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Rocco’s Next Act May Define Him


Ted Schwerzler

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The 2021 Minnesota Twins have been terrible, there’s no denying that. Where blame lies is debatable, but the manager is dealing with a deck missing plenty of cards. He’s no absolved from any wrongdoing, but a “Fire Rocco” campaign is also shortsighted. Instead, 2022 is shaping up to be a defining act.

Through his first two seasons as the Twins skipper, Baldelli posted a 147-85 record. He led the club to back-to-back AL Central Division titles, and he took a team underperforming to new heights. After navigating a pandemic stricken season that included plenty of uncertainty, the only thing certain is that 2021 requires a reset.

In April, this club seemed to be dealt a good amount of bad luck. They were 9-15 despite a plus-two run differential. From there injuries and ineffectiveness took over, rendering most managerial decisions a moot point. This club wasn’t supposed to be bad, and they don’t have to be in the year ahead, but how their leader directs them could be somewhat of a career defining turning point.

Rocco is young, just 39-years-old, but was he a beneficiary of a team that blasted a boatload of homers and played a shortened season? Maybe he was snakebit by a team that couldn’t stay healthy and get out of its own way. No matter what the Twins have been with their new manager, 2022 has the opportunity to allow him runway for a new mark to be made.

I’d argue the Twins would be silly to rebuild. Plenty of this core was seen as impact players coming into the season. Unless that evaluation by the front office was completely misguided, shuffling in new parts makes a lot of sense. Allowing youth to get their feet wet in 2021 should benefit them in more substantial roles going forward. Even in a rebuild though, there’s opportunity to shine.

The Detroit Tigers were abysmal out of the gate and have since played a much stronger brand of baseball. A.J. Hinch was brought in as a replacement for Ron Gardenhire with the hope of leading a young roster back to relevance. He’s not going to do that this season, but they’re trending in the right direction, and it seems as though the Astros former skipper wasn’t just a by-product of a talented environment.

Rocco Baldelli doesn’t need to be defined by a record or banners in his first few seasons, but what he’ll have to prove in the year ahead is that process is driving results. We can throw away the present season and provide a pass given the circumstances, from there, a need to see more impact and growth resonating from the man in charge is a must.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will do plenty to outline the future’s course over the next week prior to the trade deadline. From there, Baldelli will have a clearer directive on what in front of him and showing an ability to navigate the path forward is his next challenge.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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I think this season is "just one of those seasons".  There has been plenty of craziness, plenty of acquisitions that fell flat, plenty of players that simply haven't produced, and plenty of brow raising decision making.  Sometimes those things happen.  Less frequently, they all happen and you get this season.  Some of those issues go back to the start of Rocco's tenure.  Some new issues look like they're coming from a manager that's trying to find something that works.  The trade deadline will likely show us what direction the FO is thinking for next season, with an offseason to cement it.  

I'm firmly on the "wait and see" train with Rocco.  I'm looking for some clarity from the FO to determine how I will set my expectations for next season.

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The Twins, over several "regimes," suffer from a poor coaching staff.  Players leave; get "fixed," and succeed!  (Pressly, Escobar, Lance Lynn, Aaron Hicks, and it doesn't end there!)

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I do think that "wait and see" is the right approach with Rocco. I do think that he sometimes gets a little to lost in the analytics and loses the human side of performance. Even if a particular pitching matchup is the right thing statistically, it may not be the right thing on that day for that player, and a manager needs to see and understand that before making a decision, I do think he needs a strong, experienced bench coach to help him.

The biggest problem with this team is that the players who were supposed to be the core group at this point have mostly failed except for Polanco and Berrios and even they aren't leading lights.  The middle of the batting order by this point was supposed to include Sano, Kepler, Buxton, Garver and Polanco. Sano is almost unplayable, Kepler can't hit and looks like he will never be more than a good fielding OF who should hit no higher than 7th (and maybe be the 4th OF), Garver is injured and inconsistent, and Buxton can't stay healthy. Polanco looks like a leadoff or #6 hitter. On the pitching side, Berrios hasn't taken that step to be a #1 ( I would argue that he's a solid #2/strong #3),  Maeda is a mystery,  and the bullpen never really developed past Rogers.  It's hard to blame the manager for these failings.   

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11 minutes ago, Nancy Murphy said:

The Twins, over several "regimes," suffer from a poor coaching staff.  Players leave; get "fixed," and succeed!  (Pressly, Escobar, Lance Lynn, Jordan Hicks, and it doesn't end there!)

This isn't entirely true, though.

Pressly was good in Minnesota but became better in Houston. I'll give you that one but the Twins also received what appears to be a decent return on him (which could vault to a very good return if Alcala ever figures it out). Everybody knew Pressly was good and the return indicated that.

Escobar's best season (128 OPS+) was his partial season in Minnesota before being traded to Arizona. The Twins also received Jhoan Duran for an Escobar rental, which looks like a hell of a return in time.

Lance Lynn was bad for the Twins over a half dozen starts, then rebounded nicely. He was a 31 year old veteran who was bad because he held out until February and missed Spring Training. It requires some gymnastics to blame the Twins for that brief underperformance.

Jordan Hicks? I assume you mean Aaron Hicks. Yeah, the *previous* front office bungled his development in a big way and mishandled that dude about as badly as possible (I still shake my head at him dropping switch-hitting and nobody even knew about it).

There are certainly instances of the Twins mis-managing players but that's true of every organization. I don't think the recent Twins have an outsized number of those types of players and certainly not based on the players on your list.

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"In April, this club seemed to be dealt a good amount of bad luck"

That is a very generous way to assess the 1st 24 games of the season. 

For whatever reason Rocco/FO was obsessed with deeming Colome as our closer. This didn't have to be the decision. It should have been Rogers job to lose. For whatever reason, it was Colome's job to lose, and he should have lost it at least 2 weeks before he did.

Our best starter in March wasn't given a starting job (the Dobber) - but they gave the 5th spot to Shoemaker. The rest is history, Shoemaker stunk, and Dobs never helped us and is now wrecked.

For whatever reason we decided that our best leadoff hitter, and our best contact guy (Arraez) would NOT be given a starting position on the field. This led to spending 10M on a shortstop - so, instead of signing a 12M starting pitcher, we signed a 2M starting pitcher. This also led to the ever changing by the day line up, and led to a very decent 2b man having to be a very average to poor LF'er. 

And of course going back to the prior year, we tried to land a stud pitcher, we could not, so we jumped at adding Donaldson, which moved Sano to 1st - now blocking both Kirilloff (not anymore), and now blocking Miranda - and putting a 24M hole in our pitching budget. 

The proof of these personnel mistakes is here. We'd love to trade both Simmons and Donaldson. Proof we blew the roster construction game. Would we have been much better off this year with Arraez at leadoff every game and playing 2b - former all-star ss Polanco at short - Sano was a 3b until a couple weeks ago, now Miranda is playing there - Kirilloff now manning 1b daily. Just a shame really - not to mention the LF difficulty's we wouldn't have if Lamont Wade and/or Eddie Rosario were still here. Personnel roster blunders, and managerial mistakes are everywhere.

We made our own bad luck Ted.

 

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Great comments on Rocco.  I believe he has made his share of mistakes "managing" the team.  Some are definitely very questionable.  I also think to blame their 9-15 start on bad luck is wrong as well.  It was more indicative of future poor play. Come on bad luck?  Get real!  Baldelli, although part of the problem is also part of the solution.

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In some ways it's hard to accept but Baldelli has earned a shot to turn this around in 2022.  His lah-dee-dah approach to the horrors of the current season can be infuriating, but two division titles carry weight.  That said, he's on a short leash next season.

Falvey and Levine are also under scrutiny.  This year's club wasn't "dealt bad luck"--it was instead plagued with horrible personnel decisions, starting with the worthless Colome and the other bullpen additions.  There had better be a top to bottom analysis of the Twins scouting/player evaluation process, and an inquiry into whether analytics are compromising us at the expense of actual, in person talent evaluation.  (Question:  how did the White Sox know Liam Hendricks was the guy, and not MLB's worst pitcher Colome?). Also:  the Mets signing May for two years at $15M was a no brainer--where were we on that blind spot?

There are at least a half-dozen top tier shortstops in the coming free agent pool; the Twins damn well better pay for oe of them to start turning this around.

 

 

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The small ball heavy concept the Twins had great periods of success with is looong gone. Rocco's gameplan seems to center around each-man-for-himself, swing for the fences often. We don't really ever see hits strung together or batting around in an inning any more. Even with the HR-heavy approach, almost 64% of our dingers are solo (almost worthless), 25% 2-run (helps), 10% 3-run (game-changer), and just 1.4% GS's (game breaker). They've hit far too many of the least effective homers since 2019 and over this long of a sample clearly fail pretty drastically in delivering the monster blow. Not ensuring your guys are hammering basic hitting techniques though EVERY offseason leads to exactly what we're watching nightly. Rocco and crew (and those before him) also show no signs of excelling at player development (offensively speaking). Most players going back to Jason Bartlett seem to have improved after leaving this org. The latest stock includes Schoop, Escobar, and Grossman. This season was an easy one to predict once we got a healthy sample size of Rocco. Back in late April, I said the Sox would win the division and the Twins would be at least 8 games back. The difference between the two teams is Chicago's lineup consists of talent, technique, and confidence (and a HOF manager), which converts to production in their org. A well-oiled machine. Go ahead and give Rocco a few more years if you need to. I already got the early read on the guy.

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8 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

This isn't entirely true, though.

Pressly was good in Minnesota but became better in Houston. I'll give you that one but the Twins also received what appears to be a decent return on him (which could vault to a very good return if Alcala ever figures it out). Everybody knew Pressly was good and the return indicated that.

Escobar's best season (128 OPS+) was his partial season in Minnesota before being traded to Arizona. The Twins also received Jhoan Duran for an Escobar rental, which looks like a hell of a return in time.

Lance Lynn was bad for the Twins over a half dozen starts, then rebounded nicely. He was a 31 year old veteran who was bad because he held out until February and missed Spring Training. It requires some gymnastics to blame the Twins for that brief underperformance.

Jordan Hicks? I assume you mean Aaron Hicks. Yeah, the *previous* front office bungled his development in a big way and mishandled that dude about as badly as possible (I still shake my head at him dropping switch-hitting and nobody even knew about it).

There are certainly instances of the Twins mis-managing players but that's true of every organization. I don't think the recent Twins have an outsized number of those types of players and certainly not based on the players on your list.

All the returns you mentioned for the guys who are clearly producing at a higher level with other teams (undeniably) haven't even made a dent in the MLB. Brock's comment is entirely true until Duran, Alcala, or whoever else actually moves the needle in the senior league. 

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12 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

This isn't entirely true, though.

Pressly was good in Minnesota but became better in Houston. I'll give you that one but the Twins also received what appears to be a decent return on him (which could vault to a very good return if Alcala ever figures it out). Everybody knew Pressly was good and the return indicated that.

Escobar's best season (128 OPS+) was his partial season in Minnesota before being traded to Arizona. The Twins also received Jhoan Duran for an Escobar rental, which looks like a hell of a return in time.

Lance Lynn was bad for the Twins over a half dozen starts, then rebounded nicely. He was a 31 year old veteran who was bad because he held out until February and missed Spring Training. It requires some gymnastics to blame the Twins for that brief underperformance.

Jordan Hicks? I assume you mean Aaron Hicks. Yeah, the *previous* front office bungled his development in a big way and mishandled that dude about as badly as possible (I still shake my head at him dropping switch-hitting and nobody even knew about it).

There are certainly instances of the Twins mis-managing players but that's true of every organization. I don't think the recent Twins have an outsized number of those types of players and certainly not based on the players on your list.

I think you are being too charitable to this FO. They've made many bad moves where they simply misjudged the talent they had, misjudged talent they were getting back, or misjudged how other teams measured talent.

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7 hours ago, gunnarthor said:

I think you are being too charitable to this FO. They've made many bad moves where they simply misjudged the talent they had, misjudged talent they were getting back, or misjudged how other teams measured talent.

They’ve made some mistakes but most I can think of were this past off-season and none were on this list.

I’m definitely not going them a pass for their mistakes but the above list isn’t a good example of them. The closest is Pressly but it appears they received a decent return for him. 

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This 2021 team struggles in high-leverage situations, and that was certainly true in Rocco's playoff appearances as well. And that's troubling, because it signals something that, to me, seems to be the primary value of a big league coach: getting players mentally and physically ready to excel in tense game situations.

I don't quite know what the best managers do, though. I don't know if they run drills that the Twins don't. I don't know if they take a more active role in interpersonal dynamics in the clubhouse. I don't know if they create an environment where every player is clear on his role and expectations for his play.

Whatever it is, Rocco doesn't have it, He comes across as a nice guy, but also very weak and indecisive. And he's been given a good chance here, but his teams have fallen short of expectations. I know it's an unpopular opinion, but with a youth movement on the way, in 2022 I'd bring in a manager with more seasoning and more experience with playoff success (either as a player or a coach). In fact, I'd fire Rocco this August, just to send a message that the team's play this season is unacceptable.

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Seth: In his time with the Twins, Cruz played in 258 games. He hit .304/.386/.598 (.984) with 435 doubles, 76 home runs and 191 RBI

 

Holy cow that's a lot of doubles!!

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