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Observations on the Ebb and Flow of the Gardenhire Era

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In looking at average team WAR in the American League over the 11 years of the Gardenhire era, we see consistent yearly offensive values of +19 wins, pitching values of +13 wins, and fielding values of zero. Comparing the Twins’ performances in each of the Gardenhire seasons to those averages gives us a quick picture of the successes or failures each season and how the offensive, pitching, and fielding prowess of the Twins has trended.

  • 2004-2006. Do I need to say it? Johan Santana was one helluva pitcher. He alone tacked on another 10+ wins to the Twins bottom line in each of the years from 2004 to 2006. With Joe Nathan arriving in 2004 to close out games, this may have been the best stretch of pitching in Twins history. Unfortunately, Twins bats were below league average in two of those seasons. The one year they did manage to field an average offense, 2006, the Twins won 96 games. In my biased remembrance, however, I thought the bats were prodigious that year - Mauer and Morneau each with OPS’s over .900, Cuddyer and Hunter combining to drive in 200 runs. Problem was, the rest of the league was equally as prodigious. The Twins scored 801 runs. The league average was 804. One more banger in the lineup instead of the at-bats taken up by Tony Batista or Rondell White or Lew Ford and maybe the 2006 Twins could have done better than a three-and-out vs. Oakland in the playoffs.

  • 2008-2010. Morneau and Mauer continued to punish the ball when healthy and Cuddyer was his usual self, but throw in Jason Kubel emerging in 2008 and 2009 and some Jim Thome mojo in 2010 and this was the best offensive production compared to the rest of the league of the Gardenhire era. 2010 was, in fact, the peak of output for Gardy’s tenure (+24.9 WAR) despite how much Target Field was maligned as being unfriendly to hitters. Of course WAR is a weirdly constrained stat in that it starts with the team’s wins and reverse engineers itself. Offense or pitching can produce some inflated WAR numbers when the team wins despite what the actual run production was. In 2010, the offense scored 781 runs, fewer than in 2006 - but now above a league average that had dropped to 721 runs per team. (Does anyone else think it’s significant that league average runs declined by 10% in 4 years?) Anyway, if it was the Twins’ intention to build toward having their best all-around team for the opening of the new ballpark, they succeeded. Both their pitching and offense were strong in 2009 and 2010 – the only years of the Gardenhire era that both were at such levels simultaneously.

  • 2005. The Gardenhire era’s best fielding team in a WAR-sense (+3.2) and the worse offensive team. (+6.9) Many of the same players can take credit for both accomplishments: Nick Punto, Juan Castro, and Jason Bartlett. This season was a point of departure for the club as, for the next 6 years, the Twins’ defensive WAR trends downward while the offensive WAR trends upward. The defense actually falls below the AL team average in 2008 and doesn’t rise back above until 2012. Coincidentally, Delmon Young’s service with the Twins coincides with the defensive depression from 2008 to 2011 when he posted WAR values in the field of -1.9 in 2008, -1.2 in 2009, -1.9 in 2010, and -0.5 in a half-season in 2011. Considering that defensive WAR is weighted by the relative importance of defensive positions so that corner outfield spots are attributed the least, Young’s numbers are even more staggering. (Staggering also often described his routes to fly balls in LF)

  • 2012. With a modicum of pitching last year, the Twins could have been an okay team. Their offense rebounded nicely from 2011 to produce at league average and their defense improved considerably. Actually, considering the low win total to start the defensive calculation from, a fielding WAR of +2.6 compared to -7.7 the year before is a monumental turnaround. The middle infield defense of Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, and Pedro Florimon were nearly +5 wins in 2012 while the 2011 combination of Nishioka, Tolbert, Plouffe, and Casilla was -2.8. Losing Jason Kubel’s and Delmon Young’s defense in the outfield in favor of Ben Revere and increased Span innings also didn’t hurt. While I thought the 2012 defense was just okay, these comparisons make me think better of it.

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