Let’s be very clear on something before delving deeper into this topic, Ron Gardenhire is not the reason that the Twins have lost 90 games in consecutive seasons. He is also not the reason that the Twins find themselves sitting at 14 games below the .500 mark. However, he has shown a handful of times this season, that he may be part of the problem.
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In Minnesota, Gardenhire has been looked on with favor for much of his career. He was the 2010 American League manager of the year, and has six AL Central division titles under his belt. It hasn’t been until recently that the more flawed side of his talents have come to light.
The Minnesota Twins have fielded, including this year, four consecutive mediocre at best rosters. While baseball is a game played on a daily basis, and one in which anything can happen, statistics show that outcomes typically hover around the mean.
For Gardenhire, getting the most out of a relatively mediocre roster (-5.0 team WAR, 23rd overall according to baseball reference), requires elevating himself to the highest level as a manager. On a multitude of occasions, Ron Gardenhire has failed to do so.
Major League Baseball managers are not in control of the game like an NFL or NBA head coach, but the few strategical opportunities they do get to make a difference, must be executed flawlessly.
Last night trailing 7-5 in the seventh inning, after jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, Gardenhire and the Twins found themselves at a crossroads. Minnesota had runners on first and second with nobody out, the go ahead run at the plate being Danny Santana.
Mark Rzepcynski was on the mound for the Indians, and Gardenhire called for a Santana bunt. Gardenhire said, “Well, we’re losing. We’re going to bunt them over and try to get runs in. We’ve got to get back in the ballgame. That’s what you have to do. Danny has to be able to do those things. You want to play in this league, you’re a leadoff hitter — he can hit a home run, yes, and he’s hitting .320, yes, but he’s got to be able to bunt.”
“He might bunt and get a base hit. So there is no decision there, that’s an automatic, we’re bunting him over with Danny Santana. He’s got to do that to be able to stay and be a great player like we think he’s going to be. And he knows that more than anybody, he’s got to do that. That’s the job that he’s supposed to do.”
Unfortunately, and as Derek Wetmore of 1500 ESPN also pointed out, he couldn’t be more wrong. Santana is one of the Twins best hitters on the season, and one that doesn’t hit into double plays (just twice across 272 plate appearances). With Santana up, a guy who gets on base, Gardenhire was prepared to sacrifice an out to move the runners over.
Taking the bat out of his hands, Gardenhire watched as Santana struck out swinging.
If Santana is able to approach that plate appearance as a normal at bat, the odds he drives a ball for a base hit and scores one are much higher than the next batter, Brian Dozier, driving in both runners.
In another instance, a game against Seattle prior to Kendrys Morales being traded, Gardenhire opted for another head scratcher. Needing a run to get back into it late in a game, Morales a slow runner, found himself on first base. With a short bench for the game, Gardenhire opted to let Morales run from first to third before pinch running for him to score the last 90 feet.
Gardenhire has made a habit of puzzling moves this season, and while the self-declared hatred of statistical analysis is well documented, it may be time to at least give credit where it is due.
As a Major League Baseball manager, being a motivator is nearly 100% of the job responsibilities, but if there is another component, it is the astute understanding of how to work situations in your favor. For Gardenhire to be mediocrity towards relevancy, this is a skill he must vastly improve upon.