It’s hard to know what the Twins will look like on the field next season given they might add or subtract several players between now and next spring on a roster that has plenty of available playing time. In many ways, a team’s style should be tailored to its personnel.
That said, we might be able to discern some clues about how first-year manager Rocco Baldelli will lead his team on the field given the history of his previous team, Tampa Bay.
Baldelli, 37, was drafted by the Rays in 2000 and has spent all but one year since in the organization in a variety of roles. It stands to reason the experience of spending basically half his life with one organization has shaped his philosophies. Here are three ways that might play out:
Doing more with less: In Baldelli, the Twins hired a manager coming from an organization that is used to doing more with less. (All data via spotrac.com).
Twins fans like to grouse that the Pohlad ownership group doesn’t spend money. The Twins were No. 21 in MLB payroll at just over $115 million in 2018.
Baldelli, though, might feel like he just won the lottery when it comes to spending. The Rays won 90 games while being last in the majors with a payroll just under $69 million — making seemingly shrewd decisions by jettisoning higher-priced players such as Logan Morrison ($6.5 million) and Jake Odorizzi ($6.3 million), who both wound up with the Twins.
The Twins also outspent the Rays by $45 million in 2017 and $34 million in 2016. The Twins have outspent the Rays in every season since Target Field opened in 2010.
Embracing the opener: Tampa Bay finished sixth in the majors in team ERA (3.74), and the Rays’ season really took off when they started using the “opener” concept regularly at the beginning of games.
The Twins dabbled with the idea, but the Rays were really the pioneers of the concept, whereby a reliever starts the game, pitches an inning or two, and then gives way to a primary pitcher who often works deeper into the game.
Relief pitchers tend to be more cost-effective than starting pitchers, and an attitude of selflessness permeated the Rays last season as plenty of unheralded pitchers contributed to their overall success.
“It got coverage because of the success that it appeared came from it,” Baldelli said last week at his introductory news conference.
“I like to give the players the credit at the end of the day. We tried to put them in a good spot to succeed, and they did it. They went out and performed and made the whole process look really god. They were open-minded.”
Subject to change: The Rays tended to be independent thinkers even within a framework of an analytics-based approach.
They had 28 sacrifice bunts last season — more than the Major League Baseball average (27) and third most in the American League, where sacrifices are less common because pitchers don’t hit.
The Twins, by contrast, had just 19 sacrifice bunts last season.
The Rays also stole 128 bases, second most in the majors. Stolen bases have been on the decline for years — in 2018, the MLB average for teams was just 82, which would have been a down season for Ricky Henderson a generation ago — in part because analytics have said they tend to be inefficient plays.
It seems Baldelli might bring that approach to the Twins.
“We’ll be willing to try that,” he said of his overall philosophy.