It Must Be Gardy

I don’t care about the Manager of the Year award. If fired Royals manager Trey Hillman won it this year it would be fine with me. In fact, I’ll start the campaign now: Hillman for 2010 American League Manager of the Year!

But seriously, folks… if Ron Gardenhire wins Manager of the Year, I’m fine with it. If he doesn’t, that’s fine with me, too. I don’t care. If he does win, I know that it will drive many saber-oriented Twins fans crazy, as I’ve read many of their criticisms of his decisions. You can find enough of those around if you look around the ‘net. I’m not here to say that Gardenhire is a bad manager. I don’t really know.

That last sentence is key to my post, as a couple of my favorite saber-friendly writers seem to think that a lack of knowledge about whether “Gardy” helps the Twins win or not redounds in his favor. Joe Posnanski writes:

I think Ron Gardenhire is the best manager in baseball. I think that not based on what we see but what we can’t see.

Commenting on Posnanski, Rob Neyer blogs:

Managers make moves that don’t make sense, based on the numbers we’re looking at … but we often don’t have all the numbers…. If we did have absolute knowledge, Gardenhire might look better than we think.

Posnanski’s appeal to our lack of knowledge either way is more obvious, but it is also present in Neyer’s strange thought about the “absolute knowledge” we don’t have — we “don’t know everything” going on with the Twins, so Gardenhire must be making more of a difference than other managers. I’m not going to criticize Gardenhire, but rather to point out the obvious problem with this claim.

To be fair, Neyer does make some other points (although doing so cuts against his “we don’t know” claim). He notes that the Twins have historically had a low payroll (although he also notes they don’t this year [thanks to the taxpayers’ largesse towards the impoverished Twins owners], which sort of makes the point irrelevant when considering 2010), but what does that have to do with Gardenhire? It was their front office that signed Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson and traded for J.J. Hardy. When the A’s were winning despite a low payroll in the first half of the decade, did everyone credit Art Howe? Yeah, I think they did — wasn’t that what Moneyball was all about, how Billy Beane was a mere figurehead and Howe was the real mastermind behind Oakland’s success?

Some will say that Gardenhire should get credit for the Twins’ winning despite injuries to Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau. The Twins were heavily favored to go to the playoffs long before the season started, and when Nathan went down I (incoherently) predicted that certain writers would use it as an excuse to give Gardenhire credit even though the best closers don’t matter all that much. Over the last three seasons, Nathan has averaged about 2 WAR. This season Jon Rauch has been worth 1 WAR. Obviously, a brutual loss. As for Morneau, he’s actually been worth 5.3 WAR this season — a career best. The “R” (“replacement”) in WAR accounts for the playing time element. Maybe Gardenhire saw this coming, and came up with the great idea of asking Morneau to hit for a Bondsian .446 wOBA in the short time he did have. “Strawberry, hit a home run!” “Okay, Skip.” “Ha-ha! I told him to do that!”

Going through these arguments (and there are others) distracts from my main point regarding the Poz/Neyer quotes, however. In both of them, it is asserted that we can’t say that Gardenhire isn’t a key to the Twins because we don’t know/don’t have all the information. Taken on its own, it is a fallacious argument from ignorance. “I’m asserting something without argument, and it’s your job to disprove it.” I’m not even claiming that they necessarily need numbers to back it up (it would be nice, of course). The problem is that just asserting that “we don’t know why the Twins are having success, so it must be due to Gardenhire” isn’t a valid argument. What would Neyer and Posnanski say to someone who claimed that the reason the Yankees are winning this season despite Derek Jeter‘s season is because of Jeter’s “intangible” leadership? Hey, Jeter’s around, the Yankees are winning, there must be some connnection, right? We don’t know, but it would be “prudent” to be open to the possibility, right? How is that any more baseless than asserting that Gardenhire must be doing something we can’t see in the numbers or in his tactics? Maybe there are other managers around baseball who have helped their teams even more than Gardenhire has; how should we select which manager has done the best at things we don’t know about?

Maybe Gardenhire is making a difference. Maybe he isn’t. But the proper inference from “we don’t know” isn’t “he probably is,” but rather “we don’t know.”



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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chiasmus
Guest
5 years 11 months ago

Posnanski’s original post was weakly argued, and Neyer’s argument seems largely off-point, but Gardy nonetheless presents an interesting problem that you’re not really dealing with. This comes up in Poz’s comments. The basic issue is that managing a baseball team has two major components:

1) On the field tactics and strategy

2) “Managing” in the human-relations, leader-of-men sense: keeping people happy, motivating them, maintaining harmony between teammates, creating a good work environment, etc.

As fans, we have lots of information about (1) but very little information about (2). So we’re bound to systematically overrate good game tacticians relative to good leaders. The case for Gardy is that, based on the limited circumstantial evidence available, he appears to be very good at (2), even if he’s not so great at (1).

The challenge for us as analysts is to figure out whether it’s possible to systematically measure both components of a manager’s role. Citing player WAR doesn’t get you anywhere since it would be partly a consequence of good managing in sense (2).

It may not be possible to quantify both sides of managing, but in that case we should really just give up and say “we don’t know” anything about managers *in general*, not just Gardy, since an understanding based only on game tactics will be so biased as to be useless.

mettle
Guest
mettle
5 years 11 months ago

Regarding (2): Looking at players’ performance when they move from one team/manager to another or when a team changes managers would answer that question (if you can get a big enough sample size).

John
Guest
John
5 years 11 months ago

Not just a big enough sample, but you would have to control for a number of other factors.

The Duder
Guest
The Duder
5 years 11 months ago

This is a very well thought out comment that I completely agree with. My guess is that (2) doesn’t have 10% of an affect on the game as (1), though.

Therefore we are correct to overrate the tacticians.

Huh?
Guest
Huh?
5 years 11 months ago

The world sure wastes a lot of time and money on leadership training then, if it’s so worthless.

scottz
Guest
scottz
5 years 11 months ago

The (1) and (2) of this comment I think are spot on, and one thing that I’ve tried to express over the years to my friends, but not nearly as succinctly as done here by chiasmus.

My follow-up to this thinking is that with a reasonable amount of talent, being good at (2) will help the talent over a long season, but being bad at (1) will weigh heavily in losing individual games. Thus, (2) can help get you to the playoffs, where a single error of (1) could cost you dearly in the playoffs.

I’d argue that Bobby Cox might qualify as a good (2), bad (1) as well.

CubsNine
Member
CubsNine
5 years 11 months ago

Yes, Bobby Cox is the classic example of this type of manager. Mediocre tactical manager, excellent clubhouse manager. Bill James once pointed out Cox was the only manager in history whose teams finished better than their consensus preseason projection 20 years in a row. (!!) And that was roughly 1980 to 2000 he was talking about, so it started well before the Braves’ dominant years began. Such managers are usually great for the regular season, not so great in the playoffs. But we all know there’s a ton of luck involved in playoff series anyway. Cox’s teams scored some huge playoff upsets, such as the 1991 NLCS over the Pirates and the 1995 World Series over the Indians. Of course his teams were playoff upset victims more often, going all the way back to Toronto blowing the 1985 ALCS to the Royals.

I always thought of Dusty Baker as this type of manager too. He got many years of impressive regular season results in San Francisco, and now he’s doing it in Cincinnati. But of course he’s famous for his tactical meltdowns in the playoffs in ’02 and ’03. After ’03 he never had a chance to do his good clubhouse managing in peace here in Chicago.

To use an NBA analogy, one might think of these managers as akin to Doug Collins with the Bulls: They can take a team to a certain level, but you need to bring in a sharp tactical manager to take the team to the next level.

Jack Str
Guest
Jack Str
5 years 11 months ago

You’re leaving out at least 3), which is the role the manager has in deciding the rotation, and who plays the pen and in the field. I imagine Earl Weaver would have broken camp with a rather different rotation than the one the Mets went North with. I don’t mean to nitpick here, and you may have meant to include this kind of thing in 1), but this is such a huge part of managing–and a part I don’t imagine we’ll ever find a way of measuring–that I thought it was worth being explicit about.

It’s easy to imagine in the case of the 2010 Mets that the decision to include John Maine and Oliver Perez in the rotation–if indeed that was the manager’s decision–for the first 6 and 8 weeks of the season cost them several wins. I have to believe there are cases where a manager’s decisions concerning which players to go with have added or cost a club as much as a dozen wins–just don’t ask me to prove it.

Neil S
Guest
Neil S
5 years 11 months ago

re: the Rauch/Nathan comparison. The WAR comparison makes the hoopla look a bit silly, but a WPA comparison is probably worth making, too – Rauch has 1.21 this year, whereas Nathan has averaged almost 4 WPA in his tenure with the Twins. That’s a pretty significant difference.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
5 years 11 months ago

Rauch also wasn’t allowed to close for a full season. Yes, there was a difference, but not one that’s likely to matter this year.

Brandon
Guest
Brandon
5 years 11 months ago

I feel that a lot of being a successful manager is keeping players focused and content during the insidiously long season and that in game decisions are a very small part of the equation. Plenty of talented teams underachieve. These things are extremely hard to hang statistics on, and an “manager of the year” contest or whatever ends up being about unexpected team performance than anything else — so a manager who has three or four players get lucky with BABIP will win the prize. It takes a long time to figure out who is a good motivator (Phil Jackson being perhaps the best modern example of this, only basketball is such that these things are more transparent) and who will burn his team out in two years (think Larry Bowa).

cowdisciple
Guest
cowdisciple
5 years 11 months ago

He makes plenty of questionable (and by questionable, I mean obviously wrong) in-game strategic decisions, that’s for sure. I think he does a good job of usually getting the right players on the field and taking care of the pitching staff, though. He’s good at keeping the players happy.

My respect for him went up about three notches when he pulled Slowey (who was coming off an injury and had obviously lost it) with a no-hitter intact in the seventh. I didn’t think he had the yarbles to make an unconventional decision.

All in all, I’d say he’s one of the better managers in the game. Sure, his strategic decisions suck from a SABR standpoint, but that’s every manager.

Todd Doug
Member
Todd Doug
5 years 11 months ago

My kingdom to you for using brackets inside a parenthetical, as opposed to more parenthesis.

Coby DuBose
Guest
Coby DuBose
5 years 11 months ago

While we’re on the topic, taking Neyer’s “if we did have absolute knowledge, Gardenhire might look better than we think” and turning it into “we don’t know why the Twins are having success, so it must be due to Gardenhire” is a massive stretch in its own right.

Neyer (at least in the quote you referenced) never said the success must be due to Gardenhire. He simply argued that the gap in quantifiable knowledge leaves room for more credit to be given (possibly) to Gardenhire.

I do enjoy an article that rips on argument fallacies using fallacies of its own to aid in the process. Hey, your argument sucks! Let me build up this strawman and tear it down! If you’re going to blast Neyer’s words, do us a favor and blast his actual comments, not your own convoluted takeaway from what he wrote.

Matt Klaassen
Guest
Matt Klaassen
5 years 11 months ago

This is Matt (the author) posting from my mobile, from which I can’t see comments (although I can post them…). Weirdly, a couple paragraphs seem to be missing from the mobile version that are in the full web version… Don’t know why, but if you’re viewing from mobile, just note that some stuff is missing.

glassSheets
Guest
glassSheets
5 years 11 months ago

This is an odd comment. You are posting a message from your mobile stating you can’t read messages from your mobile warning people reading from a mobile in a message they probably can’t read. The people this message is intended for (mobilers) probably can’t read it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article, and do appreciate your willingness to try to warn people. Just thought I’d mention the strangeness of the comment itself.

NotDave
Guest
NotDave
5 years 11 months ago

“When the A’s were winning despite a low payroll in the first half of the decade, did everyone credit Art Howe”

Maybe they should have. How’s Billy’s shit working in the regular season these days?

Ken
Guest
Ken
5 years 11 months ago

I disagree with the author’s implication that Beane received all of the credit and Howe none. Howe was 2nd in MOY voting for four straight years. Yeah, he didn’t have a book written about him, but I think that counts as recognition.

Of course, Howe didn’t do nearly as well before or after Oakland.

Kevin
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Kevin
5 years 11 months ago

Pretty well actually. Boston, Texas, Tampa, all seem to be doing pretty well. What a stupid comment.

Mark
Guest
Mark
5 years 11 months ago

The question isn’t so much whether Gardy makes non-optimal tactical decisions, but how he compares to the rest of the league’s managers in that regard. Yes, he never used Nathan with the bases loaded in a one-run game in the 6th inning, but neither does any other manager use his closer that way.

Ironically, the two decisions that he’s gotten the most heat for this year were starting Punto over Harris at 3B & sticking with Jesse Crain – both of which turned out to be absolutely the right choice. Though now, of course, it’s “Why didn’t Gardy give Valencia the starting job from day one this year!” in classic highsight is 20-20 fashion. And it’s quickly gone from “Gardy should be fired for bringing Crain into a close game” to “Why doesn’t Gardy make Crain the closer!”.

And most Gardy bashing isn’t done by SABR-metric types. It’s done by Twins fans who think Delmon Young has been the teams best hitter because he drives in the most runs, who ripped Morneau the first half of this year for taking too many walks, and who think playing a defensive whiz at 3B instead of the guy with the better batting average is absurd. Fans who’s #1 issue isn’t bullpen leverage, it’s that Young isn’t hitting in the cleanup spot.

Luke in MN
Guest
Luke in MN
5 years 11 months ago

It’s the same story with basically every manager of every business, baseball or otherwise. If the end results are good, you get credit, even if anyone could have stood just as high on the shoulders of others. And excellent work in a failing enterprise is rarely rewarded.

John
Guest
John
5 years 11 months ago

I guess I am sabrmetric oriented and I don’t hate Gardy.

Sure he frustrates me with his love for the light hitting utility infielder and his reluctance to platoon guys with extraordinary split. But he does do a very good job managing the pitching staff. He doesn’t overwork his starting rotation, you rarely see a Twin’s pitcher go much over 100 pitches. He can rely too much on a particular set up guy and wear them out, but he does seem to leverage the pen fairly well.

Plus it is hard not to give him some credit for the development of young players, particularly Span and Valencia who both have hit much better than their minor league track record would have indicated (even if you account for some luck being in Valencia’s numbers this year).

But the essential problem with this article is that we have very good ways of measuring a player’s contribution to team performance. We have no equally satisfying way of measuring the totality of a manager’s performance. So comparing subjective measures of player’s performance (which has satisfying objective measures) and subjective measures of manager’s performance (which has no compelling objective measures) is specious at best. What Pos and Neyer argue is that because there are not compelling objective measures we have to rely upon subjective ones and both of them similarly concluded that in their SUBJECTIVE opinion, Gardy is a good manager.

Randall
Guest
Randall
5 years 11 months ago

Even if the Twins were heavily predicted to make the postseason this year–and I’m not sure it was that unanimous, but I don’t have access to the predictions now–it’s still true that Gardy seems to regularly coax more wins out of the Twins than the pre-season predictions would indicate.

I’ll follow up on John’s good points from above: we have plenty of reason to think that Gardy is a good manager. Neyer’s point was that we should be more skeptical than have been that we have good statistical reason to doubt Gardy’s management. The only argument we have that Gardy is not a good manager is that he makes decisions that seem by the numbers to be questionable. Well, if he seems like a good manager and if his teams consistently outperform expectations, that gives us at least *some* reason (though not overwhelming reason!) to think that our judgments based on the numbers are flawed.

I’m not saying that Gardy clearly deserves manager of the year, but I am constantly surprised at how many people think he’s doing an awful job, *and* think that the Twins don’t have the talent level of the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Rays or even Detroit or the White Sox.

Sox2727
Guest
Sox2727
5 years 11 months ago

As an objective observer, I need someone clarify the “obvious tactial errors” that Gardenhire makes? I don’t see the Twins everyday so I’m curious to get the perspective of people who do.

John
Guest
John
5 years 11 months ago

A. Loves weak hitting utility players like Nick Punto.
B. Won’t regularly platoon some players with huge splits like Jacque Jones or Jason Kubel.
C. Will try to hold onto his closer for a save situation in extra inning games on the road.

Not David
Guest
Not David
5 years 11 months ago

A. Must remind him of his playing days
B. Yet he has no trouble citing ridiculously small sample sizes (10 PA’s or fewer) when making lineup decisions.
C. Unfortunately nearly every manager does this to some degree

Save Gardy Campaign
Guest
Save Gardy Campaign
5 years 11 months ago

A. Should be reworded: … weak hitting, excellent fielding at three infield positions … I don’t believe he has ever intended to use Punto as an everyday player, but sees him as extremely valuable to the team over 162 games. For that reason, he sticks with him.

B. And just who was he supposed to platoon him with? Jason Repko – now there’s an offensive powerhouse. He needs to have decent options for the alternative.

C. This is just ridiculous. And, my recollection is of Gardy using his closer in the 9th or 10th inning on the road in tie games on many occasions,

These examples are basically philosophical, not statistical. Gardy, form my observation, doesn’t believe in developing players at the major league level, unless forced to. He wants them ready when they get here. Hence, he will stick with Punto rather than promoting a Valencia he, (and presumably his minor league operatives) don’t see as ready. Sure, there are going to be instances where a player proves this wrong, but, like many executive decisions, when they’re right, there’s no way of actually justifying them other than success.

mythbuster
Guest
mythbuster
5 years 11 months ago

A. This is pure myth, repeated ad nauseum by people who don’t actually take a look at the situation. Maybe he ‘loves’ weak hitting utility players, yet every single time he’s had better option(s) those weak hitting utility players have been just that…utility players. It’s not Gardenhire’s fault that when he’s played Nick Punto regularly, Nick Punto was the best player available. Give me the name(s) of the superior players that Nick Punto has stolen PAs from, please.

B. Who should Gardy be giving ABs to other than Kubel? Everyone in the world, especially Ron Gardenhire, knows Kubel struggles against LH pitching. But if the option is giving Brendan Harris more PAs at DH, then personally I’d just as soon let Kubel get his hacks in. He might run into a fastball now and again.

C. “Will try to hold onto his closer for a save situation in extra inning games on the road.” Yup, you got him there. Funny though that despite the ranting and raving from many about Gardenhire’s bullpen usage, the Twins have had a bullpen ERA lower than league average in every single season of his tenure, only once finishing as low as 6th in the league. Bullpen management is a strength of Gardenhire, not a weakness.

The man has proven to be a good manager. Just cause some sabre types can pick a nit here and there doesn’t make him a bad one, and doesn’t even mean the sabre types are right.

John
Guest
John
5 years 11 months ago

The guy asked for the common criticisms Gardy gets. Those are it. I am not saying they are justified, just that they are made.

Part of Gardy’s issue in the past has in fact been roster construction. I think he has done a very good job this season. In particular early on he was giving Thome a lot of ABs against LHP even at the expense of Delmon Young.

You can’t expect a manager to make every decision based purely on the numbers, there is a people aspect to managing that is difficult to account for.

Gardy also receives a lot of criticism for not playing younger players, which I think is generally unwarranted. The only two young position players I think the Twins clearly mishandled by not playing them were Bartlett and Cuddyer. Cuddyer got yanked in and out of the lineup and all over the field and the Twins never showed enough confidence in Bartlett early in his career.

nate
Guest
nate
5 years 11 months ago

What if the random assignment of value was that “(2) doesn’t have 10% of the affect on a season as (1)”? Then (2) could account for up to 15 games in the season and would be the difference in manager of the year voting.

Rich
Guest
Rich
5 years 11 months ago

Only if you think Players have absolutely no impact on the game.

brew1982
Guest
brew1982
5 years 11 months ago

Matt:

Weak sauce if all you are doing is providing us some lame lecture on debate technique. What’s the point? What did you want to accomplish? Because you are being perceived, fairly or no, as one of the crowd who regularly claim that a manager does not matter. Which, by the way, is a sorry crowd because THEY equate not knowing with not making any impact. And when speaking directly to a guy like Gardenhire with this history of success at some point the managers don’t matter schmucks have to concede that a manager generating these results receives some recognition.

Nick
Guest
Nick
5 years 11 months ago

Talk about revisionist history. The Twins were not “heavily favored” to win the AL Central. Almost all projections at the beginning of the season had it a neck-and-neck race between three or in some cases four teams. I don’t remember seeing any predictions that the Twins would win the division going away.

Matt 2
Guest
Matt 2
5 years 11 months ago

I think this boils down to one thing: defense. Offensively, the Twins are and have been built around two cornerstones in the lineup (Mauer and Morneau), a few corner guys/DH with moderate power that are quite valuable at least every other year (Kubel, Cuddyer, and for once, Young)…and everyone else can field. If they get something out of those glove-first guys at the plate (like with Valencia), it’s a bonus.

The question: is there something about Gardenhire’s philosophy that makes his players produce to fullest defensively, or is Terry Ryan just a genius when it comes to accumulating this kind of personnel?

Because really, from judgings Gardy’s in-game tactics (unfortunately without many numbers to support the case), he really is bad. It’s just that his mistakes don’t matter enough. Having Nick Punto hit in the two hole regularly is undeniably dumb, but lineup structure is proven to be of minimal importance. Continually bunting with guys that can’t hit anyway isn’t necessarily a death knell. Sticking with one pitcher for each of the late innings isn’t ideal, but the Twins have had good pen arms for awhile, ones that can get both lefties and righties out reasonably well.

As a Jays fan, I see the same thing personally with Cito Gaston. It annoys me to no end that Travis Snider and JP Arencibia don’t play nearly enough, but their replacements are exactly bad, so the team stays afloat in the short-term. It bothers me that the Jays don’t get on base enough, but Cito’s aggressive plate approach methods may be allowing guys to reach levels that may not have gotten to by trying to walk 15% of the time. Again, not ideal, but not disastrous.

Steve
Guest
Steve
5 years 11 months ago

Newsflash: Every “SABR-Minded” fan thinks their manager is an idiot.

KHAZAD
Guest
KHAZAD
5 years 10 months ago

We often hear about GM’s of other teams, but very few people seem to talk about Bill Smith (or even Terry Ryan before him ) when talking about the Twins success. They may have a bigger payroll now but they (esp. Ryan) wrote the book on building a small market team. They just didn’t toot their own horn.

As far as managers go, Every manager makes stupid moves from a Saber standpoint. Yes, him too. (A blanket statement for everyone bringing up a “great” manager’s name) But the biggest job of a baseball manager is managing the team. Getting 25 different guys on the same page and keeping them there. Doing the day to day behind the scenes work to keep people motivated. The best managers excel at that, and do good work that you never see which overcomes some of their lack of comprehension about the numbers.

I pretty much know that every manager of a team I Iike will make moves or send out lineups of fail to make obvious moves that will make me want to scream. I know that every manager of a team I don’t like will do things that make me laugh at them. But, in the end, it’s about managing people.

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