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It's Now or Never for Rocco Baldelli




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Rocco Baldelli has been a polarizing figure in Twins Territory since his 2019 managerial debut. His new-school, analytics-forward approach led the Twins to back-to-back AL Central crowns in Baldelli’s first two seasons at the helm. Since then, the Twins have disappointed with consecutive sub-.500 seasons, including a last place finish in the 2021 AL Central.

Entering his fifth season as manager, Baldelli needs to demonstrate that he is a source of success, not an obstacle that Twins players need to overcome.

Why is the jury still out on Rocco? Let’s argue both sides of his case.


(Rah-Rah Rocco) Supporters might say…

Baldelli debuted in 2019 by taking over a team that went 78-84 a year earlier and immediately winning 101 games, overseeing the franchise’s first 100-win season since 1965. This feat won him AL Manager of the Year. For his second act, Rocco skillfully handled the extreme roster flux of the Covid-shortened 2020 season to repeat as AL Central champs.

Modern baseball favors data-savvy franchises, and Baldelli is the quintessential modern manager. He began his coaching career with the Tampa Bay Rays, getting an inside look at the small-market franchise best at using analytics to squeeze extra wins out of every dollar they spend. The Twins’ payroll will always be middling; they need a manager who knows how to leverage the troves of data at their disposal. Baldelli embraces data and uses analytics to optimize his players’ probabilities of success, even if that sometimes means pulling his starting pitcher after four or five effective innings.

Next point: Twins players like playing for Rocco. He’s a relatable 41-year-old former player who keeps things light in the clubhouse. Manager-player chemistry isn’t insignificant. Last year’s White Sox showed how a rift between manager and players can create an on-field disaster. Byron Buxton has blossomed under Rocco, who lets Buck swing freely and tap into his extraordinary athleticism. Meanwhile, after one year under Baldelli, Carlos Correa re-signed with the club knowing Baldelli would be leading the team going forward.

During his two losing seasons, Baldelli was tormented by injuries. In 2021, Twins players missed more games due to injury than any other team in the AL Central (see the data here). And last season, the Twins were the most injury-plagued team in MLB, missing out on 10.06 wins due to injury, according to this analysis. Rocco was forced to regularly trot out lineups featuring the likes of Rob Refsnyder, Jake Cave, Gilberto Celestino, and other backups while his team sputtered. It’s not the manager’s fault when they don’t have any good buttons to press.



Rocco Baldelli ranks 10th in managerial wins in Twins/Senators franchise history. If he wins 91 games this season, Baldelli would vault himself up to 6th place all time.

(Boo Baldelli) Haters might say…

Ah yes, 2019, the glorious year of the hyperbouncy baseball and the Bomba Squad. If you hired a squirrel to be an MLB manager and its team set an MLB record by hitting 307 homeruns in 162 games, the squirrel would probably have a division championship on its managerial resume. Baldelli deserves little credit for the Twins’ 2019 AL Central crown. Sure, Rocco followed up 2019 with another division title in 2020, but are we certain that a 60-game MLB season packed with Covid-list absences means anything in the big picture? And Baldelli is 0-5 in the playoffs, after all!

In the post-2020 world, Baldelli’s teams have consistently underperformed. Twins ownership is spending more money than ever before, only to be rewarded with two losing seasons.

Baldelli’s offenses never bunt or steal to stimulate run-scoring, despite mediocre offensive numbers. The Twins ranked 14th and 17th in runs scored in 2021 and 2022, respectively. And Baldelli’s knack for prematurely pulling starting pitchers hasn’t paid off either, with his pitching staffs finishing 26th and 19th in ERA during those two seasons. His overreliance on underperforming veteran relievers has cost the team wins. It’s impossible to forget Alex Colomé blowing save after save to start the 2021 season. More recently, Emilio Pagán has filled the role of overused bullpen punching bag.

Baldelli’s in-game pitching management clearly rubs some players the wrong way. Earlier this week Sonny Gray effectively called out Baldelli, saying this year’s starting staff won’t take kindly to being yanked early.

An MLB manager should subtly complement their roster like a fine wine accents a good meal. Instead, Baldelli is a pungent sauce that smothers everything on its plate.


It’s time for a verdict.

Personally, I’m conflicted about Baldelli. I support using analytics to supplement decision making and I value his management style. He’s data-savvy with good vibes, but his in-game tactics seem to consistently backfire.

Barring a World Series title, Baldelli will continue to have his detractors; however, a successful 2023 season would do a lot to lend him legitimacy as Twins manager. If the Twins instead miss the playoffs for a third straight season, Baldelli’s tenure in Minnesota will probably come to an end.

Bottom line, Baldelli is out of excuses. The Twins have two bona fide stars in Buxton and Correa. The front office built a pitching rotation that is at least six deep, and the Twins’ bench is full of starting-caliber position players. Heading into the 2023 season, Baldelli’s control panel has more buttons, levers, and switches than ever before. If he is indeed the man for the job, Baldelli needs to prove that he can press the buttons, pull the levers, and flip the switches that spur his team to a postseason berth (and a freaking playoff win!!).

It’s go time, Rocco.



Recommended Comments

I personally don't think any of that matters.  I think he's tied to the FO and he's doing what the FO wants him to do.  So, his seat isn't hot at all unless the FO's is.  And if the FO fires him, they'll just replace him with someone similar.  

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Without a division title and at least a playoff win, Rocco needs to demonstrate the ability to develop the young talent he is provided  in order to remain in his position.

2024 is likely going to be a year when a number of our top prospects are finally going to graduate to the Bigs.  Getting this young talent to continually improve is a key, if not the key, to the Twins having a genuine open window for several years.



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You can blame Baldelli & you might be right but others say that's not his fault it's FO. No one takes the blame & they won't let you know what the deal is. So we are left in limbo. No matter who's fault it is, the Polhad's love Flavine, so no one is going anywhere. 

Maybe if they really bungle things up after being dealt a great hand (and that's possible). Then they may think about it. 

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It is go time for Rocco, as in go show what you can do.  For the first time in his tenure the FO has removed many of the easy excuses by building a deep roster on both sides of the ball with reinforcements in the minors to boot.  I don't think he is on the hot seat however.  A poor year this year will make next year the very hot seat.

The in game stuff has to improve.  They are saying the right things and maybe better personnel helps the strategies work out but I've been constantly puzzled in many game situations, like using his pitch hitter in the 6th only for the same spot to obviously come up in a leverage situation later. 

Just because the data says make a move doesn't mean you should make it.  I love the modern analytics as much as anyone but the role of the manager is knowing what data applies in what situations.  Get the damn run in to win in extra innings, it might require a bunt or SB, the horror!

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Nice, precise analysis.  Up until this year(or, more precisely Aug. 1, 2022), I couldn't distinguish between the FO's failures or the coaching staff's for the team's underperformance in 2021-22.  As you mention, the 2021/22 seasons foundered on the pen's weaknesses - a fact squarely on the shoulders of the FO.  They refused to spend any money on FA relievers who could have appreciably improved a pen that was subpar.  But at least at the last trade deadline, for the first time in their 6 years, the FO made some trades to bolster a beleagured rotation(Mahle) and pen(Lopez), which only partly made up for their perplexing trade of Rogers and failure to sign any FA but Joe Smith.  Then they follow up this past season by trading for Lopez, resigning CC, signing Vazquez,and greatly improving depth thru addition of Taylor, Farmer, Solano, and Gallo(??).

With this FO turnaround, yes, the heat should be on The Rock to get this team into the playoffs and end the long winless streak,.  Anything less, and ownership should get rid of Rocco first, and the FO quickly thereafter.  Here's hoping the classic Passive Pohlad era has ended with the elevation of Joe.  No guarantees, but for the first time in ages, some hopeful signs have emerged.

As SGD states, the negatives on Baldy's side - lack of fundamentals, inability to manufacture runs, slavish attention to a formulaic approach to the rotation, going along with FO's inexplicable attachment to underperforming players,e.g., Pagan, Colome, Sands, rather than putting the 26 best players on the active list, and any lack of overt leadership/fire that might inspire a team rather than go along with the "Minnesota Nice" attitude that we've seen since TK left- should leave little doubt that if 2023 shows signs of repeating the last 2 seasons, Rocco must take the fall.  If the first 3 months of the new season shows no great improvement, he must be replaced.  No more excuses can be accepted.


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I agree this should be Rocco's last year if Twins do not have a winning record. He needs to manage pitching staff better, have his batters move runners over to reduce double plays and to score more runs. Game after game last year the Twins would out hit the other team, but score fewer runs. Good managers can be judged by their record in 1 run games and in extra inning games, but Rocco has had losing record in both. If he doesn't improve in this area then he needs to be replaced with a manager with more experience.

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On 3/30/2023 at 11:17 AM, Jocko87 said:

The in game stuff has to improve.  They are saying the right things and maybe better personnel helps the strategies work out but I've been constantly puzzled in many game situations, like using his pitch hitter in the 6th only for the same spot to obviously come up in a leverage situation later.

Point for Rocco yesterday, the lineup setup to use the pinch hitters worked out perfectly and is a great example of how better personnel allows the lineup to be set for attack moves.  Odd coincidence it happened in the 6th but with 21 LOB it looks like it was setup as a 7th inning move and the game flow moved it up.  Either way, good to see.

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I think the Twins are set up to win 88+ games this year and win the Central.  If that happens Rocco will be safe.  If that doesn't happen or at least get close, then Rocco will be on the hot seat in '24.  But if the reason for a bad season is massive injuries like last year (which in my belief is the reason we didn't win the division last year) then he will be given another year.  But hey, in baseball, every manager is on the hot seat if they have multiple losing seasons.  A manager can only do so much with the players he is given.  I think he should be given a pass for last year, considering the decent season until the late season AAA squad he had to deal with.

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