

It doesn’t help that the Twins haven’t hit, but their defense is awful and this is directly affecting the pitchers. They’re walking too many people; giving up too many hits and homers.

Could it be that the pitchers don’t trust the defense and trying too hard to pitch differently from what they’re accustomed to and what they’ve been taught? That the absence of trustworthy bullpen arms is in their heads as they feel they have to pitch deeper into games? Are they trapped in the purgatory of  bad defense, pitching to contact, conserving pitches and an offense that hasn’t started hitting?

As much as his decisions can be criticized, Gardenhire is in control of the clubhouse and his players play the game in a fundamentally correct fashion. It’s worked for them every year. Through lost stars like Johan Santana, injuries and a limited payroll, they’ve won.

Gardenhire wasn’t appreciated for the good things, but now all of a sudden his managing is why the Twins sit at 4-7?

He’s not doing anything different than he did before. His team’s just oddly constructed and not very good.


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