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  • Analyzing the Twins Extension for Manager Rocco Baldelli

    Cody Christie

    Reports surfaced earlier this week that the club has quietly extended Rocco Baldelli beyond the 2023 season, which isn't surprising but had never been made official.

    So, what does that mean for the organization's future?

    Image courtesy of Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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    The Twins originally signed Rocco Baldelli to a four-year contract that covered the 2019-2022 season with club options tagged onto the deal's backend. Derek Falvey told reporters last September that the team was committed to Baldelli. 

    "Rocco's our manager. He's my partner in this all the way through. That's never even crossed my mind, quite frankly... Rocco's a big part of our future. Not just next year, but beyond." At the time, it wasn't clear whether the Twins were exercising an option or committing to Baldelli for the long term. 

    Earlier this week, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported the Twins quietly extended Baldelli before the 2022 season. He said the extension is for an "unknown period," but he is under contract through at least 2025. A manager entering a contract's final year is often considered a lame duck, so the club wanted to avoid that. Now, his future seems secure, with the front office committed to Baldelli's path for the team. 

    Baldelli's Twins tenure has seen ups and downs in the team's performance. He won Manager of the Year in his first year at the helm when the team went 101-61 while setting the all-time home run record. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Minnesota won the AL Central for the second consecutive season with a 36-24 record. In the last two seasons, the Twins have finished below .500 while dealing with injuries and other concerns. Entering play on Tuesday, Baldelli has a .527 winning percentage for his managerial career.

    As a franchise, the Twins have stayed the course with managers, especially since the Pohlad family has been in the ownership role. Since 1987, the Twins have employed four managers (Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor, and Baldelli). The team remained committed to these managers even when the team's performance suffered for multiple seasons. 

    Consistency at the top of an organization can have its pros and cons. Players know what to expect if the same manager calls the shots, which can help deal with the multitude of personalities and egos on a roster. On the other hand, one voice year after year can lose some of its effectiveness. Some former Twins managers likely faced this situation at the end of their tenure. 

    Every manager will face criticism throughout their tenure. When the team plays well, others besides the manager get the bulk of the credit. If a team struggles, the manager can get blamed for line-up construction, bullpen usage, and removing starters too early. Unfortunately, a manager can only work with the players on the roster, so many of the team's flaws are out of his control.

    Baldelli has been forced to be creative with the team's line-up construction during the 2023 season. The Twins don't have a traditional lead-off hitter, so the club has used players like Joey Gallo and Max Kepler. Injury concerns have pushed Byron Buxton into a full-time DH role, which has also drawn some scrutiny from fans. Even with this switch, Buxton is on pace for a career-high in games played while leading the Twins in multiple offensive categories. Baldelli is doing his best to compile his line-up pieces on any given night. 

    In 2022, Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer comprised two-thirds of the Twins' starting rotation. Neither pitcher could pitch beyond five innings regularly, and Baldelli took the brunt of the blame for removing starters too early. However, the results might have been worse if the starters were allowed to face a line-up for a third time. Fast-forward to 2023, and Minnesota has a revamped rotation near the top of MLB's leaderboard in innings pitched and ERA. With the right rotational pieces, Baldelli can leave his starters longer into games, helping the team sit atop the division. 

    Bullpen usage can be even more fickle when tied to managerial performance. Relievers are typically pitching in some of the highest-leverage situations. The manager's decisions will be questioned if the bullpen blows a lead. Jhoan Duran has been fantastic, but Baldelli has also been forced to use other relievers with worse track records. The Twins' front office has yet to invest in the bullpen for multiple off-seasons, forcing Baldelli into tough late-game decisions. 

    For better or worse, Baldelli is tied to Derek Falvey and Thad Levine for the foreseeable future. The current front office moved on from Molitor to bring in someone that fit their mold. Results could have been better during Baldelli's managerial career, but he has helped bring the Twins into the analytical age, an improvement needed from previous managers. There is only so much a manager can control in a game, so he must help build a winning culture throughout an organization. 

    What are your thoughts knowing Baldelli will be at the helm through at least 2025? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.


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    6 hours ago, John Belinski said:

    Rocco had hitters in 2021 that helped him win close games, but not in 2022.  Good managers win close games.

    The Twins were 14th in baseball in runs scored in 2021. Almost the exact definition of average is all the team needs to go from being bad in close games to Rocco not even mattering? Feels like thats wrong.

    Your argument is basically that when the team loses close games it's Rocco's fault, but when they win them it's because the players are good. Sorry, I just don't buy it.

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    On 5/26/2023 at 10:47 AM, chpettit19 said:

    Terry Francona is pretty widely considered the best manager in baseball. His team has scored the fewest runs in baseball this year. Should we blame that on Francona or the players? The Guardians have all these big time young players that were supposed to take over and flourish under the guidance of Francona.

    Probably best to let this play out. 2022 turned out pretty well for Cleveland, and an experienced manager can find ways to place players in optimal conditions for success. Even to steal wins from hapless foes from time to time.

    Cleveland was not a great team in 2022, yet they won the division, and then four playoffs games. Four more wins than Baldellli has in his entire managing career.

    There are intangibles to this game, but the work of great managers - over time - becomes apparent. It's almost like parenting or captaining a ship. Small moves, building relationships, setting a tone - these all matter. I'd take Francona over Baldelli any day of the week.

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    I'm on record as saying that baseball managers have less overall impact on the game than a lot of other pro sports. A lot of the impact that a manager has is behind the scenes in keeping the clubhouse together and managing all the personalities...which is something we mostly don't see and can't know for sure if he's doing a great job or not at, unless something bad breaks out and someone talks to a reporter. We haven't really seen anything like that where there have been anonymous comments in the press crapping on the manager; the closest has been the Sonny Gray stuff about wanting to pitch deeper in games...and that's been pretty overblown (IMHO) in terms of how much actual criticism of the manager it really was (perhaps by people who already had an agenda against Rocco?).

    The overall quality of managing in MLB is better now that it was 20 or 30 years ago, but that's also flattened out the impact of managers, I think. There's a handful in the league that are superior, showing a consistent ability to not only keep their clubhouse in order, but also manipulate their lineups to their advantage, handle the bullpens well, not make mistakes in game management, etc. There's a handful that seem to step in it often, can't get out of their own way, and aren't up to the task. Most of them fall into a muddled middle where most outsiders look at them and think they're probably fine, but will have some quirks that drive the locals batty, or become focal points for the fans when things are going perfectly, but are maybe only noticeable to people watching the team every day.

    Rocco lands in the middle for me. He's doing what the front office wants in terms of general strategy and approach. He seems to handle the clubhouse well, and does a better job of managing his lineup and bullpen than some other Twins managers. He's been more conservative than I'd like in some things and overly aggressive in others...but in the final analysis he's been generally fine. When his teams have talent and health, he's won. When they don't, he's not likely to manufacture it out of nothing.

    I don't think Rocco has done anything worth firing him; unless the front office gets swept out at the same time a lot of the stuff people find deeply offensive about Rocco as a manager will still be happening under the next guy. They're still not going to be playing a lot of small ball, they're unlikely to be stealing tons of bases (until the players turn over more), they won't be bunting a lot, and they're still going to have hitters that strike out a lot. They're still going to take out starters earlier than some people will like, and they're not going to have a 90's era style closer. They're still going to take an analytically-driven approach to baseball.

    So who are you going to get that will be demonstrably better than Rocco? Firing him will make some fans happy in the short term, but it will take little time for those fans to turn on the next manager for the exact same reasons, so what's the point? If healthy enough, this team should contend for the division this season and if they get in the playoffs anything could happen. (I think they're better positioned to win in the playoffs with this squad than many of their others than have struggled in the playoffs)

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    Baldeli is the worst manager I have been around. Players don’t like him, and intelligent knowledgeable baseball fans despise him.

     Quiet arrogance for a guy who’s done nothing as a player or manager. 
      People want an Aaron Boone type who fights everyday for his players, arguing balls and strikes or close plays if needed.

    it’s also the way he talks 100%
      could you just talk normal 1 time PLEASE; such scripted speeches.

    He is so phony it’s unrealistic to listen too and once just once, fire the team up somehow, my goodness, your lethargic response from the dugout is noticeably getting worse with every game.

    He stinks, he’s a garbage manager with no experience in any type of winning culture and it shows!!


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    16 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

    Firing him will make some fans happy in the short term, but it will take little time for those fans to turn on the next manager for the exact same reasons, so what's the point?

    Ain't that the truth brother, lol. Excellent post and I agree.

    I do think there is a learning curve for Rocco. He seemed less assertive early on but has come out of his shell lately. Maybe he's been a little over aggressive with some of the pinch hitting this past week, but as part of learning, I believe he will reign it in.

    Variety is the spice of life and you couldn't have a wider variety than the views expressed above of @jmlease1and @Our Thoughts on Rocco, lol! This seriously cracked me up

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    On 5/27/2023 at 4:00 PM, chpettit19 said:

    The Twins were 14th in baseball in runs scored in 2021. Almost the exact definition of average is all the team needs to go from being bad in close games to Rocco not even mattering? Feels like thats wrong.

    Your argument is basically that when the team loses close games it's Rocco's fault, but when they win them it's because the players are good. Sorry, I just don't buy it.

    Do you buy that Rocco is a good manager? How would you rate him? Is he below average, average or above average?

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    On 5/28/2023 at 6:21 PM, John Belinski said:

    Do you buy that Rocco is a good manager? How would you rate him? Is he below average, average or above average?

    I think he's average. But, in general, I just don't think managers matter very much. I think they can swing a team's record +/-4 games in a season. I don't think managers are the reason teams win or lose close games, I don't think they're the reason a team's bullpen or offense or whatever are bad. I think they have very minimal effect overall. But, as for Rocco specifically, I think he's just another manager.

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    On 5/26/2023 at 12:57 PM, chpettit19 said:

    But in 2021 they went 25-19 in 1 run games while going 73-89 overall. Was he a great manager that year to raise their level of play in 1 run games so drastically?

    (For the record I'm not a Rocco fan, I'm not defending him, just attempting to point out the randomness that goes into most stats people think are driven by managers. I don't care 1 way or the other on who the manager is.)

    Fans need a scapegoat, and they don't want to blame the people (players) who are directly responsible for the failure. Do we think coaching is somehow responsible for the Twins being 4-47 with the bases loaded?  

    You keep using facts and logic.   People don't want to hear it and facts will be ignored because fans need to complain when their team does not win.  Last year we heard the constant drumming about Rocco pulling pitchers based on a spreadsheet.   Well, the Twins SPs are at the top of league in average IPs proving your point and mine.  Your point being players make all the difference and my point that people are still complaining about a spreadsheet while ignoring the fact Rocco has proven he is quite willing to ride with pitchers worthing of being trusted.

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