What kind of manager is Ron Gardenhire?

GardenhireJoe Posnanski recently wrote an extensive (though not by his standards) missive on a rough bit of management by Ned Yost. Posnanski insists that Yost was perfect for the Royals as a manger when he was hired, and they needed to begin turning their fortunes around, but he isn’t the best gae manager. The team needs someone to get them over the hump now that they are at the brink of being a title contender. Basically, he insists that Ned Yost is a good coach, but perhaps not a good manager.

I had always though that was the same of Ron Gardenhire. He was a better coach than manager, and he was best in the role of someone who could develop players. The more I thought of it, though, I began to wonder. Is that really the case? So I looked at the last 12 years worth of position players who have appeared on the Twins roster under Gardenhire. Who has produced the highest WAR in a Twins uniform? Here is the list:

Joe Mauer
Justin Morneau
Torii Hunter
Denard Span
Michael Cuddyer
Corey Koskie
Nick Punto
Jason Bartlett
Jacque Jones
Lew Ford.

Let’s weed a few guys out of that list. Hunter, Koskie and Jones were all on the roster before Gardy got there. We will leave Cuddyer, because he only had a handful off appearances in 2001. Punto spent part of 3 seasons with Philadelphia before coming to Minnesota, while Lew Ford accumulated more than half of his WAR in 2004. Truly, that leaves only Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and Jason Bartlett as guys who developed under Gardy’s tutelage, and none of them have come up since 2008 (Span). Like I said, Ford, 10th on this list, got more than half of his total in 1 season, and really only added value in 3 total years. There has been plenty of time for another player to show up on this list.

While The Twins have received a lot of value from Joe Mauer (most of any position player in the AL Central) the depth and number of players just isn’t there. Even the Royals have greater depth over the past 12 seasons, with their 10th place player in terms of WAR, Mark Grudzielanek, has a full win more than Ford, the Twins’ 10th place players. I’m not saying that Gardenhire hasn’t been dealt a tough hand the past few years: he has: but over the course of 12 years, he should have more to show for his time if he really is a developmental, coaching manager.

I’m not here to trash Gardenhire, though, I’m here to find out the environment he needs to be successful, and there is a very definite situation for him. If you look at the team over the course of his tenure, they have had, consistently, some of the best pitching in the league (the last couple of years notwithstanding). When he took over from Tom Kelly, there was already an emerging veteran core, featuring Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz and Jacque Jones. Gardenhire was the perfect manager for this team, and the situation was perfect for him. Gardenhire, you see, is a players’ manager.

He is at his most effective when there is clubhouse chemistry and players can self govern. He likes to manage to player roles rather than particular situations, giving the players consistency and allowing them to know what to expect and where to go. If there is good pitching and good fundamentals, this is the type of team that will overtake inferior teams easily with little threat of embarrassing themselves. A good bullpen will lock down the end of games in their predetermined innings of work. Everyone is happy, and a well oiled machine will keep on churning.

Of course, the problem is that when he (or other players’ managers) strategize, they devolve into cliches, with too much bunting, too many pitching changes and a sense of playing under too much pressure. Loose clubhouses aren’t always prepared for these expectations. At the same time, the players’ manager will expect players to come to the team ready to adapt and contribute.  He won’t be great at honing skills, and has a tough time interacting with difficult personalities (Kevin Slowey, Kyle Lohse, etc).

It’s unreasonable to think that they find themselves in, but there was a time and place for Gardenhire — 2002-2006, as the team transitioned from Tom Kelly. At that point, after the Twins continued to fll flat at the end of the season, a game manager like Buck Showalter would have helped. Now that they are trying to climb out of obscurity again, someone like Tom Kelly (or, to bring it full circle, Ned Yost) is the best fit for the team.

I’m not as young and capricious as I once was, so I won’t say that Gardenhire is a bad, terrible, no good manager anymore, but I will say that he is not right for the Twins’ situation.I will even go so far as to say that he WOULD be right for a team like the Angels, if Mike Scioscia goes anywhere, or the Braves a few years ago immediately following Bobby Cox’s retirement.

There is a time and a place for everyone, including managers. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time shouldn’t reflect badly on managers, but at some point, the front office needs to be held accountable for not recognizing a poor fit.


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