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  • On Rocco Baldelli’s Bullpen Management Last Night


    Tom Froemming

    The Minnesota Twins have a bad bullpen. Whenever that’s the case, it’s challenging for a manager to navigate things a game. All you can do is look for good decision-making processes and hope the players perform. I don’t think Rocco Baldelli had a good night in the 6-4 loss to Houston yesterday evening.

    Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    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.

    See Also

    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.

     

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    Like I said before, Shoe would be ok when the starter doesn't have it. He can eat 3-5 innings in middle relief- depending on whether the Twins can get back into the game. Using some relievers on consecutive days when you had others available is a gamble. Last night it didn't pay off. So we move on and look towards what can be done for next year.

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    18 minutes ago, twinfan said:

    Like I said before, Shoe would be ok when the starter doesn't have it. He can eat 3-5 innings in middle relief

    He can?  His appetite for innings was missing, his previous time out there.

    If a guy's going bad, he's going bad.  Now, if you put him in the bullpen and tell him to change his approach, "go as hard as you can for as long as you can," in the hopes he'll have better success, well maybe.  But then you're not telling him to eat innings. 

    "You're a reliever now, go hard on every pitch, but still give me innings," is about on a par with "throw strikes, but don't give him anything good to hit" as pitching advice  If he could do either of those, he'd be in an asset the rotation.

    I don't claim my view is constructive.  We now have Colome and Shoemaker both worthy of only mop-up duty.  Modern bullpens can't function that way.

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    Shoemaker?  Really?  I actually saw Rocco's face/demeanor while he was pitching?  Did he give up an HR on the very first batter?  If so I would have yanked him out by the hair.  When is enough is enough of Shoemaker?  Sorry to be so mean but I am not great with stats and numbers  so I could be dead wrong. 

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    In a rotation of Ober, Happ, Dobnak, you need other guys to be capable of 2 innings stints.  I don't know who I'd trust to do 2 innings.  I like the Shoemaker idea but feels Spring Training-ish.

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    My agreement with the post is pretty complete; Rocco and this Twins leadership are under the microscope. While I continue to listen to most of the Twins games, I am surprised at how little attention the inexperience of their management team receives and was taken aback last winter at how much fans seemed to fawn over the Twins decision-makers.

    Like Celestino and the host of other inexperienced Twins, management struggles when tough calls or plays need to be made. The current regime can and will improve with more experience and I would say that their knowledge far exceeds that of the public, but this year does expose how much more experience and knowledge our former leaders possessed. Looking forward, I hope Baldelli and Falvine (yes, two people) learn  from their mistakes and apply that knowledge in a humble fashion. The bullpen usage last night was just a microcosm of the season as is the current handling of Buxton.

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    Rocco makes decisions for the future at the expense of the present. A worrier instead of a decisive leader

    Just because he has tons of data doesn't mean that he can interpret it well and/or quickly during the flow of the game.

    He cannot.

    I would have paid good money to be in Cruz's head when Rocco "let the other shoemaker drop" for the last two innings of a close/tied game. I'm sure there where some great expletives strung together followed by an added sense of urgency to play well so as to showcase himself for a trade to get the !@#$ out of this clown car.

     

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    It is concerning that Baldelli refuses to acknowledge a questionable decision WITH the benefit of hindsight. The other side however is that asking Shoemaker to hold the lead & throw 2 innings isn't that unreasonable in my opinion. The guy didn't execute in the 9th, hung a couple of splitters & they did not miss them.

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    From the OP...

    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 ... 

    ---------------------------------------------

    I have zero problem with this response from Rocco.

    Everyone knows that not every decision a manager makes is not going to turn out right, but I want my manager to be confident in his decisions. He's going to get enough second-guessing from everyone else -- I don't want him second-guessing himself, at least in public.

    That he said this to the media could also have been very different than the conversations he's having with his bosses, and I'm okay with that too. I appreciate that he doesn't throw his players under the bus. What did you want him to say? Something like, "Well, if we'd known that Alcala was going to give up a homer, that Duffey was going to suck, and that Shoemaker was going to struggle in the second inning, we wouldn't have gone with those guys"?  

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    Regarding Baldelli’s lack of regret: I don’t think it’s implausible that he would say one thing to the media and mean another, especially when it comes to strategy. 

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    These are adult men, making millions. There is no need to throw them under the bus but enough with the endless, silly excuses from the broadcast teams and especially Rocco.. Of all the things that offend me about this season, that is probably #1.  Enough.  

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    The thing that I noticed that I hope Ober changes, is the meatball he likes to throw on the first pitch to each batter.  By the 5th inning, they all were waiting for it, they all swung (Maldonado deep fly to center, Altuve home run - barely - to left, Brantley fouled it off, Bregman grounded out) except Alvarez, and Altuve didn't miss it, and knew it was coming by that point in the game.

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    Tom, this is a fine review that covers many of the considerations around how the decisions could have been made differently.  Some thoughts:

    • This is not the first time the Twins have found themselves out on a limb without enough rope - the question of Baldelli's total plan for covering the mid- to late- innings deserves more study; looking forward to reading more of what you have to say on that topic
    • "If the Twins had scored" is more of a consideration when the bottom of the order is coming up, but a manager has to have some faith in his lineup; Gordon's average was .370, Simmons' a not too shabby .250 and even Celestino could have delivered - all they needed was one guy to get on base to get back to the top of the order
    • The whole situation would not have come about had Duffey not surrendered the go-ahead run; it would be worth a few words to describe the pickle that presented Baldelli
    • There was already a lively discussion on this issue in the Game Recap; besides acknowledging the contributions of other members of the press, to the extent this article covers some of the same ground we read in those comments, you might wish to recognize a few them as well

    Thanks again.  Please keep 'em coming.

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    Good review - Shoemaker is consistent from SP to RP.  His starts were more like an opener as far as innings is concerned, but not results.  He just does not have it.  Why keep using him, is it just hope he will show something so we can trade him at the deadline?  I saw an ESPN note on some of the teams that need pitching and the names from the Twins that show up are Pineda and Happ.  No Shoemaker.  There has to be an evaluator on the team coaching staff, which is larger than ever, who can see that Shoemaker does not have MLB stuff.  Keep robbing St Paul, rotate everyone who can relieve until we find some real relief. 

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    13 hours ago, VivaBomboRivera! said:

     

    • "If the Twins had scored" is more of a consideration when the bottom of the order is coming up, but a manager has to have some faith in his lineup; Gordon's average was .370, Simmons' a not too shabby .250 and even Celestino could have delivered - all they needed was one guy to get on base to get back to the top of the order

    Tom actually misstated it: Jeffers at #6 was due up first in the 9th on Friday night, followed by 7-8-9 as listed. Not without their redeeming qualities, but the batters due up were a collective 0-for-9 for the night up to that point, followed by 1-for-3 Celestino. And it would take two baserunners from that group to bring the top of the order up.

    And it’s not that Baldelli refuses to use his better relievers in his such situations — but he just used several while trailing the day before. You can’t necessarily pursue that strategy every day.

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    I don't understand the "not putting Rogers back out there because they are losing".  That makes zero sense, always, but ESPECIALLY when the dude only threw 3 pitches!!   Just because they are losing, suddenly Rogers isn't going to know how to pitch??  This type of thinking always drives me nuts.  It's not like you can bring Rogers back in again if you score the following inning after you pulled him.  You brought him in, you didn't score, you can absolutely get another inning out of him.  

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    5 minutes ago, sorney said:

    I don't understand the "not putting Rogers back out there because they are losing".  That makes zero sense, always, but ESPECIALLY when the dude only threw 3 pitches!!   Just because they are losing, suddenly Rogers isn't going to know how to pitch??  This type of thinking always drives me nuts.  It's not like you can bring Rogers back in again if you score the following inning after you pulled him.  You brought him in, you didn't score, you can absolutely get another inning out of him.  

    I think you might be misinterpreting that line of reasoning. It is about conservation of resources. Rogers absolutely could have thrown another inning after his 3 pitches, but that could have impacted his availability/effectiveness for the following game. So Baldelli made the calculation that it wasn’t worth it, down by 1 at that point. Folks can and do still disagree with that, of course. :)

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    5 minutes ago, spycake said:

    I think you might be misinterpreting that line of reasoning. It is about conservation of resources. Rogers absolutely could have thrown another inning after his 3 pitches, but that could have impacted his availability/effectiveness for the following game. So Baldelli made the calculation that it wasn’t worth it, down by 1 at that point. Folks can and do still disagree with that, of course. :)

    Sure, I mean, I get that...but if you are gonna get a reliever warmed up, and throw him 3 pitches, surely another inning, and roughly another 20 pitches, isn't gonna preclude him from pitching the following day.  I guess that was the angle I just don't get.   

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    22 minutes ago, sorney said:

    Sure, I mean, I get that...but if you are gonna get a reliever warmed up, and throw him 3 pitches, surely another inning, and roughly another 20 pitches, isn't gonna preclude him from pitching the following day.  I guess that was the angle I just don't get.   

    There's some data that Rogers isn't as effective back-to-back. And letting him go another inning would preclude even attempting to pitch him for more than 3 outs the following day, if necessary.

    The Twins may have still done it (let Rogers pitch a full inning down 1 Friday) except that they had already used Farrell and Robles while trailing the night before. There are some limits to how often you can pursue that strategy!

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    6 minutes ago, spycake said:

    There's some data that Rogers isn't as effective back-to-back. And letting him go another inning would preclude even attempting to pitch him for more than 3 outs the following day, if necessary.

    The Twins may have still done it (let Rogers pitch a full inning down 1 Friday) except that they had already used Farrell and Robles while trailing the night before. There are some limits to how often you can pursue that strategy!

    Yup, I get it.  Perhaps my frustration is more diving back in the the Shoemaker pool, then the actual Rogers usage

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