Ron Gardenhire finished runner-up for Manager of the Year in five of his first eight seasons as the Twins’ skipper, including each of the past two seasons. Today he finally claimed the award for the first time, receiving 16 of 28 first-place votes to top Ron Washington of the Rangers and Joe Maddon of the Rays.
Gardenhire led the Twins to their sixth AL Central title in nine seasons, winning 94 games despite losing closer Joe Nathan to Tommy John surgery in spring training and cleanup hitter Justin Morneau to a concussion in July.
He was the only manager named on all 28 ballots cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members. Washington received 10 first-place votes, while Maddon and Cito Gaston received one apiece. Voting was conducted at the end of the regular season, so the Twins being swept by the Yankees in the first round and the Rangers advancing to the World Series were not factors.
I’m far from the world’s biggest Gardenhire fan, but the notion that he could be deemed the second-best manager in the league five times in eight seasons without ever actually winning the award always struck me as fairly absurd and perhaps more than anything reinforced the idea that there’s really no clear, established criteria for picking a winner.
Did he do a better job than Washington or Maddon or Gaston or Francona? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that, but Gardenhire won 94 games minus two of his stars and certainly deserved the award as much as anyone this season. Mostly, though, it’s a tough award to really argue about objectively.
Shortly after the World Series ended Rangers general manager Jon Daniels announced that signing manager Ron Washington to a new contract was the team’s first offseason priority and sure enough the two sides agreed to a deal today.
Washington gets a two-year contract after leading the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 1999 and first World Series in franchise history.
He has a 331-317 overall record since taking over for Buck Showalter in 2007, improving the team’s win total in each of the past three years.
Washington drew criticism for his in-game tactics at various points in the playoffs, but Rangers players have constantly praised his enthusiastic demeanor and loose clubhouse. No word yet on if ‘Lil Wash also gets a contract extension.
Last night I criticized Ron Washington for allowing a two-run deficit to turn into a blowout loss while closer Neftali Feliz sat in the bullpen unused, but it was far from the first time the Rangers’ manager has failed to get his best reliever into a close game.
In fact, Game 3 of the ALDS versus the Rays is the only time this entire postseason that Washington has actually brought Feliz into a close game.
Here are the circumstances of Feliz’s other four playoff appearances:
• Game 1 of the ALDS: He pitched the ninth inning with a four-run lead.
• Game 2 of the ALCS: He pitched the ninth inning with a five-run lead.
• Game 3 of the ALCS: He pitched the ninth inning with an eight-run lead.
• Game 6 of the ALCS: He pitched the ninth inning with a five-run lead.
Feliz was one of the elite relievers in baseball this season, posting a 2.73 ERA, .176 opponents’ batting average, and 71/18 K/BB ratio in 69 innings. Yet because Washington is focused on managing his bullpen around the save statistic Feliz has pitched in just five games all postseason and four of those appearances came when the Rangers had a lead of at least four runs.
And there have certainly been no shortage of key late-game spots where Washington could have called on Feliz, beginning with the eerily similar eighth-inning bullpen implosions in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees and Game 2 of the World Series last night. In both of those vital situations Feliz went unused and the Rangers let games slip away while Washington turned to just about every other reliever in the bullpen.
Texas has played 14 playoff games and Feliz has faced a grand total of 20 batters, just four of which came in a close game. To put that ridiculous usage into some context, consider that Darren Oliver has faced 32 batters while appearing three more times than Feliz. Heck, even Darren O’Day (19 batters faced) and Alexi Ogando (18 batters faced) have been used nearly as much and in more crucial situations than Feliz.
Instead of doing everything he possibly can to save the Rangers’ season Washington has been more focused on holding his best reliever back for so-called “save” situations that may never arrive.