Before we get into the things I have a problem with, I want to point out that I do like the idea of bringing in some high-leverage relievers earlier in close games. Reserving your top guys only for the eighth and ninth innings is often a good recipe to ensure you won’t end up needing those guys when it gets to that point of the game. I didn’t have any problem with Rocco Baldelli’s decision to go to Taylor Rogers when he did, I just didn’t like the way that it went down in the bigger picture.
Let’s break this thing down. A lot of the decision-making process was explained by Baldelli in his postgame press conference, which is available here, and is also available in this Tweet thread from The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman.
Rogers only threw three pitches …
For me, the only reliever you should be pulling after he throws fewer than 10 pitches is a guy you don’t trust at all. Use the bottom guy in your bullpen to get the final out of an inning? Sure, go ahead and put in somebody else you trust more for the next frame. Rogers is not the guy you waste for one batter.
… and was pulled because the Twins were trailing ...
Rogers took over for him in the seventh inning with two outs and the Twins down a run. Rocco said Rogers would have stayed out for the eighth inning if the Twins would have scored a run (or multiple runs) the next half inning. I guess I don’t mind that logic as long as you feel there’s a decent chance you’re going to score that next half inning. If you’ve got the big boppers coming up and the opposing starting pitcher is reeling, alright. This was not the case.
Due up for the Twins in the bottom of the seventh: Nick Gordon, Andrelton Simmons and Gilberto Celestino. The result: Strikeout, flyout, strikeout.
… which resulted in the game being handed over to Shoemaker.
If you needlessly deploy a reliever for an abnormally short appearance but still have plenty of other options, fine. I still don’t like it, but fine. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.
Baldelli went to the newly-bullpened Matt Shoemaker for the eighth and ninth innings because he was concerned about the length the bullpen could provide in the event things went into extra innings. That in itself isn’t unusual, it's the kind of thing managers are thinking about all the time, but it tells us that Rocco knew things were going to be a bit tight in terms of coverage.
The one big benefit of having Shoemaker in the bullpen should be you don’t have to be as concerned about length anymore. He had last pitched June 4 and only threw 38 pitches over a third of an inning. Whether or not he could keep you in a ballgame should certainly be questioned, sure, but in terms of length Shoemaker should have been expected to be able to throw 80+ pitches if you really needed him to.
Baldelli should have been expecting the bullpen to cover several innings
Bailey Ober started this game for the Twins. He went five innings, which I think was as long as Rocco could have expected him to go coming into this one. Ober only threw 73 pitches, but I’m sure the Twins are being extra careful with him since he didn’t pitch in competitive games last year and had a previous single-season career high of 78 2/3 innings pitched.
If you’re not expecting your starter to go deep and know you have some relievers who are unavailable, why are you burning Rogers for a three-pitch outing?
And Rocco didn’t have any regrets over his decisions
This one may get me the most. It’s one thing to make decisions that don’t go your way, look back with the benefit of hindsight and admit you would have liked to do things differently. Instead, Rocco said “there’s really nothing that we would do differently.” Uh, okay ...
Why does this matter?
The Twins aren’t going anywhere in 2021, so what’s the big deal with one more loss? They played a mostly solid game (certainly by 2021 Twins standards) against a good Houston team. Why break out the microscope and nitpick like this?
The rest of this season is all about evaluation. That includes the manager.
It’s difficult to pin the struggles of this Twins team on anything or anyone in particular (I'd lean more toward the front office, but let's save that for another discussion). A lot has gone wrong. They have dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries, but so have most other teams in the league this season. You can find more on that in another article I wrote recently. It’s also worth pointing out again that it’s tough for any manager to navigate a short or flat-out bad bullpen. It’s like having an arm tied behind your back. If Alex Colomé was a dependable bullpen arm right now this all would have been much easier for Rocco.
Sometimes you can push all the right buttons, have the perfect process and things don’t turn out your way. That’s not what happened last night.
Here's some analysis on how Bailey Ober has pitched so far in his brief time with the Twins. I went digging into the info at Baseball Savant and FanGraphs and came away with some observations you might find interesting.