With the Twins free-falling their way to a third straight 90-loss season the speculation about longtime manager Ron Gardenhire’s job security is starting to simmer a little bit here in Minnesota.
I asked on Twitter how many managers in baseball history have avoided being fired after three consecutive 90-loss seasons and SABR’s own Jacob Pomrenke came through with the information.
It has happened eight times since 1945:
Larry Rothschild Rays 1998-2000
Felipe Alou Expos 1998-2000
Tom Kelly Twins 1997-2000
Joe Torre Mets 1978-1980
Darrell Johnson Mariners 1977-1979
Preston Gomez Padres 1969-1971
Casey Stengel Mets 1962-1964
Zack Taylor Browns 1948-1951
Some other interesting tidbits from Pomrenke (who you should follow on Twitter, where he goes by @BuckWeaver): Four of the eight managers who kept their jobs after three straight 90-loss seasons were from expansion teams, so obviously tons of losing was expected/accepted. And five of the eight managers who stuck around after three straight 90-loss seasons were fired by the middle of the next year.
And of course as a Twins fan Tom Kelly’s tenure is most familiar to me, as well as being most relevant to Gardenhire. Kelly managed the Twins to four consecutive 90-loss seasons from 1997-2000 and then went 85-77 in 2001, at which point he stepped down from the job and retired at age 50. Gardenhire replaced him.
All of which is a long way of saying that if the Twins lose 90 games again this season and Gardenhire keeps his job for 2014 he’ll be one of just a few managers since 1945 to avoid getting the boot in a comparable situation. Right now the Twins are 37-50, which is a 93-loss pace, and Gardenhire’s contract is up in 75 games.
For years, a bulk of the postseason coverage surrounding Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw focused on his poor results once the regular season ended. The three-time Cy Young Award winner carried a career 5.68 postseason ERA following his NLDS Game 1 start against the Diamondbacks last year, a sample size spanning 15 starts and four relief appearances totaling 95 1/3 innings.
Kershaw had a subpar start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series last year and the narrative hit a fever pitch. I dug into the numbers at that point and found that a not-insignificant portion of Kershaw’s playoff ERA could be attributed to relievers coming in after him and failing to strand their inherited runners. At the time of that writing (October 30, 2017), Dodger relievers allowed 10 of 16 runners inherited from Kershaw in the playoffs to score, a strand rate of 37.5 percent. That’s roughly half of the league average (around 75 percent).
Kershaw finished out the World Series last year by pitching four scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. He returned to the postseason, starting Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves this year and tossed eight shutout frames on just two hits with no walks. The narrative should have died there, too. It, of course did not. As the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS, Kershaw got the Game 1 nod against the Brewers and struggled. The Brewers got him for five runs (four earned) across three-plus innings. One of those runs included a home run hit by the opposing pitcher (Brandon Woodruff). Kershaw was also hurt by a passed ball and catcher’s interference on the part of Yasmani Grandal in the third inning. Not a great outing, but not as bad as the line score read, either.
In Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday evening, Kershaw once again redeemed himself. He limited the Brewers this time around to a lone run on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over seven innings of work. The only run came around in the third inning when Lorenzo Cain hit an RBI double to center field. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is now 4.11 and it would be much lower if his bullpen had, in the past, done its job more effectively.
According to Katie Sharp of The Athletic, tonight’s postseason start was Kershaw’s eighth in which he allowed one run or fewer and three hits or fewer. No other pitcher in baseball history has made more than five such starts. That’s partially a function of opportunity, as the Dodgers have been in the postseason every year dating back to 2013 as well as in 2008 and ’09. But Kershaw still has to go out there and make the pitches, and he largely has. The “Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative is dead. It never should have lived.