The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 30, 2013

Thoma column: It might be time for Gardy to go

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Sunday concluded another 90-plus loss Twins season. It may also have ended Ron Gardenhire’s long and largely successful tenure as the Minnesota manager.

Gardenhire does not deserve all the blame for the past three dismal seasons, but he hardly merits complete absolution. The collapse of the chronic contenders of his first nine seasons at the helm is an organizational failure, but he’s been a key figure in that organization.

And I have, reluctantly, concluded in the past few days that the organization would benefit from a different managerial philosophy.

Consider, for example, the issue of platooning. Mike Berandino of the Pioneer Press, after watching Oakland use its platoon lineups to bludgeon the Twins in a four-game sweep, wrote about the Twins resistance to platooning.

To summarize: Gardy hates platoons and denied ever using them, and general manager Terry Ryan says he’s looking for everyday players, not platoon pieces.

True: Ideally, the Twins would have an outfield of Ruth, Mays and Aaron and an infield of Gehrig, Morgan, Schmidt and Wagner. Then Joe Mauer can catch and hit eighth. The fact of the matter is, nobody has eight or nine stars in the lineup. Every manager has to fill gaps.

A manager who has to fill one or more outfield positions with marginal talents such as Clete Thomas, Wilkin Ramirez, Darin Mastroianni and Alex Presley is going to do better playing the matchups than taking one of them and wedging him into a seven-day-a-week role.

(For the record, Gardenhire has resorted to platoon arrangements, but only for limited periods and out of pennant-chase desperation. In 2008, after Joe Crede’s back gave out, Gardenhire platooned Brian Buescher and Brendan Harris at third base; the following year, in order to avoid playing Carlos Gomez in September, he platooned Harris and Jose Morales at designated hitter.)

Now, even the most devoted of platooning adherents would advise against shoehorning the likes of Oswaldo Arcia or Aaron Hicks into such a role. They’re young with star potential. But Trevor Plouffe has established a track record of crushing lefties while struggling against righties, and he’s not a pup anymore. The chances of Gardenhire converting Plouffe to a platoon role are minimal.

Then there’s Brian Dozier. Dozier has spent much of the season hitting in one of the first three spots in the lineup. I’m NOT criticizing Gardenhire for that; the man had to put somebody in those slots, and he can only put Mauer in one of them (and he couldn’t put Mauer in any of them in September).

But the notion that Dozier is the “ideal No. 2 hitter,” as touted by certain broadcasters, is just silly. Set aside the sabermetric theory that the second spot is too valuable to use on small ball; even under the traditionalist view, Dozier doesn’t fit.

The traditional No. 2 hitter is a contact hitter, adept at the hit-and-run and at bunting. Dozier is a pull hitter with a high strikeout rate (and a low batting average). His 2013 breakout has been based on extra base hits, not on slapping singles.

In a good lineup, Dozier hits seventh or eighth. The 2013 Twins didn’t have that luxury. But as Arcia and Josmil Pinto develop, and as the likes of Bryon Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario arrive to join Mauer in the lineup, it will behoove the Twins to have a manager who recognizes that just because Dozier plays middle infield doesn’t mean he should hit second.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.