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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Terry Ryan: Still Employed. Me: A Little Pissed

Terry Ryan and I back in 2012.
I might have different comments for him now.
Kevin Correia. 23 starts. 4.94 ERA.
Johan Pino. 11 starts. 5.07 ERA.
Sam Deduno. 8 starts. 4.6 ERA.
Anthony Swarzak. 4 starts. 4.6 ERA.
Logan Darnell. 4 starts. 7.13 ERA.
Mike Pelfrey. 5 starts. 7.99 ERA.
Tommy Milone. 5 starts. 7.03 ERA.
Kris Johnson. 3 starts. 4.73 ERA.

Mike Pelfrey. 29 starts. 5.19 ERA.
Scott Diamond. 24 starts. 5.43 ERA.
Pedro Hernandez. 12 starts. 6.83 ERA.
Liam Hendriks. 8 starts. 6.85 ERA.
PJ Walters. 8 starts. 5.95 ERA.
Cole De Vries. 2 starts. 10.80 ERA.

Nick Blackburn. 19 starts. 7.39 ERA.
Liam Hendriks. 16 starts. 5.59 ERA.
Anthony Swarzak. 5 starts. 5.03 ERA.
Carl Pavano. 11 starts. 6.00 ERA.
PJ Walters. 12 starts. 5.69 ERA.
Jason Marquis. 7 starts. 8.47 ERA.
Esmerling Vasquez. 6 starts. 5.68 ERA.

Ron Gardenhire took the fall yesterday for 4 seasons of disgusting baseball. That decision was correct. Baseball is a business. And lately, business hasn't been good for the Twins. After the press conference, I was left thinking, "well, that was pretty good as far as those things go. Very Minnesotan, really. But why the hell does Terry Ryan still have a job?" And it's still bothering me today.

As Gardy and Ryan both noted, the reason the manager got canned is because the team didn't win enough games. For sure, Gardy was a contributor to that. Guys were played out of position, he refuses to platoon players, the Twins are among the least likely teams to shift defensively, he uses his closer in a very limited, sometimes non-sensical role, and I have huge concerns about his ability to handle player injuries. Those are just a few things, though. Sure, maybe those decisions cost the Twins 3, 4, 5 games a year. Maybe more. Maybe less. Tough to tell. But the point is, a manager's role in the playing of the game itself is limited.

I keep going back to Terry Ryan. Gardy's job was not to set the roster; it was to play the players on the roster. A "field manager." Take a look at the motley crew of pitchers, games started, and ERAs that I listed above (note: for guys that both started and relieved, I just used their combined ERA -- but you get the picture; note also, I didn't include guys like Trevor May or Ricky Nolasco, who were bad this season but should improve -- there's a difference between a prospect like May learning the big leagues, or a veteran like Nolasco having a career-awful year, and Cole De Vries.). For 2012, that list accounts for 76/162 starts; for 2013 it was 83 starts; and for 2014 it was 63 starts. Those are huge chunks of the season where the Twins were trotting out starting pitchers (sometimes relievers masked as starters) who gave the team little chance to win. That failure is not on Ron Gardenhire. There's no way that Gardy said, after a bunch of awful starts, "Terry, I just know Jason Marquis is gonna turn the corner. Give him more time." Or, "Pedro Hernandez -- I need that guy starting right now!" Are you kidding?!?! I'm sure Gardy lost tons of sleep over his team's pathetic starting pitching, which, incidentally, continually wore down what may have been decent bullpens. Yes, Gardy defends his players publicly, but what manager wouldn't want great starting pitching? What manager wouldn't beg his general manager for help as his team gets shelled every night?

I know what you're thinking: I've completely forgotten the part of the narrative where Bill Smith ruined the organization and Terry Ryan is rebuilding it, and where Ryan is one of the best baseball minds out there. But if there's one thing Ryan can be faulted for, it's failing to draft/develop/acquire better-than-average starting pitching -- and this goes back quite some time, long before Bill Smith. A team can either draft, trade for (other otherwise acquire through the Rule 5 draft, for instance), or sign players as free agents. The Twins have always needed better starting pitching. For the love of God, Brian Duensing started playoff games! Ryan, by and large, has failed to get his manager good pitching. The team, understandably, is reluctant to part with prospects, the best prospects are just now beginning to get to the majors (note that the Twins did not draft May or Alex Meyer), and it wasn't until last off-season that Ryan went out on the free agent market to spend real money. Too little. Too late. For Gardy, at least.

Look again at that list. 76 starts. 83 starts. 63 starts. Just for fun, imagine that, in just 20 of those starts each year, the Twins had a starting pitcher who could go 6 innings and give you a 3.5 or 4.0 ERA. I'm not even talking about a superstar. Just a better-than-average pitcher. Might the Twins win half those games? Perhaps. Imagine what another 10 wins would have made you think about the Twins' 2014 season. 80 wins and 82 losses sounds a hell of a lot better than 70-92.

In the end, Gardy had to go. He was past his prime, the Twins have a bunch of young guys coming up, and sometimes change for the sake of change is reason enough. But I can't get over the feeling that Ryan somehow is coming off unscathed in this mess, as if he has lifetime tenure, when in reality the Twins' record is as much a reflection on him as it is on Gardy.

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