Nearly 30 years ago—September 1992—Twins manager Tom Kelly passed Sam Mele to become the winningest manager in franchise history. It’s a rank TK holds to this day.
Despite the proliferation of metrics everywhere on the diamond, evaluating the individual at the end of the dugout is still tricky business. Was, say, Joe Torre one of the true managerial greats—or did having the 2000s Yankees lineup and pitching staff at his beck-and-call elevate his status? Maybe you or I could have sunk down into that NYY warmup jacket and gotten similar results—who knows. For as revered as Kelly was/is, his career record is on the wrong side of .500: 1140-1244.
So, how can/should Twins fans turn an evaluative eye towards current skipper Rocco Baldelli? For starters, there are some qualitative factors...
- In three seasons, Rocco has pretty much experienced it all as head honcho. His first season-2019—saw him preside over the most successful MN baseball club since 1965. Then, he rallied the troops to another division title through the 60-game pandemic sprint that was 2020. Last year? He got to appraise the cellar. One would think such an amalgamation of experiences will serve him well going forward.
- Despite a reputation for passivity, consider this: Baldelli has been tossed from six games in three seasons. TK was given the heave-ho five times during his entire 15 year career. Perhaps Gardy’s 70+ ejections set a somewhat unreasonable standard in this regard.
- As a MLB player, Rocco saw all fringes of the spectrum. He was a 1st Round (sixth overall) pick by the Tampa Bay
DevilRays in 2000. Though never quite realizing those lofty expectations, he did deliver some solid OPS 100+ years in St. Petersburg. Then, his career was cut short—7 seasons—due to mitochondrial channelopathy disease.
There are also some quantitative factors I recently discovered (thanks, as always, to Baseball-Reference) that show Baldelli’s tendencies in certain situations:
- In 2019, his Rate+ (league average being 100) on steals of second was 52. Makes sense not to take chances when the next Bomba Squad masher is probably going to swat one into the seats. In 2021? 78+. Still below average, but a clear shift towards trying to “make things happen” on the base paths.
- Even in a league that already de-emphasizes the sacrifice bunt, Rocco despises it even further—48+ in ‘19, 44+ in ‘21. Clearly, he isn’t a fan of giving up an out for a base.
- Perhaps most interesting is Rocco’s Pitchers Used Per Game averages. Again, keeping in mind 100 = league average, Baldelli was 96+ in ‘19 and 99+ in ‘21. Instead of the “quick hook” many accuse him of, he is almost exactly on par with the rest of the league.
Of course, the unanswerable question in this day and age is how many decisions are actually perpetuated by the manager versus the front office. Though I won’t go nearly so far as to say that Rocco is a “stooge in the dugout” for Falvey & Levin, I do believe we are living in an era where decisions are largely made ahead of time—in collaboration with numerous parties—instead of the proverbial gut of the skipper mid-stream.
As of this moment, I’m still pretty confident in Rocco Baldelli heading into 2022. Barring disaster, I think he’ll easily have two more years in the big chair—one to wade through the young pitching, and another to get the team back into the AL Central race by September ‘23. If the Twins aren’t competitive by that point, it will likely mean The Falvine’s dismissal and a whole new organizational approach (nearly always with a new manager in tow).