Monday, January 3, 2011

Ron Gardenhire's bullpen magic

A bit more than a year ago, a writer for The Hardball Times website, Chris Jaffe, was promoting to bloggers his then-upcoming book on the history of baseball managers. I milked this excerpt for one post in November, then put the book on my Christmas wish list and sat back, figuring that I'd write more about it when I actually had the book.

Effective bullpen use has been a key to Ron Gardenhire's
managerial success with the Twins.
But the publication date got pushed back -- first to January, then, as I recall, to spring, and it faded from my priority list until fall, when I ran across a favorable mention of it by Bill James. Back on the Christmas wish list it went, and into my hands it came.

I've been slogging though "Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A history and analysis of performance in the major leagues, 1876-2008"  in bits and pieces. Jaffe has concocted a series of evaluative stats that I don't necessarily understand, but I can avoid the math and get the kernel of what he's talking about.

And the section on Ron Gardenhire is illuminating -- especially in the context of this offseason, when the Twins are reshaping their relief corps with a bunch of question marks.

Jaffe wraps up almost two pages of detail of Gardy's history of relief pitchers, two pages in which he examines everybody from LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado to Willie Eyre and Joe Roa to Joe Nathan and Matt Guerrier:

Folks, Ron Gardenhire has not been simply good at handling a bullpen. In all the decades since the bullpen has been an established part of the major league roster, no manager has ever had a seven-year stretch like this is getting the best production from his relievers.

That seven-year stretch is 2002-08; I think it's safe to say that Gardenhire didn't hurt his status at all in 2009-10.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, of course. But the fact that the established arms have left the Twins middle relief corps does not mean the bullpen will be ineffective. Gardy built a 'pen essentially from scratch in 2002 -- he moved Guardado to closer and found roles in which Hawkins, J.C. Romero, Mike Jackson and Tony Fiore could be effective. A few years later, with all those guys gone, he rebuilt the pen again, this time with Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain,  Dennys Reyes and Guerrier.

It's merely time for his third generation.

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