Ron Gardenhire and the Minnesota Twins just finished up a series against the Detroit Tigers, losing two of three games. If the Twins are serious about contending this year, then they need to win series against top teams like the Tigers. But that is a discussion for another time because something happened in the series that got me thinking about how successful 2014 has been for the Twins in terms of winning and losing. I’m not talking about the team’s traditional record but how well Gardenhire has been using the new challenge system to truly affect a game’s outcome.
The MLB instituted a new challenge rule to the game in 2014 that allows each manager one challenge per game and a second one if the first was successful. The umpire can also initiate his own review if both teams are out of challenges and it is past the 7th inning (83 instances times this year). So far there have been 528 challenges MLB-wide and 251 of them have been overturned for a 47.5% rate. The Tampa Bay Rays lead the league with 24 challenges and the Reds, Padres and Cardinals are tied at the lowest with 9 challenges.
The Twins rank in the upper third of challenging teams, challenging 17 plays with 7 being overturned for a 42% success rate. That overturn rate isn’t too far below the MLB average so on the surface Gardenhire grades out as an average manager in that regard. But if you look a bit deeper you can subjectively determine how important those overturned calls actually were. Did those extra out determine the outcome of the game? Or did it just extend the inning for nothing? Here are some breakdowns of each successful Twins challenge to really figure out how impactful the challenge system has been for the Twins in 2014.
6/14 – Down 4-12 in the top of the eighth against the Detroit Tigers, a successful two-out challenge by Minnesota extended the inning, eventually giving the Twins enough time to score three runs. The rally didn’t do enough though and the Twins fell to the Tigers 9-12.
6/13 – In the top of the 3rd against the Tigers, Gardy successfully overturned an out call on a Danny Santana stolen base attempt. The Twins loaded the bases but couldn’t score any more runs after the challenge. The Twins ended up winning the game though 2-0.
6/4 – In the bottom of the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers Gardenhire successfully overturned another out call on a Brian Dozier stolen base attempt. However the Twins couldn’t score and stranded Dozier at 3rd base in the inning. The Twins won the game 6-4.
5/31 – With the Twins ahead 1-0 in the 3rd against the New York Yankees Gardenhire successfully challenged a force play, putting Eduardo Escobar and Dozier on first and second. The Twins couldn’t capitalize in the inning and ended up losing the game 1-3.
5/18 – Tied 0-0 against the Seattle Mariners in the 3rd inning, a successful challenge overturned a bang bang force out of Danny Santana at first base. Two more strikeouts followed so the challenge gave Trevor Plouffe a chance at the plate and he delivered a two run single. It turned out to be a great challenge because the team scored some runs but the Twins ended up losing the game 2-6.
5/15 – Up 3-1 in the 6th against the Boston Red Sox, a successful challenge overturned a pickoff of Joe Mauer at first base but Plouffe struck out with runners on first and second to end the threat.
5/1 – Down 4-8 in the 8th against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a successful challenge overturned a force out at second base, putting Jason Kubel on second and Josmil Pinto at first with one out. The Twins didn’t end up scoring however with the extra out that was given to them and they ended up losing the game 4-9.
Of the 7 successful challenges, the Twins were able to score more runs in only two games when they were given an “extra” out. More critically of Gardy’s challenging though, the Twins were unable to win the games where they scored those extra runs. So while the Twins are batting 42% in challenges, it’s actually more like 0% in meaningful challenges. Sure it’s great that seven plays were changed to correct calls but it would be hard to argue that the game’s outcome changed because of it. The only obvious benefit of these challenges was the hope that it brought the fans, who either got to root for something big to happen or actually watch the Twins bring home a couple more runs. Otherwise Gardenhire’s challenges have just delayed the game for little reward (the MLB makes a big deal about how their reviews take such little time but they don’t account for the managers who go out and stall for time before deciding to use a challenge based on what his bench is signaling to him).
The challenge system hasn’t paid off for the Twins yet, but whether that is because of Gardenhire’s decision making or because of circumstances isn’t clear. If you believe the challenge system brings justice to the game you can’t argue with its results. However, the Twins have shown that the right call doesn’t always directly translate into wins and losses.