MINNEAPOLIS — After meeting with a group of reporters Saturday, Aug. 3, before the Minnesota's game against the Kansas City Royals, a reporter remarked to first-year Twins manager Rocco Baldelli about his choice in furniture for his office.
“Now Rocco, come on, who does your decorating?” the reporter asked.
Baldelli was seated on a swivel chair behind his desk, with a couple leather lounge chairs on the other side, a couple items on the wall, some papers and tablets on his desk, and not much else. Rather bleak. Barren. Perhaps a bit rustic.
“It could probably use a fireplace,” he said.
Analytics and quirks aside, Baldelli likes to keep things rather simple in other ways, like always preaching taking good at-bats. If each player focuses on taking good at-bats, the results of those good at-bats add up, generating positive results when strung together.
The Twins (67-42 going into Saturday) have been doing a lot of that this season. The “Bomba Squad” mashed five home runs against the Kansas City Royals through six innings Saturday, including three by Nelson Cruz, who set a club single-season record for home runs by a designated hitter with 30 to pass Chili Davis. The Twins led 11-2 in the rain-delayed contest when the News Tribune went to press.
Baldelli certainly isn’t afraid to try new things or be unorthodox, like having outfielder Max Kepler bat leadoff. Coming into the year, Kepler had hit everywhere but leadoff, but he has responded with a career year.
Kepler batted No. 6 in the order Saturday, more the position you’d expect from someone with one stolen base this season compared to five times being caught. Batting leadoff instead was Mitch Garver, a catcher who has never attempted a stolen base in his career. Somewhere the likes of legendary leadoff men Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson, the “Man of Steal,” with 2,158 thefts between them, must cringe at these new strategies.
This is the new era we’re living in, where something called sabermetrics rule the day, and if you object with conventional baseball thinking, saying this kind of new strategy is asinine, they whip WHIP, WAR and whatever else at you.
With a reported 4.25 grade-point average, 1,300 SAT and offers from Princeton and Yale coming out of high school before turning his focus to professional baseball, Baldelli is certainly smart enough to understand BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and how analytics can help managers and front office personnel gain a better understanding of a player's true value.
The Twins certainly did their homework this offseason, getting good bang for the buck by bringing in players who can hit for power at good to great value (Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez). Cron was claimed off waivers and signed a one-year deal worth $4.8 million with the Twins. He hit his 19th home run of the season on Saturday. The first baseman didn’t exactly come out of left field, hitting a career-high 30 home runs for the Rays last season.
Combine those four with the power players the Twins already had (Kepler, Eddie Rosario, etc.), and balls at Target Field have taken flight. This team is tough to pitch around. Not only are the Twins on a record-shattering pace with 216 home runs through the sixth inning Saturday, “bombas” as they’re called here, they’re third in the majors in doubles, making the walls at Target Field have more dimples than a golf ball.
While some predicted the Twins would win the division, with the likes of Baseball America’s Joe Sheehan going so far as to call them the sleeper team of the season, nobody was predicting anything like this, and for that, Baldelli already should have his name all but etched in as manager of the year, in his first year, no less.
Baldelli’s not without criticisms, for sure. Trotting out new trade acquisition Sam Dyson, in the ninth inning of a tight ball game Thursday, when Dyson was about as fresh from traveling as six-week old bread, and when you have Taylor Rogers (2.15 ERA, 16 saves, 65K in 50.1 innings), shows that even really smart people can be really dumb.
Those criticisms, and losses like Thursday, slide off the laid-back Baldelli like Teflon. The Twins bounced back the next day to beat the Royals 11-9. It wasn't always pretty, but they got the win.
"One really good thing about this group is that the mood is generally the same every day," Baldelli said. "Whether we play well, whether we don't, our guys come back the following day just ready to go. The expectations don't change, our preparation really doesn't change at all. It's a very consistent group."
The same could be said of their manager.