(Mostly) in Defense of Rocco Baldelli's Playoff Managing Style
But not totally!
Friday night’s Game 5 between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays will provide a style clash in how teams manage pitching in the postseason.
Now, it’s worth noting that there have been no days off during any of the series to this point, but the general sentiment seems to be about the same — either ride your star starters or piece it together with your bullpen.
For the Yankees Friday night, it’ll be riding on the right arm of Gerrit Cole — their $324 million investment who was signed exactly for games like this. Sure, he’s backed by a pretty solid Yankees bullpen, but he’s going to get the ball with the expectation to go fairly deep into the night.
On the other side, Tyler Glasnow will take the bump on short rest for Kevin Cash and the Rays. Behind him? That’s anybody’s guess, though it’ll likely involve Blake Snell, Nick Anderson, the kitchen sink, etc.
Now I bring this up because people have had issues with how Rocco Baldelli has managed the Twins in each of his postseasons to this point.
To be fair, managing in the playoffs is a completely different beast — and that’s doubly true this year. But a manager has to identify his team’s strengths, read the moment and then act on it. Even the right decisions process-wise can be maligned if they do not work out in terms of results — and I think that’s mostly what’s going on in the analysis of how Baldelli managed the two games against the Astros.
Comparing how Baldelli managed the Twins to how Dusty Baker managed the Astros is an exercise in futility. It’s comparing apples to oranges. What Baker knew was that whatever strength he had pitching-wise rested on the right arm of Zack Greinke and a couple of other youngsters who were mostly starters this season.
In short, he completely forsook his bullpen. And let’s be realistic — how many Astros relievers can Twins fans name other than Ryan Pressly? For the vast majority of people, it isn’t more than two. I’m certain of that.
Now as a brief aside, I’m not here to justify every decision the Twins made in the postseason. I’m still not sure why Alex Kirilloff started Game 2 instead of Jake Cave, who had been their guy all season long when Byron Buxton couldn’t go. That one is a head-scratcher.
I also don’t understand the catching carousel in Game 1. It was pretty clear Ryan Jeffers was the guy down the stretch. He was ripping the ball in his first two plate appearances in Game 1. If the decision to put Mitch Garver in where he was inserted was really a pre-determined move, I’ll go out on a limb and say it was a bad one. This isn’t the NFL where a coach scripts their first 15 plays.
Subbing in Garver, who hasn’t been right all year and hasn’t had enough time to get up to speed, made no sense.
Moreover, he was at the mercy of Framber Valdez and his curveball. Garver is not a good curveball hitter over his career.
But as far as managing pitching, I had no issue with it.
Kenta Maeda threw 91 pitches and faced 20 batters.
Like most pitchers, his splits the third time through the order are drastic.
Image via Baseball-Reference
Moreover, Maeda allowed a .509 OPS on pitches 1-25 in starts this season, .202 on pitches 26-50, .622 on pitches 51-75 and .846 on pitches 76-100.
If Baldelli sticks with Maeda, it’s easy enough to question because the numbers are right there.
Meanwhile, Twins relievers allowed a slash line of just .242/.311/.398 this season.
Here are the slash lines allowed of the relievers who worked in the series from the regular season.
Trevor May - .227/.281/.398
Tyler Duffey - .153/.217/.271
Taylor Rogers - .302/.341/.465
Sergio Romo - .211/.299/.368
Caleb Thielbar - .192/.280/.219
Cody Stashak - .204/.246/.389
Now obviously, alarm bells ring when Rogers is being used after the season he had. But at the same time, he’s been so good prior to this weird 2020 season that maybe it’s not as egregious as this slash line suggests?
I can see not being on board with using him — especially since Tyler Clippard was so effective this season, not only against lefties (.547 OPS) but also righties (.548).
And yet, Rogers also threw a dominant, flawless eighth inning before things went sideways with Romo — and to be fair, Jorge Polanco — in the ninth.
And that’s really where the Twins faltered in the series — they didn’t score runs and they didn’t catch the baseball. The vaunted Twins offense was nowhere near as good in 2020, and completely fizzled in the two games at Target Field. Two runs wouldn’t have been enough to beat the Astros in either game, let alone both.
I also didn’t find the Berrios pull as egregious as some did. Berrios was good, but by no means dominant. He threw 85 pitches and induced just one single swinging strike through five innings. He wasn’t allowing loud contact, but it wasn’t soft either.
Berrios also had drastic times-through-the-order splits this year — far more obvious than Maeda’s:
Image via Baseball-Reference
Six of the eight homers Berrios allowed this season came on pitches 50-100 of starts, with just two coming from 1-50 (all 26-50, oddly enough).
Again, it’s not as though it was a random pull here by Baldelli — data is and was on his side. And if it had worked, he’d be hailed as a genius rather than someone Twitter eggs “wanted to see fired” for some reason.
And it’s not unprecedented for teams to not ride their starters in October — outside of the super-elite ones like Max Scherzer, Cole, Stephen Strasburg and so on. Is Maeda in that echelon? Is Berrios? I tend to think not.
Near as I can tell with a little back-of-the-napkin math, starters have averaged a little over 5.0 innings per start this postseason. Last year, it was about two more outs than that.
This year, starters are averaging about 87 pitches per start in the postseason. Near as I can tell, it was over 90 last year.
So it’s not unprecedented for teams to not ride their starters into the ground. Especially not when they have such a good, deep bullpen like the Twins do.
It’s easy to see the result and decry the process. And there were definitely some head-scratching moves — especially when it comes to hitters.
But the general sentiment should be this regarding how the Twins fared in their short two-game playoff stint this year — they didn’t hit or field enough to win.
They held the Astros to 3.5 runs per game — again, small sample size caveats apply — while the A’s, who had the best bullpen in the game and a good rotation to boot, allowed an average of 8.25 runs per game in the ALDS.
This loss falls on the offense and the defense — but not the pitching staff and certainly not on Baldelli’s management.