• Can Ron Gardenhire Develop Young Players?

    Comments have been pretty negative about yesterday’s decision to grant Ron Gardenhire a two-year extension and retain the Minnesota Twins coaching staff. And that’s not just on the Twins Daily forums; check out stories on the Minnesota Twins Official site for some real vitriol. Twins fans are upset.

    A lot of those comments are rhetoric, which has the advantages of being powerful, entertaining and fairly obvious after a third year of futility and an especially brutal September. But rhetoric is also often logically dubious. One side will claim Gardenhire should be fired for three straight 96+ loss seasons. The other claims he should be retained for six division titles. Both are results which managers probably influence, but so do a lot of factors, like talent.

    Beyond the rhetoric, there are plenty of concerns regarding Gardenhire’s performance history. One of the biggest is whether a rebuilding organization can entrust a youth movement to Gardenhire and his coaching staff.

    Certainly, that was a problem this year. Aaron Hicks was a disaster. Chris Parmelee wasn’t much better. Trevor Plouffe stagnated offensively and maybe even regressed defensively. Only Brian Dozier – a player Gardy publicly lobbied to be promoted – ended up overachieving.

    That raises the question of how many past players really grew under Gardy’s tutelage. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, certainly, but they were always viewed as “can’t miss” stars. Jason Kubel probably didn’t have quite the career we expected, but there was the injury. Michael Cuddyer certainly developed, but it took him several years to shake the “underachieving” label. And the generation before developed mostly under Tom Kelly, breaking through largely in 2001 before Gardenhire took over.

    Similarly, there are questions about the development of the pitching staff under pitching coach (and former Gardenhire minor league roommate) Rick Anderson. Both Gardenhire and Anderson have been widely lauded for the development and handling of their bullpens, and this year’s group was no exception. But the organization is floundering largely because its rotation is among the worst in major league baseball and has been for three straight years.

    Again, questions arise about how successful this coaching staff has been in developing starters. Brad Radke carried a heavy load for several years, but he came up under Kelly. Johan Santana shined, but the turning point in his career is universally acknowledged to be when he perfected a changeup taught to him by AAA pitching coach (and current Twins bullpen coach) Bobby Cuellar. Kyle Lohse improved after leaving.

    More recently, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey both were serviceable for a time, but never took the final step to be consistently excellent. Nick Blackburn followed the path of Carlos Silva, looking like a true success story but regressing back to a dismal finish. Finally, Francisco Liriano is starting tonight in the Wild Card game, resembling the pitcher we were waiting for him to be – the year after he left the Twins.

    It seems odd to ask whether a coaching staff that had a decade of success can develop young players, because a decade of success almost demands that they be able to do so. But looking at past examples, and especially looking at recent failures, the question is there. At least from the outside.

    It must not be for Terry Ryan. Because yesterday’s decision essentially entrusts Gardenhire to oversee the final developmental steps of a farm system widely viewed as one of the best in baseball. Beyond all the rhetoric about wins and losses, that is what yesterday was about.

    And perhaps that is why so many are upset.
    This article was originally published in blog: Can Ron Gardenhire Develop Young Players? started by John Bonnes
    Comments 40 Comments
    1. Otwins's Avatar
      Otwins -
      I think you can add Valencia to that list. He hit the ball real well for Baltimore after August 1st. They were contending for a play off spot and he was playing regularly. He couldn't help this team?
    1. adjacent's Avatar
      adjacent -
      One thing the article doesn't address is that time has passed. The Gardy that led the young 2002-2006 teams is not today's Gardy. It happens to all of us. Patience grows thinner. Communication becomes more difficult, etc.The last young team that was relatively successful under Gardenhire was the 2008 team. The 2010 team had a lot more veteran players in it. But probably the most disappointing issue going to next year is that there are no apparent changes in the approach to pitching. And if that doesn't change, we are in for a long 2014.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I'd settle for a few less young guys being used as the guys to throw under the media bus. I can tolerate a lot of Gardys tendencies but that drives me nuts.
    1. markos's Avatar
      markos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Otwins View Post
      I think you can add Valencia to that list. He hit the ball real well for Baltimore after August 1st. They were contending for a play off spot and he was playing regularly. He couldn't help this team?
      Valencia is a great example of the utility of a platoon. While with the Twins, 65% of the games Valencia started were against right-handed pitchers. With the Orioles this season, only 25% of the games he started have been against right-handed pitchers. Considering his career OPS against lefties is .879, he is certainly a valuable asset when used properly.

      I don't mean to high-jack this thread, so I won't go an a tirade about platooning. However, this is an example of a young player who was essentially given up on by management instead of being used in situations where he could have provided significant value. A lot of young talent is going to be joining the major league club in the next 2 seasons (and has joined the team, like Arcia and Hicks). It worries me that players will be quickly thrown aside if they struggle in an everyday role instead of put them into situations that maximize the value they can provide. Or they will be overused in roles that doesn't suit them, which will impact their ability to win games.
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Kyle Lohse improved after leaving.

      That was very kind of you to leave it at that, but haven't most pitchers improved after leaving the Twins? Haven't most of them had their SO/9 go up? And almost all pitchers who come to the Twins see their SO/9 go down.

      As the Fangraphs article said, when pointing out the Twins had historically low SO rates, Anderson seems to be waging a one-man war to stamp out strikeouts, simply because he couldn't strike anyone out when he pitched.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      We will see. Somehow, Gardy's job is to see that the team meshes on the field. This has been a trying year, lots of patience, as starters continue to fall behind and allow the team to fall behind. Players strikeout in droves. They misplay balls. Fundamentally, the team waa trainwreck the final games of the season.

      The other side is the players Gardy had to deal on the field. How many will not be here next year or the second year of his contract (Fryer, Bernier, Thomas, Mastro, Ramirez, Roeincke, Plefry, Mathis, DeVries, Hernandez, Hendriks, Albers, Colabello, even Deduno all have a chance not to be retained just this season on the 40-man). Add is Plorimon, Escobar, Doumit, Willingham, Corriea, Burton -- and possibly due to salary Duensing, Swarzak, Plouffe -- disappearing in 2015.

      The fact that the coaching staff has a shorter tether. Means the Twins might see some movement as the managers/coaches who help develop the minor league guys could come north and replace the likes of Ullger, Vavra, Steinbach and maybe Cuellar will cause Anderson to go into retirement finally.

      The given is that the Twins want continuity and Gardy wants to manage as long as he can in Minnesota. If he didn't, this was the year to walk, with the Cubs and maybe Rangers job opening up (both would be appealing) and who knows where else.

      It will all depend on money spent, patience with youngsters, and the plight of fans who will not come to the stadium just because it is "All-Star Season -- seen the prices being asked for the full strips for the series?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      What evidence is there that the coaches have a shorter tether? They just lost 95+ games for the third year in a row, and all got to keep their jobs.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oldgoat_MN View Post
      Kyle Lohse improved after leaving.

      That was very kind of you to leave it at that, but haven't most pitchers improved after leaving the Twins? Haven't most of them had their SO/9 go up? And almost all pitchers who come to the Twins see their SO/9 go down.

      As the Fangraphs article said, when pointing out the Twins had historically low SO rates, Anderson seems to be waging a one-man war to stamp out strikeouts, simply because he couldn't strike anyone out when he pitched.
      The thing is that Kyle Lohse didn't improve significantly after leaving the Twins. His xFIP improved a touch. His yearly WAR was similar until a 2012 breakout (5-6 seasons after leaving the team).

      Yeah, his strikeouts went up. He moved to the National League. Everybody's strikeouts go up in the National League.

      Was he a better pitcher after leaving the Twins? Eh, maybe a touch... But mostly, it's statistical noise that could be influenced by league, home stadium, team defense, and any multitude of issues that have little to do with his ability to throw a baseball. It's close enough where it doesn't matter (overall, within a few percentage points, well within any margin of error of advanced metrics). I think Kyle Lohse's biggest problem with the Twins was in his head. You can make an argument that Gardenhire should have helped him straighten up before the door-bashing incident and I think you'd have a point.

      But to imply that he suddenly turned the corner upon leaving the Twins is just not true.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oldgoat_MN View Post
      Kyle Lohse improved after leaving.

      That was very kind of you to leave it at that, but haven't most pitchers improved after leaving the Twins? Haven't most of them had their SO/9 go up? And almost all pitchers who come to the Twins see their SO/9 go down.

      As the Fangraphs article said, when pointing out the Twins had historically low SO rates, Anderson seems to be waging a one-man war to stamp out strikeouts, simply because he couldn't strike anyone out when he pitched.
      Santana's K rate went down after leaving the Twins. Lohse's K rate has fluctuated yearly as it did while he was pitching for the Twins. Garza's rate went up after 2 part seasons with the Twins. Not with the Twins his K rate is7.69, with the Twins 7.11. Most pitcher's K rates go up after their first full season. Garza is no different. The jump is not dramatic. Liriano's K rate is not much different than with the Twins. Pavano, outside of his contract year and last year here he pitched better here than anywhere else with a lower K rate. Some of the other pitchers brought in were viewed as bad before they got here and not much different when they left.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Were those pitchers coming from the NL? (those who saw their SO/9 go down)

      For those who saw their SO/9 go up, did they go to the NL after leaving the Twins?

      For 2013, pitchers struck out 43% of the time and hit .132 overall.

      It's not as extreme as before with an extended interleague schedule, but it still makes a difference. There's 20 interleague games, thus there's a 6.25% (half home, half away) reduction in affect for AL teams.

      So whereas pitchers might get 3 AB a game (pinch hitters, extra innings, lots of other factors), but would strike out 43% of the time.

      Now, it is true that DH's strike out more than ever these days. But even a high % would be 20% range as a whole. While the batting average hike is more than 100 pts.

      I'm not saying this as support for Anderson as a pitching coach. Maybe we should get Brunansky to switch to pitching coach - he got his hitters to get the 3rd MOST strikeouts in MLB History!

      Just think what he could do with the pitching staff...
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      What evidence is there that the coaches have a shorter tether? They just lost 95+ games for the third year in a row, and all got to keep their jobs.
      I think they are all on one-year contracts, not 2 year.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      How about "who gets better the longer they work with this staff"? Because that's the issue for me.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      If the only position player people can come up with is Valencia, the Twins team is doing well. Valencia had 170 AB this year. He did well this year in a very specialized and limited role.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      How about "who gets better the longer they work with this staff"? Because that's the issue for me.
      Florimon has.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I have to ask, since when is it the MLB manager and pitching coach's job to "develop young players"?

      For me, it's their job to win as many games as possible. They have to motivate, maybe even psycho-analyze, and perhaps tweak something here or there, but "development" is not at the top of the list of duties at that level.

      In fact, the Major League level is the first level in the organization where development of young players ISN'T the #1 responsibility of the field staff.

      It seems to me that the Twins have done a pretty good job of developing hitting and pitching talent at the Class A levels, but I'm not sure I consistently see that development steadily continue through AA.

      It's almost as though, as they reach AA, the players are no longer being "developed," but the focus begins to prematurely be turned to winning games. I think developing a winning mentality is important, but at AA I think you still need to be coaching individual players to improve, whether that's working on driving the ball at a time when players' bodies are maturing and getting stronger or whether it's mastering an out-pitch at a time when pitchers can no longer get by just throwing all their pitches for strikes.

      I see New Britain manager Jeff Smith was assigned to manager duties in the Arizona Fall League, so obviously the Twins FO likes him a lot. If so, maybe they should make him their extra MLB coach and put someone in the AA manager's chair that is more focused on helping players continue to develop at that level.
    1. boomerb5's Avatar
      boomerb5 -
      Can he? It is possible. But the only ones he's had any success with seem to be the ones he saw as a minor league manager. Any time a young talented player comes along and he isn't one of "Gardy's Guys", he fails to develop. And frankly I do not see many of the Buxton/Sano crowd being "Gardy's Guys"...they are a generation younger. He also has a HORRIBLE record with non-American born players.

      The Twins had a chance to part ways peacefully. Ray Miller would still be the most recent manager to be fired. ANYBODY else would be better suited to the job as it stands today.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Jim, if you are rebuilding, and have a lot of young players, I think the answer is "yes", it is part of a coach's job to coach players. I'm kind of baffled this is even up for debate. People don't stop learning when they get a full time job.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I have to ask, since when is it the MLB manager and pitching coach's job to "develop young players"?.
      This implies that every player from the minors is (or should be) major league ready when they come up. That there is no difference. Between triple A and the bigs.

      I would argue it's always their job, each wrung in the ladder prepares a player for the next, but it takes the step up to find out what's like at the top. You can't find out what's like at the top of Everest from the bottom.

      This becomes more critical when there are a lot of rookies on a team. It's harder to give extra attention when 3/4 of your staff was in the minors in the last year.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      At the MLB level, it would seem that a Manager is best able to make 'tweeks' to a player's 'development.' Taking what they have and capitalizing on it. Rest, matchups, baserunning decisions, situational knowledge (re-enforcement).

      I'm not sure it's 'development' at the Big League level though.

      Getting a pitcher to land on the ball of his foot (Nolan Ryan's message to Randy Johnson) - likely should have been discovered by personnel along the way to the majors.

      Nolan Ryan was a retired player not even in the Mariners' organization, he just wanted to help a player out.

      I think Paul Molitor would point something out if he saw it.

      If a player isn't doing as well as he thinks he should be in the big leagues - he should be seeking out ways to remedy that. Your manager, position coaches, teammates, other players, former players, etc.

      I guess I don't see a manager making the lion's share of those 'tweeks'...

      You want someone fun to play for. Who makes smart decisions that are ahead of the speed of the game. But ultimately, players have to make the plays. Get on base. And then the Manager can manage the game. The Twins struck out more than any team EVER in MLB history, save 2 teams!! That has to change.
    1. Halsey Hall's Avatar
      Halsey Hall -
      Can Gardy develop young players? Well I doubt it, but who knows. But that's not his job, anyway. He's the manager. His job, ultimately, is to put on the field, daily, the best players to win a game that particular day. I know it's been a long time, but when TK was manager, he always tried to place a player in a position where he had a chance to succeed. Granted there wasn't all the numbers stat-heads use these days, but TK seemed to be pretty good at it. Gardy I'm not so sure. Having been to spring training every year since '91, and I'm there almost daily, in my opinion this is the time where the developing starts. I'm not sure where to go with this, since there's different routes, but I'll try this one for example. Max Kepler. And I'll try to keep this as short as possible. The Twins sign him as a 16 year old out of Germany. He's smart, speaks 4 languages fluently, and comes from an athletic family as his folks are world renown balletists. He comes as a raw, young, kid with potential in some scouts eyes. His development involves teaching and learning, starting with the basics all the way to the finer points of MLB. And so it starts, at the lowest level in the organization. He's taught how to play the outfield, (positioning, cutoffs, situations, etc) and the same at first base (footwork, situations, etc). The same thing hitting, everything that he needs to improve on to advance. And this is repetition, repetition, repetition, at all levels, until it becomes second nature. And this goes on with each kid that comes to camp. So now we come to spring training and there's players playing on 4 different fields, a huge number of players at all different levels. Gardy spends most of his time with the major league team. He's usually standing around 2nd base or shortstop on most of the drills. And many of the drills are fundamentals, which these guys have worked on over and over again at every level. And there's still mistakes made. Gardy will take a player and talk with him if something is amiss, but he generally doesn't work with him. A coach will do that. Ulger will work with the outfielders, Steinie with the catchers, etc. The coaches are coaches, and the teaching never ends. Gardy is the manager, the overseer, and has these coaches to do the teaching and developing. Gardy has to appraise all these players, and ultimately decide which one's make the 25 man. Which 25 guys will give him the best team possible.
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