Friday, May 8, 2015

Early Returns Show New Era With Molitor

Manager Paul Molitor #4 outfield the Minnesota Twins watches as his team takes on the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on April 12, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)
At the end of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and consequently the Twins fourth consecutive with 90 losses, the organization decided to relieve skipper Ron Gardenhire of his duties. After being the head of the clubhouse in Minnesota for 13 seasons, it was decided that Terry Ryan would be going a new direction. After interviewing everyone from Chip Hale to Doug Mientkiewicz, the Twins found their heir apparent in Paul Molitor. Now with his first month under his belt, it appears a new era has been ushered in.

While it might be nice to immediately point to the fact that Molitor helped the Twins reached a record of three games over .500 for the first time since 2010, it's far to early to start suggesting what will be made of the 2015 season. Knowing that the club has played a handful of AL Central opponents and has remained competitive is a good start, but there's far more factors at play when looking at Molitor's influence. For the Twins, there's no doubt that the continuing trend this season will be that process should drive results.

In baseball, managers have a significantly lesser effect on the game than say a head coach in football, there's little denying that. However, knowing that the effect is seen only in short bursts, it is up to the manager to make the right decisions, at the right times, to put their respective ball club in the best position to succeed. With Gardy at the helm for 13 years, the Twins rarely reinvented themselves, and the style of the man in charge became widely apparent. Because of that, it is in Molitor's early actions that evidence of new thought processes have already grown prevalent.

Through the first month of the season, Molitor has shown little regard to keeping things certain. One of the most glaring areas of example may be the batting order. Having shuffled it on nearly a bi-nightly basis, Molitor has pushed his team from a -20 run differential through their first seven games, to a +13 mark as of May 8. Deciding to move on from the strikeout prone Danny Santana as the leadoff guy, pushing Trevor Plouffe into the cleanup hole, and jump-starting Kennys Vargas after a short benching have all been positive situations.

Turning attention to the pitching mound, Gardenhire and Rick Anderson became frustratingly stubborn late in their tenure with the Twins. For all the positives they had both given the organization over the years, they were seemingly set against better judgement the past few seasons. A struggling pitcher was left in too long, bullpen usage became questionable, and runs against totals went through the roof. With Molitor at the helm, the change has already been more than apparent.

Forget the fact that Glen Perkins has been used for four-out saves (which makes so much sense!), but there's also the examples of Molitor realizing his starters end. While the bullpen is a pieced together hodgepodge in its current state, there's no doubt Molitor has navigated it wonderfully. Making sure to go get starters before they do themselves in, and working to put relievers in consistently workable situations, the Twins have actually benefited from their own decision making far more often than not.

For Minnesota to fully feel the addition of Paul Molitor as their manager, a full season worth of information is going to need to be gathered. In the early going however, there's no doubt that Molitor has made strides with a team not currently at its peak, void of some superior options, and looking to squeeze out every advantage it can. Prior to his hiring, Molitor was described as an elite baseball mind, and it's hard to argue otherwise at this point.