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Front Page: Twins Villains: 3 Free Agents Who Love Terror...

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As the Twins survey the open market, there are three gut-wrenching players who may have them losing their appetite. The Twins should cons...
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Front Page: Free Agent Faceoff: Madison Bumgarner Is Not...

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With Zack Wheeler coming off the board, Twins Territory seems to have attached to Madison Bumgarner as the must-have free agent of the of...
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Chasing Madison Bumgarner Thread

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Looks like the market is heating up for Bumgarner now, and the Twins are in. Post rumors and thoughts as they arise, please:  
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How high would you go for Cole?

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Let’s say Cole would sign if we gave him enough money. How high would you be willing to go? What if we could get him for 8 years, 300 mil...
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2019 2020 (non-Twins) off season

Other Baseball Today, 02:55 PM
My first prediction is that WA signs their two big possible FAs to extensions.   My next is that Cole goes to LAA.   The White...
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ALDS Takeaways, Part 3: Rocco Baldelli and His Security Blankets

Every new manager has certain shortcuts, certain fallbacks. They’re not bad things; they’re crucial to survival. In the majors, the game moves fast. A skipper without much experience at marshaling and weighing resources in a competitive environment needs to have a few safe spaces to which they can reliably go when the walls seem to start closing in on them.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
 Three games should hardly form the basis of a team’s offseason mentality, but this five-part series will explore five takeaways from the ALDS series that seem both clearer and more important now than they did a week ago. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2. 

This is one area in which experience is an irreplaceable and inimitable asset. Every new guy is going to have some tough learning moments as he figures out how to keep all the plates spinning and not to count on an illusion of control he creates by closing off certain options. Aaron Boone had them in the playoffs last season. This year, he’s clearly made huge strides, and it was his counterpart’s turn to take his lumps.

Much has been made of Baldelli’s failure to call upon Taylor Rogers soon enough in either of the first two games of the series. That’s a fair criticism, as long as it’s not taken too far, but the fact is that even in this day and age, it’s rare for a team to call upon its relief ace in a game of indeterminate status, with fewer than five innings in the books and no lead to protect. More importantly, Baldelli erred in both Yankee Stadium games by leaning on heuristics he needed to have left in the regular season. When he needed length in the middle innings of a close game, down the stretch, Baldelli went to Zack Littell, so that’s who he called for to start the fifth inning in Game 1.

However, he either never fully considered his own thought processes or overlooked them when a familiar situation arose. Littell wasn’t that guy in September because he was actually the best pitcher for those situations, but because Baldelli needed to keep his true relief aces fresh and couldn’t afford to extend one by throwing him into a game that might or might not prove winnable, with 15 outs still left to get.

In October, those reservations needed to be dispensed with, and if Baldelli had done so, he would have called upon Sergio Romo or Trevor May for that fifth inning work. It was impossible to foresee that Littell (and then Tyler Duffey) would struggle so badly, but it should have been possible to discern that the game situation differed meaningfully from the same inning and score against the Tigers in mid-September. Next time, Baldelli will get that right.

The other security blanket he needs to throw away, however, can be a harder one for managers to let go. In each game, Baldelli called upon Duffey when innings began to go sideways. That’s not necessarily a bad decision, in a vacuum. Duffey was great this season. However, Baldelli did it for the wrong reasons.

As even more seasoned managers often do, he had come to rely on Duffey as his “up-and-in” guy—a quick-ready fireman who could warm up fast and enter a game before an inning got out of hand. That’s a real trait, although a hard one to quantify or measure. (Thus, it is also subject to considerable error in evaluation, especially anecdotal biases.)

Managers do well to be aware of how each of their relievers responds to such things. This includes not only the length of time they’re given to prepare, but the possibility of being asked to warm up multiple times without actually entering the game, or the mental challenge of entering with runners on base. On the other hand, managers get in trouble (especially in October) when they let that kind of consideration govern them, instead of being more proactive and getting the best possible pitcher for a given moment or match-up warm before that situation can even materialize.

In the fifth inning of Game 1, Duffey either should have started the frame, or he should have been left to put out a fire later. In Game 2, especially given that Duffey had a 7.45 ERA and allowed an .811 OPS on zero days’ rest in 2019, Baldelli should have called upon May to relieve Randy Dobnak. In the first two frames, Dobnak had showed plenty of the chinks in the armor that rapidly pushed him out of the fray in the third. Seeing them, Baldelli should have had May warming during the top of the third, if he needs more time to prepare than does Duffey. Those are the things even Boone isn’t good at yet, and at which Baldelli can certainly improve and for which he can be more ready next fall.

 Here are links to Part 1 & Part 2 of this series. Or comment below after you register. 

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10 Comments

Matthew, it’s a pleasure to have you writing here and I’m really enjoying this series. Thanks
    • birdwatcher likes this
I would have used Duffy the same way I did during the season. I say this even though I was concerned he might revert to his "deer in the headlights" look of previous years. But he had earned the chance this year, and one has to have someone to fill that spot. On this team that was him. As for Dobnak and Littel? No way that Dobnak starts in NY. FB v GB ratio be damned. He had no chance in those bright lights. Put him in the friendly confines of Target Field. Zach Littel was not the man for that slot either. May preferably and Romo if I didn't trust May. But that screws up the game in later innings.

That was really well written and I enjoyed reading it. 

I also think Baldelli didn't take into account the pressure of the playoffs; especially in Yankee Stadium when he put in the inexperienced and young relief pitchers (Littell and Stashak) into game one . After watching pitchers who had performed well in the regular season perform badly in game 1, I was shocked he went with inexperience for game two in Yankee Stadium. Odorizzi had to be the game 2 starter after seeing the blow up in game one having pitched there numerous times while with the Rays and having a good start there earlier this season.. Dobnak would have seemed a safer play at home for game 3. 

I was concerned about the two Yankee prospects we acquired, Littell and Cave, being too amped up and trying to do too much in the presence of their prior team (I realize Littell started in Seattle's organization and was with the Yankees less than a year). Littell came into the game without the slightest trace of command of his pitches, and we saw that grotesque dive Cave attempted. We kind of had to have Cave in the lineup but it would have been well to put anyone except Littell into a high-leverage situation until he had a chance to get his feet wet in playoff ball.

We have had the "analitics" shoved down our throats all year. Tell me that Baldelli DIDN'T know that Duffey was a ragdoll in back to back games. Inexperienced or not the information was there for him to know NOT to use Duffey in game 2.

    • Aerodeliria likes this
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Aerodeliria
Oct 14 2019 10:36 PM

I wasn't so concerned with who Baldelli brought in as much as I was concerned with when they were brought in. I am rock solid in my belief that all three starters were yanked too soon.

 

We have now seen the nationals starters pitch 21.2 innings in three starts. Each pitcher threw +100 pitches in their starts for a total of 305 pitches. Compare that to the Twins. 11 innings and 213 pitches. We are not the Yankees, but we tried to play the Yankees game.

 

Berrios in game one. Not being hit hard, but some mental and physical errors led to three runs. If anything, it seemed like he had settled in. He was still throwing +95 on the radar gun, which seems to be the measure of whether or not Berrios is doing well or not.

 

Dobnak had a rough first inning, but didn't get a couple of calls in the third inning and had been very good in such situations throughout his 'short' career as was mentioned by John Smoltz. (BTW, I am normally irritated by most former ball player hired as color guys because they tend to make overly dramatic, polarizing statements about players, but I though Smoltz was so good that I wanted the Twins to hire him to help with the pitching staff.) I just wanted Dobnak to face one more batter to see if he would continue his success in such situations. The game certainly was not out of hand at that point, but Duffey assured that it would be after a few more pitches. I won't fight to the death on this one, but I still think it was too early.

 

Odorizzi was the most baffling as he seemed to be cruising. Only 82 pitches and he gets the hook? (I honestly don't think it would have mattered by the third game because the Twins were completely humiliated by that game, but still, I'd like to think the team would somehow rise up and start fighting back.)

 

Also, I agree with rv78. It seems that the analytics so heavily vetted during the season, suddenly was of little importance to Baldelli. I'm not sure why. I'll put it down to first playoffs jitters.

 

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Kelly Vance
Oct 15 2019 07:12 PM

Second guessing and 20-20 hindsight aside, these are supposed to be major league pitchers. They are supposed to get hitters out.

 

Its not on Rocco what happened. The guys he called upon didn't do the job.

 

But I agree that he was managing like these were regular season games and he had a lot of games to play.

 

In the playoffs, you win the game you are in and worry about tomorrow when it comes. Screw saving your best guys for the late innings. You can lose a game in the 5th inning as easy as the 9th. If you get down 5 runs by going to your middle relievers, its too late. 

 

My second guessing goes like this: I would have said "YES" if he had brought Taylor in in the 5th or 6th. Get 2 good innings in, and now you only have a couple innings to go for May, Duff, Romo etc. And you are still in the game. Taylor keeps you close. But then, what if he got shelled? Again, it comes down to the pitchers need to get guys out. Rocco ain't throwing off the mound, 

 

But hey, Rocco did great this year. I'm happy with him. 

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birdwatcher
Oct 16 2019 08:25 AM

I very much appreciate how well-written and persuasive this piece is, so thank you, Matthew.

 

During the games, my thoughts about every one of these decisions were aligned with this criticism, none more than the decisions regarding Littell, Stashak, and Gibson.

 

Where were Jeremy Hefner and Wes Johnson? It would be interesting to have a better understanding regarding their input in these decisions. The bottom line is that we have to hope that those two learn from the experience as much as Rocco does.

As I've posted elsewhere before, the game 1 pitching decisions make a certain amount of sense. Littell/Duffey in a tie game in the 5th, and using Stashak and Gibson when behind -- I don't necessarily agree, but I get it, save the best arms.

 

But the game 2 decision, to bring in Duffey first, makes zero sense in the context of those game 1 decisions. And what's troubling is that it's not even hindsight, or requires any deep reflection to understand -- Duffey was our most taxed reliever from game 1, and he was going to be facing the same batters again less than 24 hours later. Gregorious even cited that -- having seen him so recently -- as a factor in his grand slam.

 

I'm really troubled by how that decision came to be.

 

The other odd decision was game 3, Sergio Romo's second inning -- our season was on the line, in the 9th inning. There was zero point to getting "length" from Romo there (season high in pitches!). I mean, I know our odds of coming back were low at that point -- but Baldelli should still be trying to maximize those odds, not just giving up, or praying that Romo's veteran magic will see us through. Fully rested bullpen, all hands on deck -- get Romo out of there, probably at the beginning of the inning, but especially after the HR and the double. Even Romo basically quit paying attention and let Torres take third.

Are we really suggesting that we would have won if not for Rocco's moves? I would say if we are playing the blame game we need to really branch out here.I cannot believe Rocco's moves are still something people want to moan about.

 

We were not good enough.Period.Can we just cop to that and move forward?

I could line up five of the most active complainers about these moves and plug them in for Rocco and it wouldn't have made a blessed difference.This team lost once the Yankees took the lead in game one.This team did not deal with adversity.At all.

 

If Rocco deserves criticism it should be more about the culture that seems to dictate whatever happened in the playoff was OK.We already had a great year.This is a common theme with this team.Last time we were in a series and got swept Michael Cuddyer proclaimed it a "successful season"

 

Ummmm.Sorry, not quite.Not when you never had a chance and this team never had a chance.