Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gardy's Late Inning Decisions

Is that where we are now? We can be frustrated by a near sweep?

Yeah, that's right, and I'm not going to apologize for it. The Twins seemed like a vastly superior team compared to the Brewers. Maybe that was due to the party-like atmosphere of Friday night. Maybe it was the quick start on Saturday. Even the Brewers late-inning comeback on Saturday felt like a fluke, and you had to love the pitching matchups for Sunday.

So even though the Twins finished with the same results we should have expected (I doubt the Twins were favored throwing Kevin Slowey versus Yovani Galarado), it left me frustrated, and I'm not going to apologize for it. Listening to the post-game audio for the game, the manager and players sounded like they were frustrated too.

One aspect that is bound to be analyzed after a couple of one-run games is the late-inning decisions, and the last two games provided more than their share for manager Ron Gardenhire. In fact, he's all ready drawn a little second-guessing from Patrick Reusse. So let's review them quickly:

1. Saturday, top of the ninth - 6-2 lead - Ron Mahay starts the inning over Jon Rauch.

This is the move that Reusse not only criticizes, but ponders whether Gardenhire learned from it. I'm sure his argument resonates, seeing as it provides an opportunity to trash managing to a fairly useless statistic, the save. Reusse (probably correctly) postulates that Rauch didn't start the inning because it wouldn't have resulted in a save.

I guess. To, if you're going to criticize the blown lead, it falls 10% on Gardenhire and 90% on Mahay and Rauch. There needs to be some dividing line - you're not going to have Rauch hold a seven run lead - and three runs is as good as any. The southpaw Mahay has been one of the Twins more reliable relievers this year and he got to start an inning where the first and third batters were batting left-handed. Oh, and he got to face the bottom of the Brewers order.

A priori, there was no reason that the Twins should have felt like they needed Rauch there. It was only after Mahay laid a major egg - and Rauch contributed a few extra-base hits himself - that it was a move that merited any criticism.

2. Saturday, bottom of the ninth - having Jim Thome pinch hit for Trevor Plouffe - and get intentionally walked.

It was a tie game with one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd when Gardenhire used the last bullet in his holster for what everyone knew would be an intentional walk. Of the three moves here, this is the most debatable in my mind, but still pretty defendable.

Gardenhire had two choices: he could either choose to have Plouffe bat with runners on second and third (and again, one out) or he could have Nick Punto bat with the bases loaded and one out. To me, the second is a defensible choice, and probably the one I would make. But it is a choice that can easily drawn two criticisms.

The first is that the Brewers would've walked Plouffe anyway to load the bases, which would've allowed Thome to bat with the bases loaded. Maybe, but not intentionally. Brewers manager Ken Macha has a decision to make too, and his is a lot easier to figure out. Would he rather face Plouffe with runners on 2nd and 3rd or Thome with the bases loaded? There is no doubt they pitch to Plouffe.

The second criticism is that it's a fairly incremental upgrade from Plouffe to Punto and the price for it is too high - it's Thome. That's a fair criticism, but I can only fault Garenhire so much for being aggressive in that situation. And it turned out that over the next couple innings, the Twins had good players at the plate in the high-leverage situations anyway. He ended up not needing Thome on his bench.

3. Sunday, bottom of the ninth - trailing by one run, Thome replaces Brendan Harris and is walked so Plouffe needs to drive in the winning run. He strikes out to end the game.

In this situation, Gardenhire had another choice to make. With two outs, he had to decide between batting Harris with runners on the corners or Plouffe with the bases loaded. Again, he went with the bases loaded, which means that the batter only need to draw a walk, instead of get a hit.

The problem wasn't where Thome pinch-hit. The problem was that Gardenhire had two spots where he needed a pinch-hitter and only one Thome. If one really wants to second-guess Gardenhire, the place to start might be to ask why there wasn't another option on the bench, cuz there coulda been. Joe Mauer was available until an inning earlier, when he had been inserted for Sal Butera. That was with one out and the bases empty, a much lower leverage spot. But, of course, Gardenhire couldn't see that another, better option would be coming an inning later.

The problem is that all three moves failed, and the last one led to a loss. The frustration we feel about the series might magnify them, but I can't say I disagree with any of the moves.


Anonymous said...

I think Sal Butera retired quite a while ago, John....


SoCalTwinsfan said...

My biggest problem was Gardy letting Plouffe lead off the eighth when he had Mauer and Thome on the bench. I'm guessing this meant Punto was not available to play defense except on an emergency. Otherwise, why wouldn't you have Mauer bat for Plouffe and then Thome bat for Butera? The really sad part is the need to bat for Harris in that situation. I can't argue against the decision to use Thome there, but I can argue the need to have Harris on the roster. He's utterly useless if he's not hitting.

USAFChief said...

I agree with everything in this post. Some of the Gardenhire criticism is completely unwarrented.

Anonymous said...

I'm still a little baffled at the Slowey pinch running for Thome on Sunday. I understand Thome is slow, but Slowey is in our starting rotation.

Isn't the more likely play to be at home or 1st, not at 2nd. Even if it was at 2nd and it was a close play is Slowey, who is rarely on base, that much more proficient at offensive running than the 20 year veteran. He may be faster but does he know what he's doing?

Maybe this is the right call, I'm not a true baseball geek. Can someone explain this to me?

PinkiePinkerton said...

I disgree thoroughly on the Thome for Plouffe PH on Saturday. I couldn't believe Gardy used Thome there when it happened. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, one out, I let Plouffe win the game. He can't hit into a double play, so even if he fails, you still have an out left. PH Thome here and you then bring Span to the plate with bases juiced and two outs.

As much of an improvement Punto is over Plouffe, Span is twice that. He may still fail, but you maximize your plate appearances with RISP, never allowing a double play to kill your rally.

John said...

Quick Repsonses:

Anon - Doh!
SoCal - Harris is hot-cold, and now he's cold. I guess I agree - that makes him worthless now, but he'll be worthwhile again fairly soon.
USAC - Thanks.
Anon - I think it was to protect Thome, whose back problems are well known.
PP - Span batted with two outs and bases loaded the way it went, too, so that situation doesn't change anything. I understand your point about the DP, but of course that wasn't what hurt the Twins. It was a crappy at-bat by Nick, but I sure liked the Twins chances at the time.

walter hanson said...

The reason why Slowly was running is simple. It is more likely that if there is a ground ball the play will be at first or second - not home like you think. In some innings depending where the ball is hit the only play is at second. Thus if you have a super slow runner at first it is much easier to get a force at second than if you have a runner with some speed. I happened to be driving listening to game on the radio when the ninth took place and my first reaction was Gardy use one of the pitchers to run for Thome!

As for the moves the biggest problem is that the bench consists of just four players not six like a bench did when teams had 10 pitchers (though it helped on Saturday to get the entire bullpen in). One extra option or two makes a difference.

I immediately cringed when Thome hit for Plouffe on Saturday. Plouffe at worst keeps the inning alive and a walk to Thome if he hits for Punto forces Milwaukee to pitch to Span instead of Punto. Despite the offer I'll take Span over Punto.

The biggest problem was the lack of clutch hitting. We left over ten runners on Sunday. One hit would've given us at least one more run or more.

Lack of homeruns hurt.

Over all with the exception of the Saturday pinch hitting timing of Thome the calls were correct (Mauer gets a hit you have a shot for Justin M. to tie it or get the lead).

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

jacktorse28 said...

Gardy is an idiot. He even called cuddy cuddybear once.

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walter hanson said...

for those people who watched the Wednesday night I hope you understand why a pitcher should've run for Thome on that Sunday against Milwaukee.

Just think if Seatle had a slow runner we might have won that game in the 11th inning.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN