Manager of the Year

November 19, 2010

Tom Kelly was the American League’s Manager of the Year in 1991. It was his first (and only) MOY award; even though he probably turned in his best managing performance in 1988.

That season Kelly’s team finished a distant second to the Oakland A’s, led by MOY Tony LaRussa, who probably could have slept through the summer and still gotten 100 wins from one of the all-time most talented teams. That season, Kelly dealt with high expectations from a championship the year before, an unpopular early-season trade in which the front office exchanged a fan-favorite right fielder with power for a supposedly high on-base second baseman who acted as though he would rather have a root canal than play with the Twins, and a fist fight between two of his players and still managed to improve his team’s won-loss record from the year before. Still, Kelly only managed a fifth place finish.

TK had to wait four more years for his recognition, and he did it by using the formula the MOY voters could not possibly overlook: taking a last place team and making them a first place team. Kelly got all but one first place vote for that performance.

If one were to simply look over the voting results for ensuing years, one might think that TK stopped being a good manager. He wasn’t named on a single ballot for the next decade. That, of course, coincided with a dark age in Twins’ history, one that was just coming to an end when Kelly finished third in the AL MOY vote in 2001.

Ron Gardenhire hasn’t had any such stretches in his career so far. With the exception of 2005 and 2007, Gardy has been either second or third in voting every year. For someone who follows the Twins year in and year out, it is hard to say that Gardy’s managing this season was any better (or worse) than the previous years, and I would argue that he had more talent in 2010 than on any of his other division-winning teams. Most see his recent win as more of a lifetime achievement award for the man who has led his team to six division titles in nine seasons. In that sense, I do think the award is deserved.

It would be wise not to count on such recognition for Gardy next season. Unlike for the Gold Glove award, in which a Gold Glove the previous season is the greatest predictor for success, the MOY award is less inert. Since its inception in 1983, no AL manager has won in consecutive seasons (Bobby Cox repeated in 1995 – the only NL Manager to do so).


Postscript

October 12, 2010

By Saturday night it already seemed inevitable, so while I watched most of the game, I did so with zero expectations. More precisely, I watched with the expectation of a loss. It made for a less tense viewing experience, and by the time I bailed just before the seventh inning stretch, I had already moved on to next season.

Since that night, it has been quite easy to pick up some themes with just a general perusal of Twins blogs. Here are the major ones, with my thoughts attached.

Theme 1: Anger/disappointment.

There were some significant expectations attached to this team, but in the end they came up short – much like the Twins teams in recent years that didn’t have the same level of expectation (read: payroll) attached to them. It’s a rough way to end a season, and it is of little consolation that all but one of the playoff teams will ultimately come to the same end.

A lot of the anger has been directed right at the Yankees – I will have more on that later in the week.

Theme 2: Fire Gardy.

I am just as capable as anybody of being driven mad by Gardenhire’s managing, but I don’t find any way of watching the last three games that indicate that any other manager would have gotten different results. Gardenhire has had, in the past, a tendency to overmanage in October. That was not the case this year, and any attempt to pin the loss on the manager can only be justified with some fairly severe anti-Gardenhire glasses on.

Theme 3: Lack of Fire.

This seems to be a particular criticism leveled at Joe Mauer, though the general feeling seems to be that the Twins need a “fiery clubhouse guy” who will be vocal when times are bad. My response to that is the Twins had a guy who, by all accounts, was the fiery clubhouse presence for several years. Those teams, however, had just as much playoff success as the current team.

Theme 4: 2010 Was a Complete Failure

An anonymous commenter at Nick’s Twins Blog sums up this argument:

“After watching this team win six division titles, what is painfully clear is that division titles are irrelevant. I hope the organization now realizes that.”

I couldn’t disagree more. I see nothing irrelevant about being the best team in a division after 162 games. There is a reason that teams celebrate this accomplishment. No matter how much emphasis you want to place on baseball “when it counts,” discounting 162 games is foolish. Frankly, I don’t understand why a person with that kind of mentality enjoys baseball – what is the point of following a team (not to mention spending money to go to a game) if 98% of the things the team does are irrelevant.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a profound disappointment, and the language I want to hear from the organization should reflect that. The last thing I want is for the Twins’ front office to feel there is no room for improvement or to be satisfied with the status quo. I don’t get the sense that is happening, however, and I have no problem celebrating 2010 as a success overall.


There’s Really Not Much More to Say

October 8, 2010

“This is getting old” has become a comical understatement when it comes to the Twins and the Yankees in the postseason. The worst part is that the 2010 season is about to go down as just another Twins’ failure, despite the fact that they won 90+ games.


Eavesdropping on the Umpires

October 7, 2010

As it turns out, Ron Darling is not the only one who can read lips. CW was able to pick up the entire conversation in the umpire huddle late in the ninth inning:

Ump 1: Now you’ve done it. Here I spend the entire night perfecting the inconsistent strike zone, the one where Yankee pitchers get generous corners while the other team has to hit dimes, and it all might be flushed down the toilet because of your bad call.

Ump 2: I’m sorry, I forgot which team was on the field!

Ump 3: Well, what do we do now? How do we explain to Mr. Selig and the TBS execs that we gave the other team an extra chance against the Yankees?

Ump 4: But if we overturn the call, we might not make it out of here alive – I heard they throw batteries here in Indianapolis when they are angry.

Ump 5: It’s not Indianapolis you idiot. I heard one of the fans tell me that we are in Minnesota – but that can’t be right…. where is all the snow?

Ump 1: What if we were to let the call stand? It might work in our favor. Everybody will be so up in arms that we screwed the Yankees with a bad call, they won’t even raise an eyebrow about the strike zone thing.

Ump 2: That’s brilliant!

Ump 1: (sigh) I hope Derek Jeter thinks so…

It is true that CW’s judgement might be a little off after a long night of mind-numbing TBS baseball analysis, but I’m pretty sure that is the word-for-word conversation that went down.


Bring on the Yankees

October 5, 2010

Prevailing wisdom in baseball suggests there is some intangible quality that allows some players (and certain teams) to have success in big games. Lack of said clutchiness, they tell us, is what makes teams like the Twins struggle in October.

I don’t buy it. Never have.

No doubt it sounds bad that the Twins haven’t won a postseason series in eight years. In fact, they haven’t even won a single game in six. That represents a losing streak of… nine games.

In six of the nine games (games 2-4 in 2004 and the entire series last season against the Yankees) – the Twins came into the series as a clear underdog. The only time one can make the argument that the Twins should have won was in 2006.

That is all to day that the Twins have only performed slightly worse than they should have been expected to in postseason play over the last decade or so. Yet the prevailing narrative of the 2000′s is that the Twins aren’t capable of competing in October.

While I am not making any predictions, I think to bet against the Twins based solely on past performances would be a mistake. This is not the same team that limped into the postseason thanks in part to a weak division a year ago, and is a far cry from the squad that was swept by the A’s in 2006.

Generally speaking, I am a regular season guy. It’s a shame that, for example, the 2006 Twins are remembered more for the sweep in October than for the 96 wins they earned during the regular season. The 2010 season will be a success no matter what happens from this point on.

That said, I hope they do put things together and make a run deep into October, mostly because I am a Twins fan and it would be a lot of fun to see the team celebrate some October success. A side benefit would be the end of the silliness about how this team can’t compete against the Yankees.


Momentum

September 30, 2010

Since the World Cup ended in July, I have found myself watching more and more European Soccer. I’ve always enjoyed the international tournament every four years, but have usually completely ignored the sport outside of the World Cup. This time it’s different (I am actively seeking an EPL team to throw my support behind – I have it narrowed down but have yet to declare…).

One of the things I have particularly enjoyed about sport from across the pond is a refreshing lack of American sport clichés – the worst of which, to me, is the use of the word “momentum” as a substitute for substantive analysis (I’ve written about this before).

Now the word is popping up in reference to my favorite team’s belly flop over the past week – seen as something that must be turned around lest the Twins enter the postseason without their precious momentum.

In Physics, the simple calculation for momentum is mass times velocity; so I suppose to determine the actual momentum involved, the TBS and FOX announcers will have to calculate the mass of the entire Twins team (does that include coaches?). Short of that, perhaps they can talk about something from this list of things that have more relevance in regard to who will win the World Series this year:

-which team is better at baseball?

-which team has better pitchers?

-which team has better hitters?

-which team has better baserunners?

-are there any significant injuries that might impact that outcome?

-which manager uses better strategy in games?

-how do the starting pitchers match up?

The list could go on, but the point is that there is little evidence that how poorly (or well) a team plays in the last week of the regular season (presumably what is meant by momentum in this context) has any bearing on postseason performance.

That’s a good thing for the Twins.


Lou Gehrig and Concussions

September 8, 2010

Friday September 9, 1938

It is noted in Charlton’s Baseball Chronology that Lou Gehrig played his 2,100 consecutive game on September 9, 1938 against Washington. As was par for the course in Nats-Yankees, games, the Yankees shut out Washington in the game.

That little tidbit reminded me of the recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports in which Gehrig’s career, and its tied to his namesake disease, were discussed. Now, it seems, a link has been discovered between head trauma and ALS (or an ALS-like disease) that would explain the higher than normal rates of ALS among former athletes.

A search of news archives performed by Real Sports turned up at least six instances in Gehrig’s Yankee career in which the Iron Horse was knocked unconscious on the field. In one particularly scary incident, Gehrig was forced to wear teammate Babe Ruth’s cap the next day- several sizes larger- due to the swelling in his head.

The recent research indicates that athletes who “play through the pain” when it comes to head injuries likely make the effects worse. Gehrig, of course, made part of his legend by playing every day.

All of this seems to indicate that head injuries should not be treated the same as other injuries, and that the Twins and Justin Morneau are doing the right thing by delaying his return. There has been a small amount of discontent, most notably in the comments sections of various Twins blogs, with the amount of time it is taking Morneau to get back. It is not too far off base to say those whispers might be a bit louder if the team were not winning. Based on these findings and others, however, it is prudent to err on the side of taking too much time to get back – whether the team suffers or not.


No No-No for Slowey

August 17, 2010

Had I been at Target Field Sunday afternoon I might have booed Ron Gardnhire’s decision to pull Kevin Slowey. I have been in attendance at a lot of major league baseball games, but have never had a sniff of a no-hitter. I might have booed, loudly.

That doesn’t mean I would have been correct in doing so.

No-hitters are fun, and they don’t happen terribly often. Only four men have thrown a no-hitter in a Minnesota Twins’ uniform, and the list adds just two more if you extend it over the 110-year history of the franchise. That’s six men in just over a century’s worth of games. Slowey could have joined Walter Johnson, Dean Chance, and Eric Milton on that short list.

Still, the Twins are an organization that is very careful with its starting pitchers. It can be maddening at times, and most of the research suggests that Bert Blyleven may be correct when he complains that the pitch ceiling can probably be extended to 120 pitches with no adverse consequences on the staff; but the fact is 100 pitches and change has been the ceiling for Kevin Slowey. Allowing him to extend himself beyond that limit just a week after a missed start due to elbow soreness in order to chase a personal milestone would have been beyond reckless.

Ron Gardenhire’s priorities in that situation should be a mixture of 1. win the current game, and 2. put the club in position to win more games. A no hitter, while perhaps a piece of history, would have helped accomplish neither, and may have actually put both goals in jeopardy.

What did happened on Sunday afternoon was a Twins win, good enough to put them three games ahead of the White Sox in the American League Central with about a month-and-a-half left in the season. That is a good thing. Now the Sox come to town for three games at Target Field – a chance for the Twins to put even more distance between themselves and second place.


This is Getting Old

July 9, 2010

Game 85: Blue Jays 8 (43-43), Twins 1 (45-40)

I might as well use a template for these recaps.

{Starting pitcher’s name here} struggled early and gave up {a few/a handful/a large amount} of runs in the first two innings. The Twins’ offense {didn’t show up/scored runs but not enough/came back to tie the game or take a lead that the bullpen couldn’t hold} and the Twins ended up with another loss.

It is fair to say that the 2010 Twins aren’t a whole lot of fun to follow right now.

WPA Stars of the Game
1. Brett Cecil
2. Alex Gonzalez
3. Adam Lind

Standings (through Thursday)
1. Det 46-37, 384-377, -
2. Chi 46-38, 365-355, 0.5
3. Min 45-40, 395-355, 2.0
4. KC 39-46, 377-409, 8.0
5. Cle 33-52, 346-427, 14.0


“I certainly feel like this was my game to win,”

July 8, 2010

… Slowey said, “We scored those runs in the fourth and fifth [innings] and gave me an opportunity to go back out there, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the job done.” -quoted by Joe Christensen

Game 84: Blue Jays 6 (42-43), Twins 5 (45-39)

If the Twins weren’t scuffling so much this loss probably wouldn’t sting. As it stands, the loss to Toronto put the Twins in third place in the AL Central, looking up at both Detroit and Chicago.

Watching these games in Toronto reminds me of baseball video games when I was a kid when we would set the levels so the pitching was not particularly good and just tee off. The two teams look more like Hawaii and LA from Bases Loaded than major league teams (especially given Toronto’s throwback uniforms – at least in 1985 they had the sense to save the powder blues for road games). I was half-waiting for Joe Mauer’s glove to start floating away from his body on outside pitches.

On the injury front, the Twins were a hairline away from moving this game from silly to disastrous. It sounds like both Delmon Young and Justin Morneau will be okay, probably in the lineup tonight, but losing even one of those guys at this point might make even the most optimistic of fans start to look towards next year.

WPA Stars of the Game
1. Orlando Hudson
2. Jose Bautista
3. Scott Downs

Standings (through Wednesday)
1. Det 46-37, 384-377, -
2. Chi 45-38, 364-355, 1.0
3. Min 45-39, 394-347, 1.5
4. KC 39-46, 377-409, 8.0
5. Cle 33-51, 344-422, 13.5


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