Sunday, September 19, 2010

Posnanski's annual Gardy rant

Joe Posnanski thinks Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. He has for a long time.

And, as he wrote in this posting from Friday, he takes a lot of grief for it.

Ron Gardenhire may be better at handling personalities
than at strategy, but the people part of the job may be
the more important part — and the more difficult.
For my part, I think Pos is closer to right than those who tell him that the Twins win despite Gardenhire, not because of him.

I too can find moves and decisions to criticize and question. I think he burned out Matt Guerrier in 2008, and if he didn't burn Guerrier out this year, he came mighty close. I remain skeptical of Gardenhire's ability to handle time-share arrangements when there isn't a clear-cut starter at a position.

But my gripes are, by and large, minor issues.

Lineup construction, for example. Those people who have really studied the issue have concluded that batting order really doesn't matter much. You'll score about the same amount of runs with those players in any order.

That Michael Cuddyer hits in the middle of the lineup with a slugging percentage of .410 while Danny Valencia hits in the bottom third while slugging .454 doesn't bug me; Cuddyer has a track record that says he's better than that, and Valencia's minor league stats suggest he's over his head.

And there are factors beyond the stats. Cuddyer is clearly one of the veteran leaders, a player who sets the tone; Valencia is not merely a rookie, but a personality who has been perceived as, let us say, self-centered. Cuddy hitting fourth or fifth and Valencia seventh or eighth keeps the pecking order intact. That kind of thing doesn't compute in Strat-O-Matic, but it matters in real life.

Ron Gardenhire's managerial record includes five
divisional titles with a sixth on the way, but only one
series win in the postseason.
There's a line in Pos's piece about Gardenhire being a "Cardinal in the Roman Church of Grit." I think that's great. Managers are supposed to push their players to greater efforts. We want to criticize Gardenhire for that? Really?

There's a comment staple about Gardy — Nick Punto. There is almost always somebody ripping Gardenhire for playing Punto, and almost always sarcastically chalking it up to Punto blackmailing him with photos. The commenters doubtless think they're being clever. They're the opposite.

Punto has played because he did things that help the team, and because the alternatives didn't. Yes, he's had some dismal offensive seasons, had some lengthy slumps. A manager has to work through the talent on hand. Who was a viable alternative in 2007? Luis Rodriguez? Jeff Cirillo?

The Nick Punto of 2006 deserved to enter 2007 with a starting job. The Nick Punto who solidified shortstop down the stretch in 2008 deserved to enter 2009 with a starting job. The Nick Punto whose on-base percentage in Sept./Oct. of 2009 was above .400 deserved to play this year too.

The next time FSN airs Game 163 from 2009, watch Punto. Every at-bat is a good one. He was, in that game, probably the best player on the field.

And for that matter, Punto has had two starts since July 27. Two. Matt Tolbert's had five this month; Alexi Casilla's had three this month. It's not hard to tell where Punto is on the depth chart these days. In the meritocracy of the second half of the season, other infielders offered more. That simply wasn't the case in past years.

Gardenhire never played for Earl Weaver, but he did play for Davy Johnson, who did play for Weaver. Weaver's Orioles were notorious for their second-half surges. Gardenhire's Twins are building the same reputation. That's no coincidence.

Rob Neyer, commenting on Posnanski's post, suggests that Gardenhire is a World Series win away from becoming a viable Hall of Fame candidate.

Neyer's probably got that about right too. Of course, Gardy still has to get that win.


  1. Good points, and I think I agree with them for the most part. I think this post-season will be especially illuminating because I don't see the Twins as being large underdogs, as they have generally been in the past. In fact, I know they are better than both the Rangers and Yankees. Of course, that doesn't mean they will beat them nor does it mean that they will lose to the Rays.
    And I liked the comment/connection to Weaver via Johnson. That never occurred to me. I too grew up in Weaver's heydey of the 1970s and greatly respected his approach to the game. Do you think he'll win manager of the year? I suspect he will.

  2. Here is the thing. I am a Nick Punto fan. I agree with everything that
    was said in Nick's defense. He has earned his spot on the team every
    year with excellent defensive play on a team where that counts. He is
    a team player. One ESPN broadcaster said that it takes a certain type
    of player to make it with the Twins. He was right. A.J. Perzinski is a
    stellar player, but didn't last with the Twins because of his attitude.
    Perhaps Valencia should take warning. He may very well turn into the
    next "Star" of baseball, but will it be with the Twins or will he go the
    route of AJ.