Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

Archive for April, 2008

Twins 3 White Sox 1

Huge win today.  Nothing like breaking a mini-slump by beating the team that is in first place.  Boof looked good tonight. He kept his pitch count under control, I was shocked when the count was only in the 70s and it was the 6th inning.  Some of his outs were really loud, but he made them miss a lot: 8 ks.  People have been knocking Boof, and I’m not sure why. He’s had a few bad starts, but I think he is much better than he was in 2007. He just needs to be consistent and I will be happy. I’m not expecting him to be an ace or anything, but a lower than average era and just keeping the team in the game would be great.  That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed to him becoming an ace.  Reyes looked pretty questionable, but Young made a nice (dare I say great) play in left, (I’m still not really sure how he caught the ball) and a heads up throw to the cutoff man (are you listening Gomez, to the cutoff man, not past him) who then nailed Swisher at first, by quite a bit. Nathan was Nathan and looked very good.

The bats had one good inning. If I recall, we also had some loud outs. Mauer stung the ball really well in his second or third at bat but it was right at Swisher, and Kubel did the same late in the game. I’m glad to see Mauer hitting the ball like the Mauer of old again. That was a nice triple in the first (I blame Swisher for the extra base more than I credit Mauer, but who cares).  There was a decent article in the Star Tribune today about Mauer hitting for power versus average. If he wants to hit lots of jacks, he is going to have to change that pretty inside out swing of his, which will result in lower average. I don’t want that. I will take high average, high OBP, and lots of doubles. I think Morneau and Kubel can provide the deep ball from the left side with Cuddyer, and Young (hopefully) providing power from the right side. I was surprised to see that Kuble is only hitting 247 on the year. I was under the impression that he was tearing it up, but I think he has had lots of big hits, but  has had few multi hit games. Which is something you need to do to raise your average and keep it high. Especially early on.

On a different note, has anyone else noticed how gimicky Twins games are?  Its been a while since I’ve been to another stadium, but it seems like in between every inning there is some sponsored contest or give away. Its almost like the Saints or something. I went to a Cubs game and a White sox game and I don’t recall seeing that much crap between innings. Especially at the Cubs game. My guess is the Twins, due to the dome, are much more desperate to get people in the seats so they need promo crap.  I had never really noticed it, until my buddy who I was with who grew up going to games at Camden in Baltimore, pointed it out.  I really hope it goes away when the Team moves to the new stadium and will be able to get fans to the stadium just to see a game and enjoy (or hide from) the weather. Not because they will have a chance to win a Mystic Lake prize package, or Treasure Island or whatever.

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Patience Shows Immediate Impact in 12 Run Outburst

Over the past couple of days, Gardy has tried to revamp the Twins’ offensive philosophy by encouraging the players to work the count and wait for their pitch to hit, and he’s revamped the lineup by moving hitters down the lineup “because it stretches our lineup down there pretty good.”

I really liked the former move, and have been calling for it for a while. The latter, however, makes little sense to me; usually, when you construct a lineup, you want balance and you want the best hitters close to the top of the order. That’s why I don’t know why you’d want to move Tolbert and Harris up at the expense of Cuddyer, Kubel, and Young.

It’s only one game, but could Saturday’s 12-6 win over the Rangers showcase some early results of both decisions? Obviously, it’s only one game, and anything can happen. But you have to start somewhere, and I think it’s amusing that such an “example game” could happen so quickly. We’ll probably come back to this issue again later in the season and see how things have gone over a longer period.

Anyhow, how’d Gardy do? Read on!

Well, we scored 12 runs, so something must have worked! A big reason for the runs was the collapse of the Rangers’ defense, which committed three errors that led to 5 unearned runs. But there was more to it than that.

The Twins chased the starter — Sidney Ponson — from the game after 5.1 innings, having thrown 93 pitches. In all, the Twins saw 176 pitches in the game, from 5 different pitchers. This is despite the fact that the umpire seemed to be favoring the pitchers for much of the game, being generous with the corners (for both sides — consistency makes that 100% okay). The newfound focus on making opposing pitchers work showed immediate dividends; we get to see all their pitches and get deep into their bullpen, where inferior pitchers tend to live. I’d venture to say that it seems pretty obvious that this would result in increased offensive production, and I’m surprised any manager would be against it.

Interestingly, despite working deeper into counts and showing more patience at the plate, we only drew 3 walks (compared to 5 strike outs). That’s a good demonstration that the benefit of patience at the plate is not just walks, but the increased ability to hit (16 hits). Walks would help, but they’re not required.

So what about the decision to push the lineup down? The 6-9 spots in the order (Kubel-Young-Lamb-Monroe) combined to go 9-18 with 6 RBI. The 5 spot (Cuddyer) drove in 3 with a home run in the 8th. The 1 spot (Tolbert) went 0-6, but got on base via an error and stole a base (late in the game, mitigating the usefulness of “leading off”). He was the only Twins player not to collect a hit in the game.

I think it’s inappropriate to complain much when the offense is clicking like this. If this is the lineup that can score like this, then it works and we’d do well to stick with it. However, in the interest of constant improvement, might it not work better to try to push the productive hitters up in the order and move the plucky “gamer” to the bottom of the order where he can still be a sparkplug late in games? (By the way, the Rangers’ commentators described Tolbert as “David Eckstein, only taller!”)

I’m not complaining; instead, I’m offering what I consider to be constructive criticism. And when everyone in the lineup is hitting, it doesn’t matter that much what order they go in. So maybe I was wrong that this was a great game to judge the lineup choice — I was trying to highlight the fact that most of the offensive production came from the bottom of the order (which is true), but everyone was producing.

Finally, the offensive outburst gave us a chance to give Bobby Korecky a very low percentage inning for his major league debut. He struggled, requiring 25 pitches to get through the inning (only 11 strikes), while walking 2 batters and striking out 0. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Rick Anderson went to the mound and Korecky immediately got a double play ball (which scored the run from third) and then forced an easy grounder to Morneau to end the game. It would have been better to see him dominate and show better command, but I think this outing is acceptable for four reasons. One, it very well could have been first-time jitters, and those may now be gone. Two, he demonstrated the ability not to shut down in the face of pressure. Three, when he finally started commanding his pitches, he was getting guys to put the ball on the ground. Four, he was a closer in the minors, and it’s very possible that he’s not used to pitching in “non-save” situations. (Pitching is very mental, and it’s possible that this makes a difference for some guys — this is the one reason managers may legitimately have for saving The Closer for save situations, but I think it depends entirely on the mental makeup of the individual pitchers, making it the manager’s call. Just like some guys can’t be closers, it’s certainly possible that some guys have to be.) So the jury’s obviously still out on Korecky, but if we can start to trust him in high leverage situations in the 7th and 8th innings it’ll take a lot of the load off of Guerrier and Neshek. That would be fantastic.

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Thoughts About the Closer Role

We’ve had some discussions about the use of the “closer” in the comments on this site, and the prevailing attitude of most of our readers is that the closer role is overrated — and therefore the Joe Nathan signing was unwise. After Friday night’s loss, Howard Sinker has some words about the conventional wisdom of keeping the closer on the bench in extra inning games.

The “closer” is supposed to come into games and end them. Close them out. He pitches those last three outs to finish off the victory. That’s all he does. Right? Well, let’s think about why you’d have someone called a “closer” who would have that responsibility.

Are the outs in the 9th inning “special” in any way, or somehow more difficult to get than outs in any other inning? Probably not. However, their importance is increased by the fact that there’s so much leverage during that time. Performance during these outs has a huge impact on the output of the game. If the pitcher gets outs, the team wins. If the pitcher fails, the team loses. That’s quite a bit of leverage.

I think everyone would agree with that, regardless of where they stand on the pro-closer or anti-closer debate. If I’m wrong about that I’m sure someone will let me know.

So you use your closer in the highest leverage situation in the game. He’s your best reliever, that’s when you should use him. But even though the last three outs intrinsically have a higher leverage than “normal” outs, is the final inning when your team has the lead really the highest leverage situation? Always?

When you’re winning by one run, going into the 9th inning, and the middle of the order is coming up … obviously that’s a high leverage situation where you’d want your closer available. So you bring him in and he gets the “save.”

But when you’re winning by three runs and the bottom of the order is coming up … that’s not a very high leverage situation. You should hope that you could trust every reliever in your bullpen to get through that inning without surrendering the lead. But you bring in the closer and he gets the “save.”

These are just examples, obviously. And they’re the opposite ends of that spectrum. But imagine the inning before that. Say there are two men on base, 1 out, and the middle of the order is up. These are high-leverage outs. If you end this inning cleanly, you have a good chance of going on to win the game (since you’d be winning by 3 and the bottom of the order is up, and any reliever on your team can handle that). But if you blow it, you may well lose the game. Whoever can get you out of the inning has “saved” the day. Would you bring in your best reliever, or an inferior reliever?

Most people would say “bring in the best reliever!” And they’d probably look at me like I’m being an idiot for even asking the question. But then you give these guys titles. Do you bring in The Closer or a Setup Man? Well … then the answer might change. Especially if you’re a manager. “Closers close games!” So the manager brings in the inferior reliever, and Detroit beats us twice in a row because of it. Oops. I mean … the team’s chances of getting the win drop dramatically. Kind of slipped there, I guess.

But that brings us to the reason I’m bringing this up today. Last night, the Twins lost in the 10th inning to the Rangers, ending their 7 game losing streak. The heart of the Rangers’ order, the 3-4-5 hitters, were due up in the 10th. In a tie game, where any run could end the game, we had two guys warmed up in the pen. Joe Nathan, elite reliever vs Juan Rincon, washed up former juicer with arm problems and diminished abilities (and an ERA filled with crooked numbers). To the untrained eye, this seems like a no-brainer: it’s a high leverage situation where you should use your best pitcher! But that’s just what an untrained observer thinks! He’s not a major league manager like Ron Gardenhire, who knows that Joe Nathan is The Closer, and therefore he can only pitch when we’re already winning. So Rincon pitches the 10th … and we lose.

Maybe we would have lost the game anyway. We hadn’t scored for 8 innings, and Rincon would probably have had to pitch the 11th whether we had the lead or not (though it would have been the bottom of the order). But that’s not how a manager should be thinking during the game. He’s supposed to put the team in the best situation to win; give us the best chance. And putting your best reliever on the mound to get the toughest outs is one of the few things he can actually do during a game to change the outcome of the game. So last night’s decision was a bad one. In the “humble” opinion of this addled blogger, anyhow.

I’ll finish by pointing out that, unsurprisingly, I did not address Nathan’s contract here. I don’t fault the GM for signing the contract. There’s nothing at all wrong with having an elite reliever on your team, and there’s nothing wrong with paying him at the same rate as his (lesser) peers. I fault the manager for misusing Nathan’s elite services. Someday I’ll write a post about how I care more about “baseball” than the “business of baseball,” and I’d rather think about what the manager could do to improve our chances of winning a game than think about what the GM could have done to get us a better deal on someone’s contract. I can watch baseball games. I can’t (and wouldn’t) watch contract negotiations. But today is not that day, so I’m not going to write about it. (This paragraph is a “subtle” request that we all try not to talk about the contract. In case you missed that.)

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Gardy Sets His “Lineup”

After two years of insisting that Mauer and Morneau simply can’t hit back to back because they’re left handed, Gardy’s had them hitting 3 and 4 for a few weeks, since Cuddyer’s injury. It seemed like a temporary situation which would end once Cuddyer came off the DL. Well, he came back and instead of going into the 3 hole, Gardy put him at #5 and left Mauer and Morneau together, saying:

“I kind of like those guys together,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t mind that the lefties are back-to-back at all.”
It’s kind of refreshing to see him start to overcome that particular phobia, but it causes other problems. Namely, that Young and Kubel are now pushed pretty far down the lineup. Young batted 7th, which I think can have two possible effects on his development. One possibility is that it takes a little pressure off him, he starts to hit and gain confidence, and he becomes the hitter we paid for. The other is that he’ll see it as evidence that we don’t trust him, it’ll completely shake his confidence in himself and his trust in the team, he’ll get worse on the field, and off-the-field problems may surface. That’s obviously a little alarmist, and the downside probably isn’t as bad as all that. The Twins have usually been pretty good about moving a guy down in the lineup to help him get his feet under him — I’m just hoping the Twins have thought about it.
“He still hasn’t driven the ball like we expect him to do here,” Gardenhire said. “Maybe the warm weather is going to really help him. … But he’s starting to jerk some balls pretty good. He’ll get better. I like [him in the seventh spot] because it stretches our lineup down there pretty good.”
It doesn’t really sound like that’s what Gardy was doing. He’s just hoping the warm weather helps (is anyone else getting more worried about the new stadium every day?), and he likes stretching the lineup down. Down? I mean, having a strong bottom of the lineup is always a good thing … but I think I’d rather move the strength up, and get the good hitters on the team more at bats. My lineup advice continues to remain the same, and Gardy’s changing things around, but he seems to be specifically doing the opposite of what we’ve been saying is the right way to build a lineup. Typical. By the way, Gardy expects this to be the default lineup for the foreseeable future. Hopefully it scores some runs, at least.

On a somewhat related note, the team apparently also had a hitting meeting.
“We had a hitting meeting today, talking about getting good pitches and situational hitting and we didn’t do very well at that.”
We’ve talked about this before, and the Twins have always been pretty bad at waiting for good pitches and making pitchers work. I doubt having a meeting about it will really have that much of an effect, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Unless they’re just teaching the wrong things in these meetings, I fully support that and hope the meetings continue. And that it spills over into practices and has an effect on the games.

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Gardy Actively Trying to Destroy Delmon Young

When the Twins acquired Delmon Young, there were two major question marks that came with him. The first was his off-the-field “problems” (which have so far been a complete non-issue). The second was the fact that he has ZERO plate discipline. The hope was that we’d help him improve that aspect of his game, waiting for his pitches, swinging at better balls (ie, in the strike zone), and taking walks. All of that would drive his OPS up. Well, Gardenhire has other ideas (about 2/3 of the way down):

“I watched Torii Hunter for like 10 years,” Gardenhire said. “You think Torii hasn’t swung? You know what? There’s nothing wrong with swinging. That’s why they give you a bat. This kid’s 22 years old. He’s got everything ahead of him. So let it fly. Learn as you go. He’ll learn the strike zone.

“To start telling a guy to just ‘take, take, take,’ sometimes that’s just not human nature. You don’t get to the big leagues, and you don’t become a big league player, by ‘take, take, take’ and get walks. Some people are paid to drive in runs. You think David Ortiz goes up there to walk? He’s paid to drive in runs. He walks because we walk him. On purpose. And that’s what’s going to happen to Delmon as he goes along, too. Right now, they know he’s going to chase a little bit, but that’s OK. I’ll take my chances with him letting it fly.”

Oh great. It’s good to see Gardy taking an active role in wasting the natural abilities of yet another young slugger. If the Twins tried to teach Delmon some plate discipline, he just might start to take some walks and punish pitchers for leaving a ball in the zone. Instead, he’s going to be Torii Hunter 2.0, except without the above average CF defense.

Perhaps the best part of that quote, though, is Gardy’s complete misunderstanding of David Ortiz as a hitter. Ortiz takes walks because teams are too afraid to throw it in the strike zone. Why? Because he punishes balls that are in there. Why? Because he doesn’t flail at balls he doesn’t like, or ones that are out of the zone. Which, of course, is why he draws a lot of walks. Incidentally, his transformation from “crappy, useless player” to “most feared hitter in baseball” happened immediately after he escaped the swing-destroying tutelage of Gardy and the Twins. (When the Red Sox said: “Bunt? But you’re a big strong guy! Kill the ball. And be patient. If you don’t like it, swing at the next one.” I guess that’s a hitting philosophy that works. Just like anecdotal evidence, statistics, wins, World Series rings, and common sense all seem to agree on. Good to see Gardy’s complete ignorance of that.)

Here’s hoping someone slaps Gardy hard enough that he realizes that this is not how you teach talented young hitters to become feared sluggers. It’s how you teach scrappy little dorks how to scratch their way into the big leagues for a cup of tea and a quick designation for assignment (or, if they’re on the Twins, a multi-million dollar deal … but that’s a story for another day).

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Twins win thanks to Carl Crawford being dumb

When i saw Carl Crawford slide to catch that ball in foul territory last night I shouted “idiot!”, despite the fact that I was alone in my home.  That was a very boneheaded move. It would be one thing to catch it standing up (well maybe not for Crawford because the throws like a girl), but to make a circus catch with one out in the 8th of a tied game with the go ahead runner (with speed) on third? careless.  Did he think there were two outs? Possibly, that seems to happen more and more with kids these days.  I read in the paper this morning that he was just focused on making the out, not determining fair or foul.  Well, that is a lame excuse, but lets run with it. Shouldn’t the third baseman or shortstop  have been yelling at him to let it drop? Maybe they were and he couldn’t hear them over the 10 people who showed up to watch baseball inside on the first truly nice day of spring. As I saw Crawford track that ball down I kept saying to myself (again, aloud) “he’s going to let it drop…he’s got to let it drop…he’s going to catch it! Idiot!”

On to the actual game. Livan looked like the Livan of old. Walks, homers, slow.  That 2 run homer he gave up to Riggans. Man. There was no way he COULDN’T homer on that pitch. It was good to see the team hit the ball well. 11 hits. And we do OK with RISP.  Mauer seems to have broken out of his slump, hitting the ball well the last two games. He is now back to 300.  Gomez looked ok, he is at least exciting to watch.  I’m glad to see Kubel as a fixture in the lineup. Its a shame it took an injury to one of our better players to force Gardy into playing… another one of our better players. Idiot!

I wonder how long it will take me to not be nervous when a member of our bulpen steps in I hope Reyes gets paid overtime because he got 4 guys out, compared to his usual one or none. Rincon’s fastball looked pretty good, and he got the win. Nathan was, as always, good. I pretty much expect him to give up one baserunner.

Another question, why do people run on Mauer? The two putouts he had were very pretty. I would have loved to see him toss out Bartlett in the ninth, but as they say, 2 out of 3 aint’ bad. 

Boof is going tonight against someone I have never heard of for Tampa. This weekend is the Indians, who looked terrible last night as CC got shelled. We need to pounce on them.

Did anyone hear Scott Erickson in the booth today. When he and his wife were in there Dick said something along the lines of “Scott, you and your wife are here to talk about a special project” So i’m thinking, great Scott is going to talk about some charity. No. It was a lame movie called “A Plumm Summer” which Scott is exec producing. When asked what he did every day as a produced Scott replied “golf, fly fishing, hang out” Tough life, dude.

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Ugh

This was the worst game of the year so far. We manage to score 9 runs, and lose. We blew 2 5 run leads. The offense and the pitching looked good for the first few innings. Even after we gave up 4 runs to make it a 5-4 game, we got all 4 of those runs back.  Which is something we wouldn’t have done in the past.

What really irked me was allowing Punto to hit with the tying run on first. I understand he ALMOST hit a double to tie the game, but that does not excuse the fact that Gardy made a poor call. 

On the bright side, we did score 9 runs. That shows how bad the Tigers pitching is. I’m worried this will give them lots of momentum. We need to beat them tonight. To paraphrase Ivan Drago “We must break them”.

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Liriano’s Back

Well, sort of. He did pitch yesterday. However, he was clearly not ready as he showed almost complete lack of control of his fastball.  He barely threw his slider, which is probably the plan considering the havoc that pitch wrecks on the arm.  He gave up four runs, which is  a lot, but I think the control and velocity will come back. He didn’t show any discomfort, which is great.

That is about all that went great, however.  The offense was just plain bad. They seemed to get runners on, but failed to get them over, or get them in.  We hit the ball hard several times to left, but it always seemed to hang up there for Mark Tehan. I didn’t see the exact stats on what the wind was doing, but that had to be a small factor.  It seems that when gomez has an 0 for day, the offense follows suit. Except the other night where all of our hits came from the bottom 4 hitters, that was bizarre.

We have the tigers tonight for two, and the (Devil) Rays for two following that.  I hope the Tigers don’t snap out of their funk today or tomorrow (or really ever, but that seems impossible).

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Former Twin Update: Matt Garza

So Matt Garza pulled himself from the (Devil) Rays game the other day in the third inning, claiming some sort of radial nerve issue. He also claims he was throwing with said issue all of last year. This brings up a thorny issue.  If the Twins knew about it they owe the Rays compensation, which is usually cash or draft picks.  My question is how do they prove this.  I’m assuming team doctors keep records of all the players, just like regular doctors. So does MLB have access to the twins medical files? Wouldn’t these records change hands as part of the physical most trades are contingent upon?

Here is my professional guess: Garza was pretty desperate to make the major league team last season. There was no way in hell he would have disclosed an injury if it meant derailing his path to the big leagues. I think he either didn’t tell the team, or the injury didn’t surface until after the trade. Either way, it could get ugly.

 Here is an article from Rays Index 

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April 9: Jason Kubel 6, White Sox 5

It was nice to see the lineup produce against a lefty today. For as long as I can remember the Twins have just flat out sucked against left handed pitching. I was unable to watch all of the game because I had my attention on the Wild-Colorado game.  I watched the first few innings and it looked like Danks just didn’t have it and we took advantage. Gomez drawing a walk was a nice touch, although he then got picked off. Danks did seem to have a nice pickoff move, and I think Gomez hasn’t mastered the art of reading a pitcher’s pickoff move yet. Hunter was really good at that.

I didn’t see Kubel’s grand slam, but he came up to the plate with the bases loaded something like 3 times.  Baker looked OK, there are worse ways to give up 3 runs than 3 solo jacks. Brian Bass, still terrible.

Can someone explain to me all the position swtiching that took place. Harris moved to first after Lamb moved over there? Then Punto came in at second? The box score doesn’t really help explain what went down.

Gardy on Kubel:

“I really believe this guy can hit,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s going to get plenty of opportunities this year. … I think he’s healthy in his knees now, we don’t hear about that anymore, and now it’s time for him to get the at-bats and go. Run with it.”–from espn.com recap.
 Let’s hope he holds true to his word.

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