By: Chris Larson
Heading into this season, many people around the game of baseball, fans and analysts alike, expected the Minnesota Twins to be a competitive team and to build off of the success they had last season despite the fact that they finished the season with a below .500 record. In fact, some went as far as predicting that the Twins would win the American League Central crown, unthroning the Cleveland Indians who had won the division three consecutive seasons in a row, going into this year.
Fast forward to present time and it looks as though many of those bold predictions, about the Minnesota Twins winning the American League Central, will ultimately come true. This year's Minnesota Twins squad has had several qualities that have allowed them to have a great amount of success including: having a better pitching staff than in season's before, more depth around the field overall, and a team that can mash the ball significantly. By mash, the Minnesota Twins currently lead all of baseball with 289 home runs heading into play today, and have a high likelihood of exceeding 300 before the season is all said and done.
Beyond being able to mash the baseball, don't overlook the contributions of the players that the Minnesota Twins brought in this past offseason either. Minnesota has reaped nice rewards from the Michael Pineda signing that happened prior to last season, gotten terrific results from Jonathan Schoop, Nelson Cruz, and Marwin Gonzalez when all three have been healthy, and have been able to solidify first base with the acquisition of C.J. Cron. All five of those players have had sustainable periods of success at different times this season and the Twins have been able to seemingly put together a very nice bullpen, with lesser known names, along with Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson both of whom were acquired prior to this year's July 31st Trade Deadline.
Despite all of those things, everything starts at the top including the leadership of a baseball team and the vision that a team sets for itself at the start of the season. As such, the way the Minnesota Twins have performed this season and been able to get everyone playing at the same level, has all started with Rocco Baldelli and his coaching staff. In particular, Rocco Baldelli, who has come in from Day One and set an analytical mindset for the entire team to follow, something that comes from his previous time with the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
Baldelli, who was hired prior to the start of this season to replace former Minnesota Twins skipper Paul Molitor, gained significant experience in the field of analytics during his time with the Tampa Bay Rays and learned first hand exactly how to get every ounce possible out of players that he could. While the Twins play in a larger market compared to Tampa Bay, the situation is similar as the Twins are a small-to-mid market team in terms of the way they spend and the type of players that they can afford. Granted, the Twins payroll sits at a little north of $124 million dollars currently, while the Rays payroll ranks last in the major leagues at a little more than $63 million dollars, that still puts Minnesota under the league average of $136 million dollars and just below the Cincinnati Reds and above the Cleveland Indians in 18th place overall.
As such, Rocco Baldelli established the theory from Day One that the team can perform at a high level, without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money and still be a successful, championship-caliber ball club. Nothing demonstrates that more than the Twins bullpen this season and the adversity that it has experienced at various turning points throughout the season. How about Taylor Rogers and the 0.90 ERA that he has put up over 10 innings the last 30 days or the success that Tyler Duffey has had throughout this season? Heading into play tonight, Duffey has a 2.39 ERA over 52.2 innings of work with a (12.5) strikeouts-per-9 rate and has held righties to a (.200) batting average over the span of 105 at bats.
Essentially, both Rogers and Duffey are prime examples of the Minnesota Twins and Rocco Baldelli doing big things with lesser known items and getting the most out of those valuables. In this case, the valuables being the players and the value being extracted by Baldelli has been significant. As a unit, the Minnesota Twins bullpen has put up a 4.21 ERA over 530.0 innings of work with (556) strikeouts and an Opponent Batting Average Against of (.256). The ERA might be on the high side cohesively as a unit, but there's a lot to like when you begin to peel back the layers and start to identify exactly what Rocco Baldelli has been able to get out of all of the Twins relievers.
In addition, Rocco Baldelli has ratified the overall culture of the team and the attitude inside of the clubhouse for the Minnesota Twins. As previously mentioned, Baldelli has brought analytics into the fold more often than ever before, but has brought a new view on leadership to the team and clubhouse and an ability to relate to players. Over the past few years, more and more teams have begun to hire candidates who are young and analytically driven, but Rocco Baldelli is currently the youngest manager in the baseball at 37. Given that Baldelli is a former big leaguer himself, he is able to relate to the young rookies inside of the Minnesota Twins clubhouse as well as the veterans that are on the team because he's been in both of those situations and has enough pop culture knowledge to find his groove with the youngsters.
Beyond that, shifting back to the analytical point of view now, Rocco Baldelli was able to garner a ton of first-hand experience working with some of the most sophisticated minds in the analytical world with the Tampa Bay Rays. Many of those analytical processes and models were put into place by former Tampa Bay Rays turned Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager, Andrew Friedman. Over the time that Baldelli spent as part of the coaching staff for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2011-2018 in various positions, Baldelli assisted the front office as a Special Assistant, garnered plenty of experience about base running and positioning position players during his time as first base coach from 2015-2017, and topped that experience off by being the Rays Field Coordinator last season. As a Field Coordinator, Baldelli was able to deliver messages to players on the team, coordinate and develop short-term and long-term plans, and see first hand how Tampa Bay Rays skipper, Kevin Cash, ran his team.
With all of that experience and knowledge, Rocco Baldelli has been able to inject a more sophisticated and analytical approach to many of the processes and models that the Minnesota Twins rely on which might not have been embraced as much in previous years. Not only has Baldelli been able to embrace analytics, he's also been able to develop keen awareness and various instincts to make those tough decisions as a big league manager. In today's game, a lot of the decisions that are made are based on the analytical numbers and certain matchups, but Rocco Baldelli is able to take those into account and balance them with knowing exactly what to do in various game situations based on gut reaction.
If all of that isn't enough to make a clear cut argument for Rocco Baldelli winning the American League Manager of the Year Award, then consider a couple of other things. Prior to the start of this season, Baldelli met with the Twins coaching staff and front office members and convinced them of the importance of recovery time for athletes. As such, the Twins started to embrace the idea of giving players plenty of rest and relaxation throughout the season and implemented a "Nap Room" which many players have embraced significantly throughout the season.
With the amount of research that has been done and continues to be performed about the effects of a lack of sleep or lack of recovery time on athletes performance, this was an evolutionary moment for the game of baseball and one that other teams are going to consider implementing in the next few years. If a player shows up to the ballpark before batting practice and feels as though they need more shut eye, they can do just that. If a player wants to take a quick nap before game time, the "Nap Room" is available for that as well. Either way, it allows every single Minnesota Twins player the opportunity to get their bodies in peak shape at any moment.
Furthermore, as pointed out by The Athletic earlier this season, the Minnesota Twins clubhouse is composed of approximately 48 percent of players that have Latin American heritage. As such, those traditions and the values of the Latin American culture play an extremely important role in the overall culture of the Minnesota Twins and Rocco Baldelli was a key advocate for trying to improve communication lines between Latin American players and the other members of the Twins clubhouse. Along with Tony Diaz the Twins third base coach, Rudy Hernandez the team's assistant hitting instructor, and Elvis Martinez, the Minnesota Twins currently have three different members of their coaching staff that are bilingual in Spanish and English - thus improving those lines of communication throughout the entire big league clubhouse.
Finally, one other thing about Rocco Baldelli is his ability to embrace the history of the game and to encourage players to just be themselves. Heading into this season, Baldelli strived to implement a rule about players just being themselves in the clubhouse and having fun every time they take the field regardless of the outcome of the game. As such, players have been able to play many games this season without the endless amount of pressure that big league players put on themselves, have displayed a tremendous amount of energy together as a unit, and hung onto the rich, old traditions of the game of baseball. It's obvious that all three of those things have cohesively come together and become many philosophies of the Minnesota Twins based on the success that the team has had this season.
Although there are other deserving candidates throughout the American League - such as A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros, who is looking for the Astros 100th win of the year tonight and has lead the team to a World Series Championship, and Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees, who has had to overcome plenty of obstacles and challenges throughout the season with the amount of injuries the Yankees have experienced, Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins is the most deserving candidate. Sure, the Twins might have been viewed as a postseason contender at the beginning of this year, but many didn't have the Twins showing this type of dominance in their pursuit of an American League Championship crown or foresee such a radical transformation in the overall culture of the team from Day One of the regular season. Rocco Baldelli has done both of those things, has extracted value from every single player in the Twins clubhouse, and has been able to push the right buttons when they matter the most. All qualities that any Manager of the Year should display on the field day in and day out just like Rocco Baldelli has this season.