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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.”