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  • Rocco Baldelli Regaining 'Manager of the Year' Form, to the Dismay of Haters


    Nick Nelson

    Managers tend to soak up a lot of blame while their teams are struggling, and receive little credit when things are going well. It's the name of the game.

    Let's buck that norm. Rocco Baldelli is managing his ass off this year, and Monday night's win in Oakland was a perfect example.

    Image courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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    Baldelli had the makings of a slam-dunk hire in 2019, when he became the youngest recipient of Manager of the Year in history, leading the Twins to a historic 101-win season. He followed with another division title in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. 

    One would think such an impressive start to his managerial career would earn the guy a bit of leeway in the eyes of fans. Turns out, not so much. 

    While experiencing his first rocky year at the helm, Rocco was routinely derided by a large portion of the fanbase and columnist hive in 2021's last-place debacle. Never mind he was supplied by the front office with Alex Colomé as his closer and the Happ-maker combo as his rotation reinforcements. Never mind dealing with a rotten hand injury-wise. 

    Baldelli took major heat nonetheless. It's the name of the game.

    As this 2022 season got off to similarly ugly start, with a 4-8 record two weeks in, fans on Twitter were calling for Rocco's head and a certain desperate-for-attention local media outlet was hilariously attempting to manufacture a manager controversy

    Since that 4-8 start, Baldelli's Twins are 17-7. They're winning tight games. They're playing far cleaner, crisper ball than opponents. And they're bouncing back from adversity.

    Tactically, Baldelli has been pressing the right buttons and his decision have paid off time and time again. Here are three examples from Monday's 3-1 victory:

    1: Chris Archer pulled after four innings.

    It wasn't an obvious call by any means. Archer had allowed only one run on two hits over four innings. He was at just 62 pitches when Baldelli made the decision to pull him. The Twins were in the midst of a stretch with nine games in nine days. They could've tried to squeeze another inning or two.

    The skipper did not want to see Archer face Oakland's lineup for a third time and that was absolutely the right call. Yennier Canó came in and mowed down the next two frames, giving hitters a very different look from the starter.

    Griffin Jax followed with two scoreless frames, and then Tyler Duffey closed things out in a clean ninth. Another shutout showing from the relief corps.

    Minnesota's bullpen, despite losing one of the best relievers in baseball on the eve of Opening Day, has been phenomenal. Elite by any measure. Elite! Who would've expected this based on the personnel we saw forming this unit?

    Twins relief pitchers – from Canó to Jax to Joe Smith to Jhoan Duran to Emilio Pagán and beyond – are getting it done. Rocco is putting them in spots to succeed, as has been his trademark. His bullpen ranked third in the majors in WAR in 2019, and second in 2020.

    Baldelli quietly has an argument as the best bullpen manager in baseball.

    2: Small ball pays off in the 5th inning.

    I'm not a big fan of small-ball tactics generally, and based on his tendencies I think it's safe to say Baldelli feels the same. (I mean, that 2019 team was basically a giant middle-finger to small ball as a concept.)

    But both of us could agree that it made sense to take such an approach in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game after Royce Lewis drew a leadoff walk. Nick Gordon, the #9 hitter who entered with a paltry .596 OPS, stepped in and got the bunt call. He executed, bringing up the team's best hitter with one out and a man in scoring position.

    Byron Buxton? Oh, you know he executed. 

    Even if it hadn't worked out, bunting with Gordon there is a move that simply made sense. Baldelli has shown he'll go that route when it's warranted. You wonder if the dead-ball trend might compel this calculating manager to keep adjusting in that direction.

    3: Buxton was on the field.

    There's been a whole bunch of grumbling lately about the team's "kid-gloves treatment" of Buxton. (Much of it, you'll be shocked to learn, coming from the aforementioned desperate-for-attention outlet.) Apparently it is now controversial to take a cautious approach in a 162-game season with your vitally important superstar who also happens to be banged up, and maybe the most injury-prone player in the league. 

    Yes, Baldelli and the Twins have opened up about their intentions to manage Buxton's workload this year in hopes of keeping him off the injured list. Their plan has been successful so far, in every way. Buxton has avoided the IL – despite a few scares that continue to affect him – and the Twins are six games above .500, leading the division, even with him playing only two-thirds of the time.

    Winning the division and having Buxton healthy for the playoffs should be this team's utmost aspiration. It's a combination they haven't yet been able to achieve yet. Right now, Baldelli has the Twins on track to do both. And people are still complaining. SMH.

    Some of us appreciate you, Rocco, and see the things you're doing to help this team exceed expectations. Many won't. But that's the name of the game.

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    27 minutes ago, darwin22 said:

    Uh.......not buying what your selling Nick......really....Manager of the Year?

    This has to rank in the higher stages of hyperbolic statements ever authored on TD.

    Yeah. Definitely not like he has won that award once and finished 5th another time in his 3-year managerial career. Very outlandish suggestion, 

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    I'm not buying it either.  Their record, I'm afraid, is largely due to the super easy schedule so far.  While the Twins won 2 out of 3 against the Rays, they got killed by the Dodgers and Astros.  All the other teams they played are terrible.  SO, they haven't been tested.  If they can play well against actual good teams, then you can see what you've got in them.  

    Their super easy schedule continues until June.

    If they made the playoffs, they'd be huge underdogs.

    How about letting Rocco get a single playoff game win before calling him great?    

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    30 minutes ago, TwinsChupacabra said:

    I'm not buying it either.  Their record, I'm afraid, is largely due to the super easy schedule so far.  While the Twins won 2 out of 3 against the Rays, they got killed by the Dodgers and Astros.  All the other teams they played are terrible.  SO, they haven't been tested.  If they can play well against actual good teams, then you can see what you've got in them.  

    Their super easy schedule continues until June.

    If they made the playoffs, they'd be huge underdogs.

    How about letting Rocco get a single playoff game win before calling him great?    

    I don’t think anyone is saying that he’s great. I think it’s fair to say that he’s been doing a good job so far this year.

    But generally, I think managers are not as big a part of the game as many make them out to be. There are pitching coaches, hitting coaches, training coaches, and several other types of supporting staff.

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    21-15 after last year's debacle and people still won't chill.🙄 The way Rocco has dealt with so many injuries and a patchwork of arms is commendable. I feel that a managers top priority is keeping players happy, by putting them in a spot to succeed and fostering a tightknit clubhouse. Overall it's up to the players to perform when given the opportunity. Last year Rocco stuck with Colome as the closer too long to the detriment of the team. This year he's learned from that debacle and has been effective rotating Duffey, Duran and Pagan. 

    For me it's the ownership and front office that has put Rocco in this situation this year and last. There really isn't much margin for error when you depend on reclamation projects to fill out a staring rotation. Or bet on Paddack avoiding a second TJ surgery in exchange for our best reliever.  To be fair though, I never thought this would be a year where we could get to the playoffs. The front office finally has some young pitching contributing now and more on the way. 

    I'm hoping this year sets the Twins up for an impactful deal or two at the deadline and the youth movement takes off next year. I'm definitely for Rocco overseeing this turnover.      

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    Thanks for the laffs! Comedy like this is the main reason I come to this site. 

    If we're getting a Manager of the Year crowning on Game 1 of the second minor-league portion of the May schedule, I can't *wait* for the content after Game 18 of the second minor-league portion of the May schedule. Keep it up!

     

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    Tom Kelly was never a good player, had a personality that is best described as good behind the scenes and an overall record 202 games under .500 yet he is well liked by the fan base. I guess that's what 2 WS championships will do for ya.

    Ron Gardenhire was an irascible, cheap beer drinking scrub utility infielder from Oklahoma with a career record 80 games over .500. His teams made the playoffs many times, but had no success there. He was also well liked by the fan base.

    Rocco Baldelli is a totally different animal. A top prospect from the east coast, the start to his major league career showed much promise. The guy could really play, but a rare condition led to many injuries, ending his career prematurely. He stayed in baseball learning ins and outs at one of the more forward thinking organizations in baseball. He is a more sophisticated type, articulate and married to an artist. In 3 short years he has 2 division titles and is already 41 games over .500 in spite of a down year last year. The guy is not universally liked by the fan base however. Even after wins people will go out of their way to say how the Twins won in spite of him.  I guess we prefer everyman types, over achievers who drink cheap beer and kick dirt at umpires.

     

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    5 hours ago, TwinsChupacabra said:

    I'm not buying it either.  Their record, I'm afraid, is largely due to the super easy schedule so far.  While the Twins won 2 out of 3 against the Rays, they got killed by the Dodgers and Astros.  All the other teams they played are terrible.  SO, they haven't been tested.  If they can play well against actual good teams, then you can see what you've got in them.  

    Their super easy schedule continues until June.

    If they made the playoffs, they'd be huge underdogs.

    How about letting Rocco get a single playoff game win before calling him great?    

    The Twins reside in neither the AL East nor the NL West. Just like every other team that is not in those divisions, people can claim soft schedule. June is a ways off. The Yankees are a bit of a crapshoot  If Judge, Stanton, or Donaldson go down with their annual injury the team is not so frightening 

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    Rocco is an over thinker. I hate that. He reminds me that I'm a mentaly lazy slob that coasts through life. The mental highlights of my day are remembering to tie my shoes and solving todays Wordle. 

    Lets give the Ivy league front office and Rocco their credit. The Twins are in first place again and nobody could have predicted the pitching staff would be this successful. 

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    I see this an an article to stir up your readers and based on the comments it is working.  I am not a fan of Rocco's but I don't hate him either.  In this new era of analytics I do not know how to judge managers.  We are the only division in the AL with only one team (Twins) above 500 - the NL East is the only division in their league.  The soft schedule has to be considered, but good for the Twins taking advantage of this.

    Rocco's tendency to pull the starter in less than five will never sit well for me, the Ryan game was great - he trusted his starter, but we still need to get more innings from the SP.  They pitch once every six games.  The RP are being used at such a rate that my fear is end of the year (and post season) burn out.  We need to save those arms too.  Giving players a day off is understandable, but not having them available for a pinch hit is not.  

    However, I still want to know what all those coaches are doing and what does a bench coach and an assistant bench coach do?   How do we judge them?    How do we judge any of them.  The FO and the Manager are out front, but when I see this list - go to the link - I really do wonder how decisions are made and what they all do.  Nick, you are the person to unravel this complex skein of coaching threads for us.  

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    I like Music but I don't like the opera. I don't speak Italian, so the opera makes no sense to me. 

    If I understood the opera... I might like it better because I do like Music. 

    People tend to hate what they don't understand. 

    If I make no attempt to better my understanding of the opera... my viewpoint will never change. 

     

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    Since taking over Brewer Fanatic, I've learned and interesting tidbit: they like their manager. The majority of the fanbase refers to Counsell as smart, savvy, and a bunch of other superlatives.

    The thing is that the managing style and tacts of Craig Counsell and Rocco Baldelli are basically indistinguishable.

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    1 hour ago, old nurse said:

    The Twins reside in neither the AL East nor the NL West. Just like every other team that is not in those divisions, people can claim soft schedule. June is a ways off. The Yankees are a bit of a crapshoot  If Judge, Stanton, or Donaldson go down with their annual injury the team is not so frightening 

    Donaldson?

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    Interesting angle to highlight one game where his managing decisions paid off.  I’d agree that after Duffey and Thielbar performed poorly, Rocco effectively changed how he uses them.  I appreciate that, but overall I don’t get the sense that he’s doing markedly better this year.  

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    7 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

    Yeah. Definitely not like he has won that award once and finished 5th another time in his 3-year managerial career. Very outlandish suggestion, 

    And Molitor won it two years before Rocco, and was fired for finishing 78-84 the next year.  As for this year, yes, it was a very outlandish suggestion.  But you are entitled to it.  :)  

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    26 minutes ago, Riverbrian said:

    I like Music but I don't like the opera. I don't speak Italian, so the opera makes no sense to me. 

    If I understood the opera... I might like it better because I do like Music. 

    People tend to hate what they don't understand. 

    If I make no attempt to better my understanding of the opera... my viewpoint will never change. 

     

    You know, you just used the wrong analogy with me around. But I won’t derail the thread talking about opera. 🙂

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    Last year was supposed to be "the year" we have all been waiting for until it wasn't.  It felt like we were going back to re-building and in a month it could be back to that.  Losing a key pitcher like Berrios and at the time wondering how long we would have Buxton made it even worse.  Probably the most depressing/disastrous season in Twins history.  I think we are not ready to get excited yet and if it happens he make get more positive comments and even manager of the year considerations.  We as MN sports fans are always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us.  I will only call 2022's Baldelli as a successful manager if he get's us past the 1st round of the play-offs.  Again it is way too early to get excited or frustrated. 

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    Hate is a pretty strong word. "Dislike" or "confusion" over some of Rocco's decisions might be more appropriate. Rocco's belief in the mythical "100 pitches" and now the "third time through the batting order" schtick vex us old-timers and some of his batting line-ups defy all baseball logic even for the young-timers. I don't like any of those things. Doesn't mean I hate the man.

    As far as Manager of the Year, bring that up after the All-Popular (Star) game and let's see where the Twins are in the standings. I hope they're on top, or at least in contention. If they are I will have less dislike for Rocco's methods.

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    The thing that always kind of annoys me is what was mentioned in nick’s article … the attitude that Rocco is to blame for the losses, but no credit is given for the wins. While hate is a strong word and not one I’d use here, it would seem to me that the blame/no credit process is about disliking the manager no matter what. If the manager is the only one responsible for the losses, they are responsible for the wins, too. But I don’t really think either is true. I’ve often said that I don’t think the manager affects the outcome all that much. Players who can execute and getting players who can execute … that’s on the players themselves and the FO for assembling the team. The manager today relies on a committee of people to come up with a game plan. This committee does a very good job, from what I can see, at making sure that the players are prepared with that plan. The players then need to execute that plan. 

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    This is a sound provocative article. At first glance I thought this was a RandStuBall article until I noticed Nick Nelson as the writer. The post did successfully get a wide response. I had my own too.

    I have always liked Rocco. He stays calm, seems to mesh well with everyone, and avoids controversy.  I also think he is still gaining experience. Although I'm not entertaining any conversation on the matter, I would not place his baseball acumen near the skills of Paul Molitor, a guy who really was disliked by many on Twins Daily and also won a Manager of the Year Award. The Twins have supported Baldelli pretty completely and they have spent more to acquire players than in the past.  There have been clear differences in managing from ten years ago and there will be clear changes ten years from now. Rocco likely excels best in an area we have no knowledge about - the clubhouse. That is a mere hunch on my part due to the low key nature Baldelli seems to project and his age. 

    I agree with a few of the examples from last night's game. Lifting Archer was the correct move. Archer looked pretty gassed. Using Cano for two innings was an example of learning after he was sent out for a third inning last time out clearly having lost his command and stuff. The bunt was a good example too. I'm not sure why everyone doesn't see the value of bunting in 2022 with so many low scoring games. Bunting doesn't make much sense when your team is going to hit 250-300 home runs, but this year scoring is way down so far and there are going to be occasions to bunt. Gordon needed to get Lewis to third with a grounder to the right side, a fly ball to right field, or a base hit the first time, but Lewis was still in scoring position at second base. There may be a time to bunt Lewis to third later in the game. The call for a bunt Gordon's next time up was right on. Lastly, I'm fully on board with the care taken with Buxton. There was some significant unknowns last week before the Twins explained the actual benefits and conditions of Buxton's knee and hip issues. It really helps that Gordon and Celestino are playing good baseball. Managers can pull all of the right strings but the players have to make the plays. It was nice to see Tyler Duffey finish out the game last night. He seems to really struggle though and from my view from the television, Duffey is running on fumes most of the time. I need to see him pitch in person to get a better idea what his ball is doing.

     

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    2 minutes ago, Dave The Dastardly said:

    Rocco's belief in the mythical "100 pitches" and now the "third time through the batting order" schtick vex us old-timers and some of his batting line-ups defy all baseball logic even for the young-timers. I don't like any of those things. Doesn't mean I hate the man.

    But this isn’t just a Rocco thing. This is the modern-day baseball thing. If not Rocco, it would be someone else doing the exact same thing. You and everyone who doesn’t like how the sport is going these days seems to have put this dislike in the man. While I agree that hate is a strong word, and as I said, not one I’d use here, I a,so think this massive dislike toward Rocco is also misguided and a tad irrational.

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