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Gardenhire barreling toward 6th straight 90-loss season as manager

Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where the good old days weren’t that long ago. Let’s get to it:

*For the first nine seasons of Ron Gardenhire’s managerial career, he could do very little wrong in the regular season.

The Twins had winning records in eight of those nine years from 2002-2010. They won six division titles in that span and lost out on another in 2008 after a Game 163 loss to the White Sox.

The 2011 season was supposed to be more of the same … but then everything fell apart. Injuries robbed Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau of both time and production. The starting pitching regressed. Hope started to wane, and the end result was a 63-99 mess.

If 2012 started with the hopes that that was a blip on the radar and not the start of a new trend, a 6-16 April squashed that idea. The Twins would lose at least 90 games every year from 2011-14, the last of which was Gardenhire’s final year as manager.

Gardy got another chance with the Tigers in 2018 in what looked from the outset like a major rebuilding project. Detroit made the postseason every year from 2011-14 as the Twins faltered, but by 2017 they lost 98 games and were starting over.

Gardenhire’s Tigers lost 98 games last season. And this year? Poor Gardy and Detroit bring MLB’s worst record into Target Field on Friday: 38-87. Gardenhire will lose 90 games for the sixth straight year. He is almost certainly going to lose 100 for the first time, and right now Detroit is on pace to lose 113.

And get this: The Tigers actually started 7-3 this year. They are 31-84 since then. These three weekend games are the last of a 10-game road trip that is 2-5 thus far, though we should say this: Those games were against playoff contenders Tampa Bay and Houston, and they were highly competitive — three one-run losses, two by walk-off, and a near-miss at an unlikely rally Thursday night in Houston.

The Twins can’t afford to take this series lightly; they won’t always be able to lose two of three to a lesser AL Central team (as they did against the White Sox) and still gain ground in the division race (as they did in growing the lead to 3.5 games when Cleveland was swept by the Mets).

As for Gardenhire, he has already a tied a career-high with eight ejections this season — giving him 83 all-time as a manager. Short of pulling an upset or two at Target Field this weekend, maybe he’ll break that record for the Target Field crowd.

*Speaking of this weekend’s MLB action, it’s time for Players Weekend again — and the odd uniforms and nicknames that go with it.

*The Vikings still haven’t settled on three important special teams jobs — who will punt, hold and placekick — but if all else fails maybe they can turn to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team? Star player Carli Lloyd recently drilled a 55-yard field goal at an Eagles practice — with plenty of accuracy and some distance to spare.

*And speaking of the Vikings’ kicking carousel, the headline from the Packers’ 22-21 loss to the Raiders in Winnipeg was the end zone field concern that led the teams to play on an 80-yard field. But don’t forget the game-winning field goal for Oakland was drilled by Daniel Carlson, the former Vikings rookie kicker last season who was cut after missing three kicks, including a game-winner, against Green Bay.

How will Guerin use analytics? Perhaps Zucker's case provides clues

Near the end of his formal introduction as general manager, long after the Wild’s new dog Breezer tried to upstage him, Bill Guerin was asked the all-important question about analytics and their use in hockey.

“I’m all in with it. … It’s another way to look at what’s going on,” Guerin said, adding that he’s not a number-cruncher himself but he appreciates the data he receives. “The more information you can have, the better. We were extremely big on it in Pittsburgh.”

This will certainly please a certain subset of Wild fans, particularly those who believed former general manager Paul Fenton wasn’t of the same mind. But I should also caution that talk is cheap and that Fenton offered an answer 15 months ago at his introduction that was fundamentally different than Guerin’s but also similar in some ways.

“I don’t believe that any decisions are going to primarily be made by analytics, but it will support everything we do with our eyes,” Fenton said when he was introduced in May 2018. “That’s the most important thing. I will use every resource that we have.”

A growing number of sports fans, I think, have come to equate analytics with “good” or at least “smart” in recent years.

But “analytics” can be a catch-all word that gives people with a vague understanding but leaves them short on specifics or concrete examples.

Recognizing that there is a healthy debate to be had about how to best use data — and how useful it is — in a free-flowing sport like hockey, let’s nonetheless take a crack at trying to identify how analytics might be used to view one very specific and interesting player: Wild forward Jason Zucker.

Zucker was a player who clearly fell out of favor with Fenton, to the point that the former GM nearly traded him twice. The second of those near-trades was with Pittsburgh – where Guerin was assistant GM before taking the Wild job.

What might make an organization like the Penguins, where analytics were “extremely big” as Guerin said, value Zucker more than the Wild — which didn’t appear, at least, to value data as much under Fenton? Here are some possibilities:

*The Penguins might have looked at Zucker’s 2018-19 season, when he dropped from 33 goals the previous year to 21, and saw quite a bit of bad luck, pressing or both.

Zucker’s puck possession metrics actually improved last year from the previous year. He also attempted 60 more shots last year (398 vs. 338) than the year before, but a whopping 184 were either blocked or missed the net. Of the shots that reached the net, Zucker scored on just 9.8% of them compared to 14.9% the year before and his career average going into last season was 12.8%.

Perhaps the Penguins concluded that Zucker is more likely to settle in as a 30-goal scorer than a 20-goal scorer based on that and other data (courtesy of Hockey Reference).

*The Penguins might have also looked at a study that suggests forwards play at or near their peak performance between the ages of 24 and 32, then experience a decline.

Zucker is 27 and has four years left on his contract (at $5.5 million per year), which should be during his peak years.

The primary forward the Wild was set to get in return — Phil Kessel, who vetoed the trade — has three years left on his contract (at $6.8 million per year) and turns 32 in October. Kessel has scored at least 20 goals each of the last 11 seasons and has averaged 30 in that span. But he might be due for a decline.

Data never tells the whole story, of course, which is something upon which Fenton, Guerin and even the most die-hard believer in analytics would agree.

But it will be interesting to see how and if it is incorporated during Guerin’s time as he tries to undo some of the damage from the last 15 months.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Canterbury Park live racing

    12:45 pm

  • Detroit at Twins

    1:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Chicago at Saints

    5:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Las Vegas at Lynx

    6 pm on FSN, NBATV, 106.1-FM

  • Chicago at Saints

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Chicago at Lynx

    7 pm on 106.1-FM

  • Chicago at Saints

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    7:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Fargo-Moorhead at Saints

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    7:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    1:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Vikings at Buffalo (preseason)

    6 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3-FM

  • Fargo-Moorhead at Saints

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    6 pm

  • Twins at Detroit

    6:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Fargo-Moorhead at Saints

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

  • Canterbury Park live racing

    12:45 pm

  • Twins at Detroit

    5:10 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Saints at Chicago

    7:05 pm on 96.7-FM

Today's Scoreboard

  • Washington

    Chicago Cubs

     

    - F

    7

    2

  • NY Yankees

    LA Dodgers

     

    - F

    1

    2

  • Philadelphia

    Miami

     

    - F

    9

    3

  • Tampa Bay

    Baltimore

     

    - F

    1

    7

  • Cincinnati

    Pittsburgh

     

    - F

    0

    14

  • Texas

    Chicago White Sox

     

    - F

    4

    0

  • Kansas City

    Cleveland

     

    - F

    2

    4

  • LA Angels

    Houston

     

    - F

    2

    5

  • Arizona

    Milwaukee

     

    - F

    0

    4

  • Detroit

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    5

    8

  • Atlanta

    NY Mets

     

    - F

    9

    5

  • Colorado

    St. Louis

     

    - F

    0

    6

  • Boston

    San Diego

     

    - F

    5

    4

  • San Francisco

    Oakland

     

    - F

    10

    5

  • Toronto

    Seattle

     

    - F

    7

    5

  • Arizona

    Minnesota

     

    - F

    9

    20

  • Houston

    Dallas

     

    - F

    0

    34

  • Chicago

    Indianapolis

     

    - F

    27

    17

  • New Orleans

    NY Jets

     

    - F

    28

    13

  • San Francisco

    Kansas City

     

    - F

    27

    17

  • Denver

    Los Angeles

     

    - F

    6

    10

  • Seattle

    Los Angeles

     

    - F

    23

    15

No NBA games today

No NHL games today

  • New York

    New York City FC

     

    - F

    1

    2

  • Chicago

    New England

     

    - F

    1

    2

  • D.C.

    Philadelphia

     

    - F

    1

    3

  • Montreal

    Toronto FC

     

    - F

    1

    2

  • Vancouver

    San Jose

     

    - F

    1

    3

  • Colorado

    Real Salt Lake

     

    - F

    0

    2