How Much Blame Does Rocco Deserve For Minnesota's Collapse?

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins’ hopes to reach the 2022 postseason officially expired over the weekend. The Cleveland Guardians captured the AL Central without any real indication they would do so until the last month of the season. Minnesota’s record coming into this week dipped to 74-79, the lowest under the .500 mark they have been all year.

The Twins’ poor play when things mattered most has made the fanbase apathetic. However, before most people checked out on the season, there was a massive amount of animosity towards their play down the stretch. Fans directed a lot of their frustration on manager Rocco Baldelli.

It doesn’t take long to find a group of disgruntled Twins fans on social media who use the phrase “Fire Rocco” somewhere in their post. However, Minnesota’s front office is opting to keep it at status quo for another season, announcing that Baldelli is coming back next season.

Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey confirmed Baldelli’s job is safe for another season over the weekend.

Retaining Baldelli isn’t going to please a vocal set of the fanbase. However, keeping Baldelli around for another season is the most logical play. Throwing the entirety, or even the majority, of the blame on the Twins skipper is unreasonable and unfair.

Injuries have been a critical factor in Minnesota’s collapse. Losing Chris Paddack, Bailey Ober, Jorge Alcalá, Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff for most of the season doesn’t help matters. They also lost Ryan Jeffers, Jorge Polanco, Tyler Mahle, Max Kepler, and, most notably, Byron Buxton for the last month of the season. That’s a long list. It might be easier to name players who haven’t missed significant time on the shelf.

Injuries aren’t the sole reason for this team’s struggles, but they hampered Baldelli’s ability to manage a playoff-caliber team. Do you think that he wanted Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy to have been starting games for this team in September? Or to have Gary Sánchez starting behind the plate almost every night down the stretch?

It is fair to criticize Baldelli for not being able to rally the troops in an extremely weak division race. With how broken the team was, though, I’m not sure even Tom Kelly could have kept this team on track.

Injuries played a big part in this team’s demise. But that still isn’t something the Twins can offer to the fans without getting pushback. The way they finished the season was frustrating. Fans have a right to be upset. The problem is the ones who are taking that frustration out on the manager are putting their energy into the wrong place. Some of that energy has to be directed to Minnesota’s front office.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have been in control of this team for over five years now. The way baseball has changed over the last two decades has given increasingly more power to the front offices. Lineup cards, bullpen matchups, and more are already agreed upon pregame between the manager and his superiors. Today’s managers have essentially turned into middle-managers.

Therefore, some can point to the Twins roster management as a reason for Baldelli should get the axe. The five-and-dive approach with starting pitching has annoyed fans all season long. Extra rest days for starters have been valuable, but it didn’t stop many of those key guys from going down late in the season. Why did they use Emilio Pagán in as many high-leverage innings as they did throughout the first half of the season? Those decisions don’t squarely fall on the manager. The guys upstairs are also culpable.

The front office got some credit for signing top free agent Carlos Correa. They also deserve credit for being aggressive at the trade deadline. Those are two things the Twins haven’t done historically. However, even when fully healthy, the Twins had holes on their roster.

Minnesota’s two significant bullpen additions were Joe Smith and Pagán, which did Baldelli no favors in late-game situations. Trading away their catching depth came back to bite them after Jeffers got hurt. Adding Mahle and Jorge López at the deadline was an admirable attempt to round out the bullpen. But Mahle didn’t pitch in September, and Lopez has a 5.30 ERA and -0.41 WPA since joining Minnesota.

Baldelli can only do so much with what he has been given this year. His suspect bullpen decisions don’t seem as egregious given how limited that group was this year. Sticking with the five-and-dive method for the rotation is a little more forgivable when you see how many starts Archer and Bundy had to make. Then you have to factor in that he consults with Falvey and Levine on managerial decision-making.

Even if the fanbase got their wish and Baldelli was shown the door, it doesn’t mask all of the underlying issues the 2022 Twins had. A change in leadership likely won’t even change the leadership style of this team. Falvey and Levine hand-picked Baldelli to manage this team. If Falvey and Levine are still in charge, whoever takes his place will be another version of Baldelli anyways. What good would it be to disregard orders completely and potentially lose his job anyway?

I’m not defending everything Baldelli does. Despite the philosophy being in lockstep with the front office, he is still the manager on the field and should have the authority to go away from the script should he feel he has to. He hasn’t done that. But blaming him for this season isn’t going to fix the issues that prevented this team from reaching the postseason.

It’s not wrong to want more from a manager when a team falls flat. But this front office needs to shoulder some of that animosity, too. Rocco Baldelli has still earned another chance to see things through for one more season. If the front office and Baldelli spin their wheels for a third consecutive year, then the Twins will need to make dramatic changes.

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