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Baldelli Is More Coddling Millennial Than Field General

Rocco Baldelli is the first millennial manager in baseball. It shows.

He’s soft. Well, at least in terms of the pro sports world. He bends to the will of his team and goes out of his way to be accommodating. I’m not sure if he would chastise a player publicly if his job depended on it.

He also might be the best manager in baseball.
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
The victories keep piling up, the lead in the American League Central keeps increasing, World Series odds keep improving and you’d better believe other teams across baseball are taking notice. If the Twins’ success continues, don’t be surprised if Millennialball becomes the new Moneyball.

Baldelli eats avocado toast, talks about empathy and has allowed a nap room to be created at Target Field. He’s gone out of his way to be inclusive and encourages an atmosphere in which players are comfortable to be themselves. He’s given everyone on the roster their own trophy for making the team, and before each game the team holds hands and talks about their feelings.

OK, that last sentence isn’t true. Well, as far as I know.

You probably read the headline of this article and expected it to paint Baldelli in a negative light. That’s because for most people both “coddle” and “millennial” are loaded terms with a lot of negative connotation.

Well guess what? Baldelli’s job is to manage a bunch of millennials. Well, everyone except Nelson Cruz, one of the last active Gen Xers in baseball. But even Cruz is a big proponent of rest, as the nap room was his idea. Anyway, if you’re going to be a manager in 2019, you’d better have some strategies on how to deal with people from the millennial generation. Being associated with that term should not be viewed as a negative.

As far as coddling, the definition of that word is “to treat with extreme or excessive care or kindness.” That doesn’t sound so bad, though I could see where that could be viewed in a negative way in the sports world. Call me crazy, but by that definition I kinda want my team’s manager to coddle his players to some degree. Paul Molitor probably could have afforded to coddle a few guys over his tenure as manager.

People have been trying to find explanations to why the Twins have gotten off to such a great start. In reality, it’s more than likely a blend of several different things, but I believe this all stems from Baldelli and the clubhouse environment he has cultivated. The exciting thing is how they’ve got to this point.

We’re less than two months into Baldelli’s tenure as manager of the Twins, so a lot can change, but if there’s one thing that’s special about him I think it’s his focus on the long haul. The number of scheduled off days for the position players has been staggering and workload among the relievers has been pretty spread out. He almost seems obsessed with keeping people fresh.

Think about that for a second.

The Twins are one of the best teams in baseball despite setting out to create both a less mentally and physically stressful atmosphere. They’ve put an emphasis on long-term health and performance and yet they’ve still managed to thrive in the short term.

They’ve let up on the gas pedal and yet are somehow increasing acceleration.

But here’s the thing about Baldelli: I don’t actually think he’s anything special as an in-game manager. I don’t care for his lineups. There’s really nothing that appears particularly unique about his bullpen management. The one thing he’s doing much more than the average manager is shifting the infield, and even that’s just surrendering to the numbers. I’m not saying I think he’s a bad in-game manager, I just don’t believe this team’s success has much of a correlation to any buttons he’s pushing between the National Anthem and the final out.

If I were to describe Baldelli’s management style, I’d say he’s hands off. He’s the ultimate macro manager.

Baldelli doesn’t pinch hit a whole lot, and when he does, it’s typically in very low-leverage situations. The Twins have attempted just six sacrifice bunts and 19 stolen bases all season. They have the third-fewest relief appearances in baseball and the pitching staff’s percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage is right at league average. Baldelli seems to be motivated to simply stay out of the way.

Baldelli treats his players both as grown men capable of policing themselves and as professional baseball players who can be trusted to execute. Weird. When you think of it in those terms, it’s no wonder why this Twins team appears to be so comfortable and confident.

Is it possible that what’s done during the game is among the least important aspects of a manager’s influence on his team’s success? Perhaps being a tactical taskmaster is overrated, I’m not sure, but I do think it’s maybe time to re-evaluate how we perceive the manager’s role. There’s a lot that they do outside of filing out lineup cards and making pitching changes.

It might also be a good idea to change the way the terms “coddle" and "millennial” are viewed. The Twins sure are making them look like positive things so far this spring.

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39 Comments

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yarnivek1972
May 23 2019 10:50 AM
Personally I always felt that Gardenhire’s handling of players (particularly young ones) was poor. He did criticize players publicly. That’s not a millenial issue, it’s just bad management. Tom Kelly rarely called out a specific player to the media. Granted, he didn’t manage in the social media age, but still. He tended to use general criticism. “We didn’t pitch well”. If only one guy pitched poorly, the message is pretty clear. But at the end of the day you win and lose as a TEAM. Criticising individuals accomplishes little.
    • TheLeviathan, LA VIkes Fan, Sconnie and 5 others like this

I love the take Tom. I do feel like you contradict yourself a bit though in first commenting about how bullpen innings are evenly distributed, then a few paragraphs later, comment that the bullpen usage has been standard.

 

I don't watch any other teams on the daily like the Twins. Watching a team is kind of the only way to know how the bullpen is being used, unless there is some metric Fangraphs or BP has created.

 

Spreading around the innings is quite different from the last couple managers the Twins have had. I don't know if that makes Baldelli the outlier or Gardenhire*/Molitor.

 

I'm really digging it though. I think it makes a huge impact on freshness of all the arms out there and almost pretty much all the guys who have thrown 10+ innings are having the best season of their career so far, sans Hildenberger.

 

*Gardenhire was a guest this week on Starting 9, the second best non-team specific podcast out there right now IMHO. I highly suggest checking it out if you haven't yet. He's such an amazing interview.

    • Channing1964 likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
May 23 2019 11:11 AM

I'm a big advocate of this approach. In a 162 game season with postseason aspirations, it's bloody foolish to run your best players into the ground before you even get to September.

 

On a side note, did anyone catch Morneau's comments about the new approach a few weeks ago? It basically boiled down to "I tried to do too much and it hurt me in the second half of seasons. I wish this existed when I played."

 

Good luck getting that kind of honest, inward-looking commentary from Bert or Jack.

    • Seth Stohs, Twins33, nicksaviking and 14 others like this
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ChrisKnutson
May 23 2019 11:19 AM
I willing to bet there’s more to Baldelli than what we’ve seen publicly. Yeah, the Earl Weaver’s of the world are great, but nothing’s more effective and commanding than a “soft” and mild mannered leader who’s always on the verge of biting your head off if you step out of line. I mean, imagine Baldelli cussing you out, kinda scary right?

Then again, maybe he is exactly who we think he is, which wouldn’t be the worst thing either, especially since Cruz and Shelton are in the dugout as well.

EmbellishedGraciousHanumanmonkey-size_re

 

Rocco has a tough side, too.

 

He don't coddle no lollygaggers.

    • Twins33, jokin, Sconnie and 4 others like this
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Tom Froemming
May 23 2019 11:32 AM

 

I love the take Tom. I do feel like you contradict yourself a bit though in first commenting about how bullpen innings are evenly distributed, then a few paragraphs later, comment that the bullpen usage has been standard.

 

I don't watch any other teams on the daily like the Twins. Watching a team is kind of the only way to know how the bullpen is being used, unless there is some metric Fangraphs or BP has created.

 

I didn't want to go off on too much of a tangent there, but since you've opened the door for me to do so, let's do it :) I love thinking about bullpens.

 

What I meant by that is we're not seeing anything radical in terms of bullpen usage. We're not seeing relievers used as openers or multi-inning guys piggybacking off starters, etc. He's distributing things pretty evenly, but they're still averaging three outs per appearance and there's not really any specialization/managing for matchups going on. There's not a longman who covers multiple innings on a regular basis. Stuff like that.

 

Baldelli claims to not have a closer, but that's only sorta true. Blake Parker is this team's closer, he's just not married to him being the only guy he turns to in save situations. Parker has eight of the team's 14 saves, but a couple of those other saves went to guys who came in after Parker had pitched, didn't really look great and needed to be bailed out.

 

To be clear, I'm not saying any of this is a bad thing. I'm just saying there isn't anything revolutionary about the way he's managing the bullpen. He's doing pretty much the same things as every other MLB manager. There are definitely other ways to go about things.

 

We saw bullpens managed very differently in other eras. If Jose Berrios can throw 200 innings in a season, how come Taylor Rogers can only throw 70? Back in 1979, Mike Marshall threw 140 innings out of the bullpen for the Twins. How cool is that!?

 

We also see bullpens managed very differently in the minor leagues. Last season, Ryne Harper threw two or more innings in 18 of his 38 appearances. He faced more than five batters in 26 of those 38 appearances. With the Twins this year, he's only gone multiple innings once and faced more than five batters three times in his 19 appearances.

 

Again, just to be clear, I'm not necessarily saying those would be smart conventions to challenge. I think it would be cool to see relievers get the opportunity to go through an entire turn through a lineup instead of just one inning, but maybe that's a terrible idea, I don't know. All I'm trying to point out is that Rocco's been pretty conventional in that regard.

    • WLFINN likes this
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MMMordabito
May 23 2019 11:51 AM

Baldelli is right on the edge of the millenial generation.I think it's a perfect fit.The difficult picture for me to imagine is 15-20 years from now when we get our first managers from the other edge of the millenial generation and the first Gen Z manager. Those guys will probably sit in the dugout watching the game on their mobile device and texting the moves to the coaches and players which will pop up on a messaging device embedded in their gear.  

 

Interview question: "So, what's this new [Gen Z] manager like?"

 

Interview answer: "I don't know. I've never spoken to him, but he does like that frowny face emoji."

    • Sconnie, KidBro, Tom Froemming and 3 others like this
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SenatorsGuy
May 23 2019 11:52 AM

Being a good manager and creating a positive atmosphere may help. But chemistry works best when the talent level is improved, players are healthy, and you play a lot of games against 3 pretty bad teams.

    • notoriousgod71, adorduan and Channing1964 like this

<< from Tom: I think it would be cool to see relievers get the opportunity to go through an entire turn through a lineup instead of just one inning ... >>

 

This. Especially in the American League. Especially if a pitcher is throwing well. But I get the one inning and done thing too. You have to mange your bullpen looking ahead to tomorrow and the rest of the week. Its just that you'd like your best arms to throw the most innings with a caveat toward leveraged situations.

 

Mike Marshall was a one man bullpen, lol. He also was a travel logistics expert and could figure out how to get all your stuff down to spring training and back again in a timely fashion and end up with the same stuff. Amazing. Just don't ask him about dog catchers.

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Tom Froemming
May 23 2019 12:07 PM

 

Being a good manager and creating a positive atmosphere may help. But chemistry works best when the talent level is improved, players are healthy, and you play a lot of games against 3 pretty bad teams.

They just got Miguel Sano back and now Mitch Garver and Nelson Cruz are out. Addison Reed is so ruined they had to release him. Of their 48 games, 13 have come against other first-place teams. They're 6-7 in those games despite nine of them being on the road. They've only played KC twice and have yet to play the White Sox (which is pretty crazy).

    • Danchat, Sconnie and Ski U Mah Gopher like this

I would call this piece a narrative more than anything else.

 

Baldelli has great communication skills and he seems like a great guy underneath. From what I have seen of him so far, he would be a good manager regardless of the year he was born.

 

He is very smart about baseball and the entire game that surrounds baseball too.

 

Now, this stuff can go south very quickly. We have to see a lot more of him before we crown him as the next great Twins manager. Right now, we might simply be seeing that Molitor was worse than we thought (which doesn't mean Baldelli isn't good, mind you.)

    • Sconnie likes this

I think it is good competition within the team. They all know there is someone who could take their place.In the past it really didn't matter how well you played because it seemed more like a favorites thing.Now it seems you produce and you play, doesn't matter who you are or what the name is on the back of the jersey.Plus Baldelli has real DH's and power hitting first baseman to choose from.That is what I think the difference is.I always thought Dozier was the leader of the clubhouse but seems he threw in the towel last year.We have more than one player this year that has picked it up.Plus they are having fun, running and dancing off the field with a win most times, better than the heads hanging as they left the field the last 10 years.

Let's not confuse cause and affect too much here. Baldelli's basically never managed a team that's spent a day outside of first place. He's never managed in a race, never even managed a game in June. He has a team that's wildly over-achieving and playing .667 baseball. It's been beyond easy to spread playing time, and portray a 'soft'/patient vibe.

 

Fast forward to a hypothetical 2020 scenario. It's mid-July, and the Twins with high expectations, have been under-performing for weeks, and were just beat 3 games to 1 in a series against the upstart White Sox to fall into a tie for first place in the central. Tougher to stick with the ideal rotations at that point. And what demeanor will everyone (including leaders in the clubhouse) be looking for from Baldelli in that scenario? Every good manager has to have the 'coddling' card AND the 'field general' card in their toolbox. There were plenty of 'field managers'...the ones that did it right...that had the respect of their players. That will still be possible, I think. Every reason to be optimistic regarding Baldelli, but too early to pigeon-hole him into a category, IMO.

    • ashbury, Riverbrian, Sconnie and 2 others like this

 

On a side note, did anyone catch Morneau's comments about the new approach a few weeks ago? It basically boiled down to "I tried to do too much and it hurt me in the second half of seasons. I wish this existed when I played."

 

Good luck getting that kind of honest, inward-looking commentary from Bert or Jack.

 

Bert had a rubber arm and probably does not relate to people who can't keep up with that.

 

Molitor had a similar issue, I think, though Paul was pretty rubbishy until the steroid era for the first half of his career.

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the_brute_squad
May 23 2019 12:26 PM

Personality management is certainly a large aspect to leading any team. I do think Rocco was given a pretty good lineup to put in place. Much better than I anticipated! The question is how will this style do when faced with a losing streak/adversity?

 

No need to change the meaning of "coddle." Its denotation of excessive care or kindness is fine for that word. Its connotation of spoiling children has its place, too. 

 

Just use a different word, like "nurture." Baldelli apparently understands that men treated with respect, sympathy and a positive regard for their emotional as well as physical health tend to perform better on the field. Shocking! Imagine the nightmare if we all treated each other like that! Our prisons would be empty! Our military would spend its time building houses and swimming pools for everybody around the world! 

 

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins will be where every baseball player wants to play. 

    • Jerr, Tom Froemming and Original Whizzinator like this

It is wayyyyyy to early to call Rocco a good or a bad manager.Yes, his team is winning and guys that did not perform well last year are preforming better this year, but is that all Rocco, most likely not. 

 

So far I am a fan, and like what I have seen, how can you not.However, I am not going to say he is best manager around simply because we are winning.Gardy won plenty in regular season, but when you look at his in game calls he was really bad manager, in my opinion.The track record for Rocco is just not there to make a call yet. 

    • Aichiman likes this

"Ser

 

No need to change the meaning of "coddle." Its denotation of excessive care or kindness is fine for that word. Its connotation of spoiling children has its place, too. 

 

Just use a different word, like "nurture." Baldelli apparently understands that men treated with respect, sympathy and a positive regard for their emotional as well as physical health tend to perform better on the field. Shocking! Imagine the nightmare if we all treated each other like that! Our prisons would be empty! Our military would spend its time building houses and swimming pools for everybody around the world! 

 

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins will be where every baseball player wants to play. 

 

I'm not sure this is right either. "Servant Leadership" is a new(ish) leadership style and I think Baldelli uses it. Globally, we are seeing a shift to this style thank to IT teams moving to agile project management solutions. Let's face it, nobody likes hardheaded project managers who, much like modern HR departments, are just around to keep management from having to have tough conversations with people and having to be bothered to document and track anything.

 

This article sums up the qualities of a good servant leader.

 

https://www.skippric...servant-leader/

    • jimbo92107, Sconnie and Tom Froemming like this

I willing to bet there’s more to Baldelli than what we’ve seen publicly. Yeah, the Earl Weaver’s of the world are great, but nothing’s more effective and commanding than a “soft” and mild mannered leader who’s always on the verge of biting your head off if you step out of line. I mean, imagine Baldelli cussing you out, kinda scary right?

I'm repeating myself to say, "concur." A couple of publicly visible moves - the placement of Buxton in the 9-slot despite improving numbers, and removing Berrios just short of collecting a Win during a laugher - could easily be viewed as saying to his best players, "this is my team." If so, I have little doubt he does this in other little ways. It's easy to overplay that, but it also probably has to be done by every manager now and then. There's no art to doing it to a bad apple, but letting every player know "you're not above reproach" is healthy.

 

Rocco has a tough side, too.

Difficult to imagine a guy named Rocco who doesn't. :) (He reminds me too much of my gentle-natured son for me to be serious about that.)

    • ChrisKnutson likes this

I'm not sure this is right either. "Servant Leadership" is a new(ish) leadership style

Not so new(ish). I'm not very young, and one of my favorite early bosses used to say that her job was to "bring water" - a metaphor I didn't precisely understand but took to mean a certain humility in the role.

 

No single management style works, in tech or in baseball. As the old saying goes, you need to know who needs a pat on the back and who needs a kick on the rump. At different times I needed and deserved either.

    • diehardtwinsfan, Twins33, Sconnie and 2 others like this
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Alex Schieferdecker
May 23 2019 03:24 PM

Of all of Baldelli's moves, I have been most impressed (like many of you) by his insistence on rest. No matter how important or how hot, every position player is getting rotated out of the line-up. guys like Gonzalez and Astudillo are basically everyday players, despite neither having a set position, entirely because they move around and fill in for whoever is scheduled to take the day off. 

 

A similar philosophy seems to be being applied to the bullpen as well. In the home series against the Angels, when the Twins played three close games in a row, the entire bullpen was used. It wasn't just Rogers, Parker, May, and Harper every night. (In fact, the idea that a guy like Harper could have already established himself as a high leverage option seems like something that would not have happened on most teams.)

 

I think the essential part (as the article mentions) is that Baldelli thinks that getting regular rest in the long run is more important than any one game's result. I think he's probably right. Baseball has 162 games in the regular season, it's a marathon, not a sprint. If the Twins get to the postseason, they could be the freshest team remaining.

    • Jerr, DocBauer and Original Whizzinator like this

 

Not so new(ish). I'm not very young, and one of my favorite early bosses used to say that her job was to "bring water" - a metaphor I didn't precisely understand but took to mean a certain humility in the role.

 

No single management style works, in tech or in baseball. As the old saying goes, you need to know who needs a pat on the back and who needs a kick on the rump. At different times I needed and deserved either.

 

Yes, but these are all cliches, which yeah seem to work on about 30% of Americans judging by current polling.

The question is how do you lead the other 70%?

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yarnivek1972
May 23 2019 03:46 PM

Of all of Baldelli's moves, I have been most impressed (like many of you) by his insistence on rest. No matter how important or how hot, every position player is getting rotated out of the line-up. guys like Gonzalez and Astudillo are basically everyday players, despite neither having a set position, entirely because they move around and fill in for whoever is scheduled to take the day off.

A similar philosophy seems to be being applied to the bullpen as well. In the home series against the Angels, when the Twins played three close games in a row, the entire bullpen was used. It wasn't just Rogers, Parker, May, and Harper every night. (In fact, the idea that a guy like Harper could have already established himself as a high leverage option seems like something that would not have happened on most teams.)

I think the essential part (as the article mentions) is that Baldelli thinks that getting regular rest in the long run is more important than any one game's result. I think he's probably right. Baseball has 162 games in the regular season, it's a marathon, not a sprint. If the Twins get to the postseason, they could be the freshest team remaining.


Umm, huh?

His A/LI is .64. 1 would be medium leverage. Taylor Rogers is at 2.15 this year.
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DutchFarmer
May 23 2019 06:06 PM
Ummmm....kind of an inconsequential comment here but Baldelli isn't even a millennial according to some definitions (e.g. US Census Bureau).
    • Danchat and bighat like this
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YOUNGDUMBSON
May 23 2019 07:19 PM

 

Let's not confuse cause and affect too much here. Baldelli's basically never managed a team that's spent a day outside of first place. He's never managed in a race, never even managed a game in June. He has a team that's wildly over-achieving and playing .667 baseball. It's been beyond easy to spread playing time, and portray a 'soft'/patient vibe.

 

Fast forward to a hypothetical 2020 scenario. It's mid-July, and the Twins with high expectations, have been under-performing for weeks, and were just beat 3 games to 1 in a series against the upstart White Sox to fall into a tie for first place in the central. Tougher to stick with the ideal rotations at that point. And what demeanor will everyone (including leaders in the clubhouse) be looking for from Baldelli in that scenario? Every good manager has to have the 'coddling' card AND the 'field general' card in their toolbox. There were plenty of 'field managers'...the ones that did it right...that had the respect of their players. That will still be possible, I think. Every reason to be optimistic regarding Baldelli, but too early to pigeon-hole him into a category, IMO.

Just a couple of thoughts in response to your post. No one will argue that the Twins have been alot closer to the worst team in the A.L. than the best for quite a few years now. In the last 4 years they've lost 185 road games, pretty much against the good bad and ugly of the Major Leagues. You can't just look at Baldelli as the reason for the turn-around. The Twins finally have a front office with a long term vision that they are truly committed to!! Example: The Twins made a habit every year of taking flyers on "cheap" free agents, hoping that a couple would pan out. Today, they have completely embraced analytics and the "flyers" they gambled on weren't flyers at all. while success was by no means guaranteed, each signee in this off-season had an attainable upside that was well worth investing in.

Cron, Schoop, Gonzales, Cruz and Perez had big upside or reliable expectations based on recent performance or an environment that would increase their likelihood of success based on real statistical data, not a hope and dream of striking gold. Sano and Buxton are being groomed for success now instead of expecting it as a gift from God. Baldelli has looked so good as a manager because he was chosen to lead this team based on his understanding of analytics and his ability to apply this in his teaching and managing. Some interesting stats.

1. The Twins have now played 49 games, 26 on the road. They have yet to lose more than two games in a row. That's at least in part due to good managing.

2. He has been teaching the one thing that ensures success as a team. We are a team!!! We will fail or succeed together, creating a true all for one and one for all environment.

3. He believes in his players, and has shown that through some moments that left me wondering if he had a clue i.e. Cron, Gonzales, Adrianza etc slumps as well as with his relievers, having most of them enjoy success in high leverage situations.

 

Is this a team that will win at a .667 clip all year? I doubt it, but this is a team built to win today, based on the game today. Maybe we should look at management the same way we look at the players, They're a TEAM

    • DocBauer and Ski U Mah Gopher like this

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