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Grading Rocco Baldelli’s First Losing Season


Rocco Baldelli has presided over some tough seasons in Twins Territory, including the pandemic that has impacted a majority of his managerial career. So, what grade would you give him following his first losing season?

 

MLB managers have a direct impact on the game, from line-up construction to in-game decisions. However, a good manager can lose a lot of games if the talent on the field doesn’t perform. Players and the front office that compiles the roster have a more significant impact than the manager, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to point out about Rocco Baldelli this season. 

The Good
The team didn’t quit, which would have been easy to do following a trade deadline where the team sold away veteran players. For most of the second half, the Twins rotation was composed of unproven players that weren’t expected to impact the 2021 big-league roster. Things didn’t go perfectly, but the team certainly didn’t fall apart. 

Minnesota went 29-28 (.509) following the trade deadline, which included going 8-4 to end the season and avoid 90-losses. There was little to play for in the season’s final months, but that’s when the Twins were playing their best baseball. If Baldelli gets some of the blame for the team’s early-season struggles, he should also get credit for the club not completely falling off the rails. 


The Bad
Minnesota had a chance to have an incredible, feel-good story, but Baldelli didn’t put a player into the game. Drew Maggi was a 32-year old rookie having a career year at Triple-A. Minnesota called him up for a weekend series in Toronto and had him talk to the media before the game about being in the big leagues. Unfortunately, Baldelli never put him in a game. 

There were opportunities with Jake Cave, Rob Refsnyder, and Willians Astudillo all getting starts in the series. Even giving him a late-inning at-bat would have been enough. Instead, the Twins demoted him following the weekend series, and the team never recalled him. Minnesota was a bad team going nowhere in 2021, and Maggi should have gotten the opportunity to appear in a game. 

The Ugly
There were a lot of ugly moments throughout the 2021 season, especially with expectations being so high entering the year. This year’s Twins were one of the most disappointing teams in franchise history, but how much of that falls on the manager. In April, the Twins dug a hole that was impossible to get out of with Alex Colome blowing multiple late-inning leads. It’s easy to point at the manager and say he left Colome in too long or stuck with Colome too far into the season. 

Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ pitched poorly and were allowed to continue starting games well into the season. Andrelton Simmons had a terrible offensive season, but he started at shortstop until the season’s final games. Some of these decisions came from the front office, and some rested squarely on Baldelli’s shoulders. 

Final Grade
After the season’s first month, many fans would have given Baldelli an F grade. June and July were also tough as the team was eight games under .500 in those two months. In the end, baseball has a long season, and Baldelli was able to redeem himself in the final months. The team didn’t quit, and they helped to earn the manager a C-. 

What grade would you give Baldelli? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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Your grade is fair and accurate.  The fact that we played 500 ball for the second half does not rescue Rocco.  With the expectations that we had for the team beginning the season we would have been upset with a 500 team, but this team was not 500, that was half a season when all the pressure was off them in the worst division in baseball.

I do not like the way he handles his starters, and the artificial limit on pitches which is well below 100 - and I always thought that was an artificial number.  Colome is part of a bad bullpen management.  He said he did not use designated closers yet he continued to use Colome in that role.  Combine the SP going to few innings with a poor BP that was then expected to cover over half of every ball game and we have the mess that presented itself this year.

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I would go with like a B or B-... I agree with the "Good" point. This team could have gone really bad, but I think Rocco's management of people is plus-plus, and that has to help over the course of a long season. To end the season strong after the trades, the injuries, the pitching issues, is pretty impressive. 

I was annoyed by the Maggi thing, but that isn't going to alter my grade. 

I actually like his bullpen usage. I think that he gives everybody opportunities is a good thing long-term, and also helps keep the regulars from being over-used. This year that didn't look great because some of the pitchers were just unable to perform. I think he stuck with Colome as closer at the beginning of the year an appropriate amount of time for a guy who had been very good for 8-9 years... but then he moved to Robles and Rogers. 

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C- is fair.    I don't love pitch limits either but ultimately its players that have to perform.   I can't picture any other manager coming in and doing anything drastically different that would have an impact on the season.     HIs manager of the year season probably only gets a B from me.    Mostly I think managers are overrated.   

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I will give him an F.... Using Colome as closer at the beginning of the year as much as he did even after he continued to fail was inexcusable and set the tone for the rest of the season.... losing. His constant changing of the lineup verses Righties or Lefties is laughable. Injuries aside, a good Manager plays his best players every day regardless of matchups and has a lineup that is constant with a leadoff guy, #2 hitter, #3 hitter, cleanup guy and so on. He not only changed by player everyday but also where they batted everyday. It's can be tough for hitters to get in a groove when they don't even know if they'll be in the lineup much less where they will bat if they are. Giving guys days off after scheduled off days is another joke yet he did it all the time. I also can't count the number of times he pulled a decent hitter for a defensive replacement when he was behind in the game. Or he would do the exact opposite and pull his better defensive player for a pinch hitter when he was ahead. Makes no sense. After the trade deadline I was hoping to see a look to the future mentality on using the bullpen but he continued to use Colome as his closer. Why not throw Alcala into that role the last month of the season to see if he can be that guy in 2022 and beyond? Didn't happen until the last game of the season, It's as if someone told him to do it. 

Before the season started we were all expecting to compete for the division. Supposedly there was more talent on the team at the beginning of the year then after the trade deadline when they lost Cruz, Berrios, Robles, etc, etc. Yet the team had a better record after those guys left. I'd say it must have been Management that blew it and that rests squarely on Rocco's shoulders.

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I give him a C, but my main complaints are maybe more organizational than on Rocco.  For instance, the trend to pull starters earlier and rely on bullpens to get the last 12 outs of nearly every game.  But most teams do it nowadays, Boston did last night with Eovaldi.  It worked out last night, but what if one of 4 relievers used, had a bad night.

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Bad year for Baldelli, no doubt. But I don’t really think it’s fair to say the past two years were the aberration while 2021 is how competent Baldelli really is, for more reasons than you might think.

His pitching staff management was going to look bad no matter what with what was dealt to him, that’s on Falvey and Levine. Also, losing Mike Bell seems to have had a big part in his failures this season. Most competent managers have a decent bench coach.

He definitely looked bad at some points but he wasn’t even close (IMO) to the main reason his team failed this year. IMO, Colome and Simmons should get more blame than he does. Both make more $$$ than Baldelli does and they combine a nearly impossible -4.29 WPA.

Rocco is on the hot seat for next year. As for this year, I give him and “Incomplete” grade.

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I give him a D+. At the halfway point it would have been D-. I do think he had to learn to lead more than he has in the past when Cruz and Berrios got traded. I don't blame the lost season solely on him, but I feel he contributed to the beginning of the downfall. I don't really know how much freedom he has to call the shots or if the FO has a big influence there. I agree with others his management of the pitching is what drags his grade down a lot. I assume he stays for another year and hopefully will learn from this year. After all, baseball is a game of failure. Even a good hitter fails 2 out of 3 times. But you learn from that. Rocco is smart. Let him learn.

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55 minutes ago, Seth Stohs said:

I would go with like a B or B-... I agree with the "Good" point. This team could have gone really bad, but I think Rocco's management of people is plus-plus, and that has to help over the course of a long season. To end the season strong after the trades, the injuries, the pitching issues, is pretty impressive. 

I was annoyed by the Maggi thing, but that isn't going to alter my grade. 

I actually like his bullpen usage. I think that he gives everybody opportunities is a good thing long-term, and also helps keep the regulars from being over-used. This year that didn't look great because some of the pitchers were just unable to perform. I think he stuck with Colome as closer at the beginning of the year an appropriate amount of time for a guy who had been very good for 8-9 years... but then he moved to Robles and Rogers. 

I'm with Seth on this one. 

I'm going to just have to disagree with the "torch and pitchfork" crowd.  While I would love to see Baldelli flash some more fire and brimstone from time to time (I can't help it... that's just where my personality tends to stray), I won't fault his ability to manage the "team".  He knows baseball, and while many would disagree with his decisions (myself included sometimes), he's the skipper and has earned the right to make them as he sees fit.   

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Baldelli's work is hard for me to assess from where I sit as a fan. On one hand, he always seems respectful and talks in supportive ways of his players in postgame conferences. By all accounts, he seems like a decent and sharp guy, and I have to admit that I genuinely like what I see of him as a person.

But I do wonder why he only started to emphasize fundamentals drills after Cruz was traded. Did he defer to the established veterans too often? Did he let them set the agenda and tone? Is he too afraid to rock the boat or to take the reins?

Morneau's Twins HOF induction speech included a few comments made about Ron Gardenhire that I thought might be vague critiques of Baldelli. He talked about the importance of Gardy pulling him aside as a young player and telling him that much more was expected of him, that he needed to be more professional and accountable to his teammates and to the fans. He then highlighted the way Gardy would show emotion on the field in order to relieve the tension his players faced: "I have a vivid memory off you tossing your hat up in the air, kicking dirt on home plate, because you always had our back."

Can anyone imagine Baldelli doing this?

Do I want Gardy back? Nope - there were facets of the modern game that Gardy couldn't incorporate. But do I think that some of the things Gardy did had an impact on the emotional component of the game. And however .500-ish the team may have played after this year's trade deadline, there was no pressure on them whatsoever. When the pressure is on a Baldelli team, they simply do not play well at all. They choke. They choked at the end of 2019 when something was expected. They choked again down the stretch in 2020 and also against Houston. And when the team was expected to come back strong at the start of 2021, they fell flat on their faces.

I'm not upset that he'll be back, but I'm hoping that he's learning. And quickly. I'd give him a D+ in 2021 ... and tell him that much more is expected of him as the skipper.

 

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Rocco did not make as many puzzling in game blunders the 2nd half of the season, I'll give him that. Managers matter in most cases - others, not so much. Was Madden a genus or was it Tampa as an organization. It is obviously Tampa. On the other hand - look what Cora did in Boston - Baker in Houston. Those managers mattered. I do think Falvey hired Rocco to implement his agenda. I think other managers are more free to do their own thing. Rocco's level of decision making freedom is perhaps much less than some? Maybe this moves him from an F to a C- in all fairness? 

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Rocco seems like a nice and knowledgeable dude. I think he works hard, prepares, and takes his job seriously. 

BUT, he is not great at making snap decisions in the moment during games and is prone to overthinking things. 

He is also not a great 'leader of men.' There is no fire or passion displayed or nuanced variance in his player approach to adjust to what his team may need at a given time (In response to the inevitable "you are not in the locker room," there has been absolutely no indication from media/players that he is any different behind closed doors)

Unfortunately those are important traits for a successful manager. He was exposed by the tragic loss of Bell and the departure of his initial hitting coach.

I'll give you all a thought experiment... when Rocco is eventually fired (and he will be).... do you think he will ever have another MLB manager job? If the answer is 'no' then he probably isn't the best choice for us now.

What Tony L did with Chicago this year is no accident. A good manager shows up in results.

I think Rocco would be fantastic as a bench coach or leading an analytics department, just not as an MLB manager

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Cody, once again an informative article.  Thanks!  Have to say your C- grade might be on the high side for following reasons:

1. Lack of fundamentals.  Why did he wait to institute daily practices until after trade deadline?  While individual coaches are responsible for day-to-day training, the manager has to be held accountable for his coaches.   Why couldn't this group push the automatic runner on second over a base?  Why didn't the hitters adapt to the shift any better?  Bullpen managment?   Arraez in the OF?  The list goes on and on.

2. No fire.  No semblance of leadership(maybe he should have been shown videos of TK in action).  This team has been "soft" for many years, as evidenced by 18 straight playoff losses.  I'm afraid Rocky fit right in to this "don't -rock-the-boat" mindset.

3.  While the Twins managed to play .500 ball after mid-May(and also after the trade deadline), there was no pressure on this team after their early season collapse.  Hard to give the manager much credit for this "turnaround".  Did anyone think this was a .500 club before the season started?

Whether you feel his grade is a C or D, does anyone think Baldelli is the man to lead this team back to contention?  Sure, the offseason moves of the FO will be critical in this determination but even if they succeed in pulling off some successful moves, does Baldelli have the chops to capitalize?  Based on his record in the playoffs, his   lack of discipline and fundamentals,  and lack of leadership, the answer should be clear: give him(and the FO) a very short rope in 2022.

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Probably a B- for me? Maybe C+, if I'm feeling really ornery. I'm of the opinion that managers get too much credit when the team does well and too much blame when the team does poorly most of the time.

I mean, here's my grades for Rocco's three seasons:

2019: B/B+. team played hard all year, seemed to come together and be a pretty close-knit group, few objectively awful tactical decisions, some lineup/bullpen useage that seemed sub-optimal at times, but overall did well as a rookie manager.

2020: B+/A-. With the pandemic, it was just harder in almost every possible way to run a baseball team, so the fact that the Twins did well again, you have to give him some credit for keeping the team together and focused.

2021: B-/C+. not much worked this year, but injuries and FO roster decisions takes some of this out of Rocco's hands. Took too long to find solutions in the bullpen, and some of that is on him. not giving Maggi some field time or an AB is an unforced error that's small potatoes but a bad look, continuing to play Jake Cave late in the year seemed like misplaced loyalty. but the injuries and poor performance were what killed this squad, not the manager.

he's...fine. i think staffing up will help (Mike Bell was missed), but bounceback performances and a less awful start to the year will make him look a lot better. I mean, we had a stretch in April where the team went 2-13. 

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Read the headline, thought about it for a few seconds and said to myself C-, read the article and saw you came to the same conclusion. The reason I went that 'high' is he did seem to keep the team from just going through the motions, and kept the clubhouse from imploding I guess; but from a "baseball" acumen, I guess I believe that you shouldn't be losing games because of poor managerial decisions, and we had a boatful of those.

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Many of the complaints about Rocco are really complaints about analytics and where the world of baseball is going. The Twins don't manage their pitching staff much differently than any other club. Jose Berrios wasn't 2nd in the AL in innings because he threw 9 innings every game for the Jays the last 2 months, Rocco let him throw when he was being successful. The Twins clearly had a plan to limit starter innings and rotate pen arms between AAA and the majors early in the season after coming off a 60 game season. These constant complaints about the Twins pulling starters early simply aren't based in reality and are getting really old. The Twins manage their starters the same way as basically everyone else. They just didn't have very good starters so they couldn't let them go as long. And if I'm remembering correctly Colome got 5 save opportunities early before being pulled from that role. Can we quit acting like Rocco had him out there for 15 blown saves or something crazy? Colome had a long track record of major league success coming into the season. 5 early high leverage situation chances is not unreasonable for a guy with his track record.

And it's impossible for us to speak to what kind of leader he is. I haven't heard a single negative thing said about him from any current or former players (that played under him). We have no idea what goes on in the clubhouse. I agree that I prefer managers to have a little more fire than he does (it's uncomfortable watching him argue and try to get kicked out of a game, he can't even get riled up when he's trying to get booted), but to suggest he's failing at leading the clubhouse is 100% speculation with no way for any of us on here to really know.

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58 minutes ago, D.C Twins said:

He is also not a great 'leader of men.' There is no fire or passion displayed or nuanced variance in his player approach to adjust to what his team may need at a given time (In response to the inevitable "you are not in the locker room," there has been absolutely no indication from media/players that he is any different behind closed doors)

I don't know about that - the days of players needing an Earl Weaver to raise hell seems to be in the past.  There aren't many fire-and-brimstone kind of managers out there because it doesn't seem to be terribly effective. Even seeing Tony LaRussa getting tossed from games this year was a like a sad reflection of what his management style used to be.

One thing not mentioned here was how well Rocco handled an obviously frustrated Byron Buxton this year. At the time of coming back from the hip injury there was a flutter of media activity about how unhappy Buxton was that he wasn't playing though he thought he was 'ready to go'. Rocco said from the get go that unless Buxton was 100%, he wouldn't see the field.  

Buxton thought he was ready, so Rocco made him prove it. After he couldn't, Buxton went to see a second set of doctors and the media flutter was over.

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3 hours ago, LastOnePicked said:

 

Do I want Gardy back? Nope - there were facets of the modern game that Gardy couldn't incorporate. But do I think that some of the things Gardy did had an impact on the emotional component of the game. And however .500-ish the team may have played after this year's trade deadline, there was no pressure on them whatsoever. When the pressure is on a Baldelli team, they simply do not play well at all. They choke. They choked at the end of 2019 when something was expected. They choked again down the stretch in 2020 and also against Houston. And when the team was expected to come back strong at the start of 2021, they fell flat on their faces.

 

To be fair when the pressure was on Gardy teams in the early 2000s they choked too. This playoff losing streak didn't start under Rocco.

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1 hour ago, D.C Twins said:

What Tony L did with Chicago this year is no accident. A good manager shows up in results.

 

Winning 93 games in the worst division in baseball with one of the most talented teams in the league is supposed to be impressive? There were 4 teams under .500 in the central and the great Tony L couldn't manage to win 100 games. I don't think he's a great example.

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Hard to say from my couch 1,200 miles away from the clubhouse. I will say this season could have been worse than it ended up being after April and May. The team kept competing and improved somewhat - even when they were basically eliminated from postseason contention by May 1. That would lead me to believe the players haven’t tuned him out and believe in him enough to keep playing as best as they can. 

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It's amazing how much inside knowledge so many in this thread have! We literally have NO IDEA how he is outside the public eye. None. 

I agree with someone above, A LOT of the complaints here are more about the players he was given, than what he did with them. 

If you think manager more than a few games, why aren't they paid more? Players get 6-8 million per WAR.....if a manager is worth 10 wins, what should they be paid? The manager's job is hardly at all about in game moments, I'd guess. Much more about managing a group of employees with massive egos (no one is a pro athlete w/o ego). 

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2 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

Winning 93 games in a the worst division in baseball with one of the most talented teams in the league is supposed to be impressive? There were 4 teams under .500 in the central and the great Tony L couldn't manage to win 100 games. I don't think he's a great example.

He can only play the schedule he's handed. They won 93 games and the division. I don't know how that can be considered anything other than really good.

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I hate the way Rocco handles his pitchers. He put unproven pitchers into high leverage situations and too often this proved to be a bad idea. If the Twins were behind when he put a weak/unproven pitcher in, he left them in to run up the score. Too often the Twins offense was so far behind it was almost impossible for them to think about catching up. It is to the players credit, that they stayed focused and kept scoring runs. I grade Rocco a D.

Edited by Squirrel
Leave out the disrespect next time
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1 minute ago, Mike Sixel said:

He can only play the schedule he's handed. They won 93 games and the division. I don't know how that can be considered anything other than really good.

It is good. I'd obviously prefer that result to the results we got from the Twins. But the suggestion that his angry old man managing style is the reason they got results seems far fetched to me. Does winning 93 games when playing 76 division games against under .500 teams seem like he was dragging them to greatness with his fire and brimstone? The other poster was suggesting that managers need to be emotional and angry like Tony L to succeed and I'd argue the White Sox underperformed their talent level. Would Rocco have won more than 93 games with them? Who knows. But suggesting that if Rocco was more Tony L this Twins season would've played out better is ridiculous to me.

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10 minutes ago, Thegrin said:

I hate the way Rocco handles his pitchers. He put unproven pitchers into high leverage situations and too often this proved to be a bad idea. If the Twins were behind when he put a weak/unproven pitcher in, he left them in to run up the score. Too often the Twins offense was so far behind it was almost impossible for them to think about catching up. It is to the players credit, that they stayed focused and kept scoring runs. I grade Rocco a D. 

It was a lost year by May. His job was to get young players experience in lots of situations. Also, name calling? 

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2 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

It is good. I'd obviously prefer that result to the results we got from the Twins. But the suggestion that his angry old man managing style is the reason they got results seems far fetched to me. Does winning 93 games when playing 76 division games against under .500 teams seem like he was dragging them to greatness with his fire and brimstone? The other poster was suggesting that managers need to be emotional and angry like Tony L to succeed and I'd argue the White Sox underperformed their talent level. Would Rocco have won more than 93 games with them? Who knows. But suggesting that if Rocco was more Tony L this Twins season would've played out better is ridiculous to me.

Ha, I misunderstood your post 100% completely! My bad. 

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8 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

The other poster was suggesting that managers need to be emotional and angry like Tony L to succeed

There's a bit of a reputation with Tony L, but this year (his 77th!) was certainly not the fire and brimstone type of manager of old.  I don't think he looked to be the emotional center of this year's White Sox team.

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