Playoff Rocco Baldelli Sucks at His Job

Photo: John Autey - Pioneer Press

Rocco Baldelli was brought into the Minnesota Twins organization as the conduit between an analytics-obsessed front office and a real-life baseball team. That’s important because the game of baseball is played on real-life grass (sometimes), by well-compensated real-life players who have real-life emotions and real-life human tendencies.

He’s been handed two of the most talented real-life rosters in Twins’ history and he’s turned that talent into a lot of regular season success, leading Minnesota to two-straight AL Central titles. In that time, he’s received a bunch of well-deserved BJ’s by just about everyone he’s come in contact with.

Unfortunately come playoff time, Rocco Baldelli can’t coach his way out of a wet paper bag. We’re told that he is the “real deal” but that must be in the playoff analytics spreadsheets somewhere… because we certainly haven’t seen it on an actual playoff baseball diamond, through two appearances.



Why Does Rocco Hate Starting Pitchers So Much?

In game 1, Kenta Maeda threw 91 pitches in five full innings of 0-run baseball. In the 5th inning, Maeda threw 10 total pitches in a 1-2-3 inning, where he struck out the 9-hitter and then got easy outs on both George Springer and Jose Altuve.

So naturally, Rocco pulled him before the 6th. Nobody died in that 6th inning but the Twins would end up using SIX total pitchers in game 1. The Astros scored four runs and all of them were against the bullpen.

Fast forward to game 2, Jose Berrios is throwing his best game of the season by far. Through 5 innings, he’s thrown just 75 pitches and given up 0 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks. Just a few years ago, coaches would be run out of town for pulling a starter in this scenario. Future Rocco tried to warn him…



Before We Get to Everything Else

The rest of Rocco’s playoff game mismanagement (there was plenty — keep reading) could have been forgiven, had his pitching decisions not been so blasphemous. At the end of the day, he can’t pick up a bat and make this well-paid batting lineup actually get a hit with runners on base.

But fans and skeptics alike, myself included, cannot wrap our heads around this pitcher strategy. It clouds my view of the whole game. For example; Let’s say the Twins had pulled out a miracle comeback today in 9th inning… who the fuck would we have thrown tomorrow?

After Pineda, who we know wouldn’t have lasted past the 5th inning, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey had already pitched on back-to-back days. What if game 2 had gone to **gasp** extra innings? Nothing about this bullpen management makes sense. Don’t give me the “3 times through the order” bullshit. Get better pitchers if you’re concerned about that.

Managing Your Players‘ Emotions and Focus

Where do we start, when talking about the mental mistakes made by the Twins during this playoff series? Rocco Baldelli has to take some of the blame for not having his team ready to play. Both baserunning and base-coaching errors cost them runs on Wednesday.

Polanco’s 9th inning throwing error, paired with Sergio Romo’s bases-loaded walk, cost them game 1. How about Eddie Rosario’s game-2 ejection or the overall bad vibes that seem to verberate through the Minnesota dugout? Yes, umpires are overly-sensitive but Eddie knew he was on thin-ice, in a moment where he couldn’t afford to be tossed, and he still couldn’t control himself.

When there is a focus problem this widespread, the coach has to take responsibility.




Rocco is supposed to be that calming dugout presence who keeps guys focused, on task and confident. Instead, this entire team seems high-strung and always one bad moment away from complete collapse. That’s a problem.

Substitutions

Rocco wasn’t given the opportunity to make any pinch-hitting mistakes in game-2, since guys were dropping from his roster like flies. After the decisions he made in that department for game-1, I don’t think anyone is feeling sorry for him.

Four catchers were used in the first game of this series. Nobody really knows why. The numbers show that Ryan Jeffers is a better hitter and defensive catcher than Garver, Avila and Astudillo. Yet for whatever reason, Mitch Garver (.167 BA|.511 OPS) pinch-hit for Jeffers (.273 BA|.791 OPS) in the 7th inning and struck out. Garver was immediately replaced by Avila (for defense?), who was eventually pinch hit for by Astudillo in the 9th (who hit into a double play to end the game). Every single catching decision Baldelli made, backfired.

Be Like Dusty Baker

While our 40-year-old manager couldn’t figure out how to play playoff checkers, the 70-year-old across the diamond had his 3D chess set out. Baldelli and the Twins are supposed to lead the MLB in new-age thinking. They are supposed to be out in front of the rest of the league, doing surprising things that shock opponents and work out in their favor.

Instead, we saw none of that. Even when the team had obviously proven they weren’t going to slug their way to a series victory, Rocco made zero adjustments. No bunts with guys on base and nobody out, no steals (even when Buxton pinch ran in the 9th Wednesday) and zero creativity, whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Dusty Baker used a brand new “starters-only” approach to playoff pitching and it worked beautifully. Only two bullpen pitchers, Luke Raley and Ryan Pressly, were used by the Astros in this series and they spent less than two innings on the mound, total.


PitcherTypeIP
Z. GreinkeSP4
F. ValdezSP5
J. UrquidySP4.1
L. RaleyRP0.2
C. JavierSP3
R. PresslyRP1

One More Chance for Baldelli

Just about everything went wrong in this series and we can’t point to Rocco Baldelli for all of it. I don’t think he should be fired, either. The guy is young and just needs to get better. So does the Twins analytics department. Both need to learn from their last two postseason mistakes and be better going forward.

The Minnesota Twins are still young too, and have an incredibly bright future. With a few changes this offseason, they should be projected at the top of the AL Central again next year.

But the third time needs to be the charm. The Twins need to end their playoff losing streak next year and preferably make a World Series run, if we are to trust Rocco Baldelli and this “new-age” braintrust any longer.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan