The Best Twins Team of the Ron Gardenhire Era

In nine seasons managing the Twins, Ron Gardenhire has taken the club on its greatest stretch of regular-season success since the second half of the 1960s: six division titles, five 90-win seasons, and only one year with a losing record. It's been an absolutely incredible run (however frustrating in its lack of postseason success) that has reinvigorated a once-moribund franchise, established a new generation of Twins fans, and, well, played a huge role in the construction of the best ballpark in the majors.

And, judging solely by regular season success, 2010 is the crowning jewel of the Ron Gardenhire era in Minnesota.

After last night's division-clinching victory, the Twins currently have a record of 91 wins and 60 losses, good for a .603 winning percentage. That's easily the best winning percentage of the Gardenhire era, and the highest the Twins have posted since 1970. And there's no reason to think the team's win-loss record is aided by luck: looking solely at the team's runs scored and runs allowed (using the Pythagorean Theorem), the Twins expected winning percentage is .596, also the best of the Gardenhire era.

Year

G

W

L

W/L%

Exp. W/L%

2010

151

91

60

0.603

0.596

2009

163

87

76

0.534

0.530

2008

163

88

75

0.540

0.548

2007

162

79

83

0.488

0.496

2006

162

96

66

0.593

0.572

2005

162

83

79

0.512

0.517

2004

162

92

70

0.568

0.539

2003

162

90

72

0.556

0.525

2002

161

94

67

0.584

0.534

What makes this the best Twins team under Ron Gardenhire? Well, let's start with offense.

In terms of runs scored, the 2010 club doesn't appear to be anything special compared to the rest of the Gardenhire-led clubs:

Year

Runs/G

2010

4.90

2009

5.01

2008

5.09

2007

4.43

2006

4.94

2005

4.25

2004

4.81

2003

4.94

2002

4.77

But remember, scoring is down considerably across the league this season. The following chart shows the team's runs per game compared to the league-wide average, with another column showing the percentage difference between the Twins runs scored and league average:

Year

R/G

Lg R/G

Team vs. League

2010

4.90

4.47

+9.6%

2009

5.01

4.82

+4.0%

2008

5.09

4.78

+6.4%

2007

4.43

4.90

-9.5%

2006

4.94

4.97

-0.5%

2005

4.25

4.76

-10.8%

2004

4.81

5.01

-3.9%

2003

4.94

4.86

+1.7%

2002

4.77

4.81

-0.8%

As you can see, when we adjust for the league-wide decline in run scoring, we're looking at the best Twins offense Gardenhire has ever managed. This is made more remarkable when we consider the loss of Morneau; the lengthy DL stints for Hudson and Hardy; and the significant regression from Mauer, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Span. The difference? Well, first, Morneau's incredible first half and the addition of Jim Thome, but close behind has to be the depth of the line-up, and the lack of "automatic outs" that have plagued the Twins for far too long.

With Valencia firmly entrenched at third, the worst offensive season among any of our "regulars" is Denard Span, who is currently sitting on an OPS+ of 85 (OPS+ uses 100 as a baseline for major league average - Span's OPS+ of 85 means he's posted an OPS 15% below league average, when adjusted for park, league, etc). Two other players - Hardy and Hudson - are sitting just below league average. Compare that to the prior seasons under Gardenhire:

Year

Players (the numbers represent their OPS+)

2009

Casilla - 44, Gomez - 64

2008

Gomez -77, three other regulars below league average

2007

Punto - 53, Bartlett - 89, three other regulars below league average

2006

RonDL White - 66, Lew Ford - 57, Kubel - 72

2005

Six of nine regulars posted an OPS+ below league average

2004

See 2005

2003

Guzman - 77, Rivas - 80, two others below league average

2002

Guzman - 79, Rivas - 84, two others below league average

Acquiring capable middle of the infield bats in the off-season, along with the emergence of Danny Valencia, has allowed the Twins to routinely fill out a line-up card stacked top to bottom with quality hitters. Without this depth, it's hard to imagine the Twins would have been able to survive the injuries and regression I noted above, and still post the team's best offensive season during Gardenhire's tenure.

What about keeping runs off the board, you ask? Well, just looking simply at runs allowed, one could also say this has been the best run prevention team in the Gardenhire era:

Year

RA/G

2010

3.95

2009

4.69

2008

4.57

2007

4.48

2006

4.22

2005

4.09

2004

4.41

2003

4.68

2002

4.42

Given that pitching and defense were the Twins calling card for much of Gardenhire's time at the helm, the fact we're giving up fewer runs per game this season than any of the previous eight is pretty impressive. However, again we must adjust for the league wide decline in scoring:

Year

RA/G

Lg RA/G

Team vs. League

2010

3.95

4.43

-10.8%

2009

4.69

4.75

-1.2%

2008

4.57

4.68

-2.3%

2007

4.48

4.82

-7.2%

2006

4.22

4.87

-13.4%

2005

4.09

4.68

-12.7%

2004

4.41

4.99

-11.6%

2003

4.68

4.87

-3.9%

2002

4.42

4.80

-7.9%

So, maybe a little less impressive when we make that adjustment, but we can still say that this is the best pitching/defensive team the Twins have fielded since Johan Santana (should have) won three consecutive Cy Young awards.

Combining the best offense the Twins have had under Gardenhire with a pitching staff that has been nearly as effective as the Santana-Radke-Nathan led staffs of 2004-2006, it's pretty clear why this is the best Twins team of the 21st Century. The front office had an incredibly successful off-season, and helped plug the holes in the bullpen in July and August. The farm system produced a quality bat and glove at third base, the Twins biggest need for several years. Gardenhire mixed and matched a line-up beset with major injuries perfectly, and kept Jim Thome healthy and productive from April through September. Put it all together, and you have one heck of a ball club.

It's funny, as I was writing this, I was playing a little game of "what could have been." Imagine this season with a full MVP-caliber performance from Morneau. Imagine if Mauer had his MVP season in 2010 rather than 2009. Imagine if Nathan survived spring training. Imagine if Span, Cuddyer, and Kubel hadn't regressed so severely. Put a few of those things together, and you have a team that could have potentially entered the rarified realm of...what? 105 wins? Something bigger?

But then it occurred to me: last year, we had career years from several players, and it took each and every one of them to put us in the postseason. This season, we had enough depth and talent to put together a great ball club despite many, many setbacks. Besides being another reminder to "be careful what you wish for," it's also a testament to Bill Smith, Ron Gardenhire, and the entire organization. Surviving the loss of Nathan and Morneau is an absolutely incredible feat that I, for one, haven't taken the time to fully appreciate during this incredible second half. Whatever happens in October, it won't change what the organization has accomplished during the past six months.

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