Saturday, January 21, 2012

Back to the Basics (Blame Nishi)

Tom Kelly recently cited players from outside
the Twins system as a reason for the misplays of 2011.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the most prominent of them.
We're less than a month away from the opening drills of the Twins spring training. Let the fundamentals hype begin.

The organization's "play-the-game-the-right-way" mantra tends to stick in the craw of the blogosphere, but I have no doubt that Ron Gardenhire and Co. are sincere in prioritizing that approach. And after the debacle that was 2011, there is no dispute that the Twins have fallen off in that department (as in many others).

The question becomes: What are they going to do about it?

Here's Gardy, as quoted earlier in the week by LaVelle Neal (Star Tribune), raising more questions than he answers:

I've talked to (Tom Kelly) at long time on the phone. Conversations I thought I could never get into with T.K. We spent an hour on the phone one day, talking about different things we should do in spring training, which way to go and how I should have done different things. It's actually been good. Tom has helped me out a bunch.

A fascinating paragraph there, with potential followup questions springing from every sentence. As curious as I am about what spring training changes loom, as interesting as Kelly's critique of Gardenhire may be, I find myself stuck on the second sentence. Gardy was Kelly's right-hand man for more than a decade, T.K.'s designated successor. Kelly's been a prominent presence at spring training throughout the Gardenhire years. They are mentor and protege. And there were baseball conversations Gardy didn't think they could ever have? Really?

Kelly may be an even more prominent figure in Fort Myers this spring. This Tom Powers (Pioneer Press) column certainly implies so. 

It also contains a phony scrapegoat for 201l's sloppy fundamentals -- too many players from outside the organization:

In the past, the Twins were fortunate to have fairly stable batches of minor leaguers who played together, learned together and advanced together. Last year, there was a huge influx of players from other organizations. All those new guys, with all their different ways of doing things, struggled to mesh. They reverted to their old ways too many times.
"All this mixing and matching was too much," Kelly said. "You take Nishi (Tsuyoshi Nishioka). He was learning everything from scratch. It was all really different for him. We don't know what he's going to do. Is he going to revert back like he did things in Japan?"

That sounds logical. It isn't factual, at least not for the major league team. That "huge influx" of players from outside the Twins system simply didn't happen. The Twins used 22 position players in 2011 (counting Jim Thome, who was strictly a hitter). Only Nishioka and two catchers, Rene Rivera and Steve Holm, were new to the Twins organization. Of the rest, only Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko, Thome and Delmon Young have ever played for any other organization, majors or minors, and Butera, Casilla and Young had been in the Twins system for at least three years apiece entering 2011.

Kelly cites Nishioka as an example, but when you really look at it, you discover that Nishioka is really the only available example. The vast majority of playing time went to players theoretically well-steeped in The Twins Way. 

The fundamental failures of 2011 -- the sloppy rundowns, the dumb baserunning, the given-away at-bats -- are better laid to a rot in the organization, or to a lack of talent, than to too many outsiders. It is to be hoped that Kelly and the others recognize that but are merely unwilling to publicly criticize the minor league staff. 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if TK was talking about the minor leagues, which is where I think he spends most of his time. There were a lot of veterans from outside the organization at Rochester. It might have been hard to keep the young players focused on the Twins way of doing things. TK may be seeing those bad habits show up even on players who have spent their careers in the organization.