FORT MYERS, FLA. – Twins manager Rocco Baldelli holds the highest winning percentage in franchise history, which includes the history of the Washington Senators, who began play 120 years ago.

Baldelli has won more games than any American League manager over the past two years. In Major League Baseball, only the Dodgers' Dave Roberts has won more in that time.

He won the American League Manager of the Year award in 2019.

He won't turn 40 until Sept. 25.

He would prefer that we not mention any of this.

After firing Paul Molitor following the 2018 season, the Twins conducted an extensive search for their new manager and hired someone who had never managed.

They believed that Baldelli's blend of intelligence, empathy, analytical thinking and communications skills would matter more than a proven ability to execute a mid-game double switch.

In a business where every decision is fraught with risk, the Twins have never been more correct.

“Rocco understands the bigger picture as well as anyone I've seen in the game, and I've been around some good ones.”
Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball operations

Baldelli's winning percentage is .617. In second place among Twins/Senators managers who lasted more than a year is Walter Johnson, whose winning percentage was .570.

What's most intriguing about Baldelli's winning percentage is that it is built upon an acceptance of losing. He will rest a player on a Monday in May if he thinks that will increase his chances of winning that Friday, or on a Tuesday in September.

"Rocco understands the bigger picture as well as anyone I've seen in the game, and I've been around some good ones," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations. "I think he just recognizes the importance of rest over the long term. Getting a guy a day off here, while it may slightly reduce your chances of winning today, could impact days 2, 3 and 4. … And it's pretty impressive to see him think through it.

"I do think he thinks differently about rest and recovery than a lot of managers have in the game. He recognizes that the best path to 162 is keeping our guys as healthy and fresh as possible."

Analyzing baseball managers is tricky. They can't win without talent. Tom Kelly won two World Series in five years while proving himself one of game's best strategists, then suffered eight consecutive losing seasons when the Twins' core players aged and their pitching faltered.

What's impressive about Baldelli's record is that he took over a 78-victory Twins team and took it to 101 victories despite a spate of injuries and a bullpen that had to be rebuilt at the trading deadline, then won at about the same rate the next year despite more injuries to key players, including Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson.

Baldelli is winning without great health, or a superstar, or a high payroll.

The Twins' ace, Kenta Maeda, was a utility pitcher with the Dodgers.

The Twins' best hitter, Nelson Cruz, is 40.

Their biggest free-agent signing, Donaldson, has played in 28 games in a Twins uniform.

Their most talented player, Buxton, hasn't played in more than 87 games in a season since 2017.

The Twins' strength the past two years has been roster and organizational depth, and an ability to calmly navigate crises.

Souhan's season outlook for the Twins

"I think Rocco would tell you something similar to this: I think the strength of the team supporting his decision-making is a bona fide competitive advantage for the Minnesota Twins," General Manager Thad Levine said. "The stable of advance scouts and coaches that surround Rocco are truly excellent."

How much credit should the manager get if decisions are made by committee?

Falvey, Levine, and members of the organization speaking on background all offered the same answer: The Twins group-source all of their baseball decisions, and Baldelli reviews his decisions after games, but during games acts independently.

They say that his planning and constant communication with players allows him to notify them when they are going to get a day off, so they can use that day to rest or rehab. And that Baldelli can be blunt when critiquing players face-to-face, even though he never criticizes them publicly.

Could Baldelli have imagined this kind of success in his first two years as a manager?

"I think we can feel good that we're going to do everything we can to put people in position to succeed, and the confidence to go out there and perform," he said. "But the players are the one who have to perform.

"I'm very proud of the way we've played and I'm not surprised that we've played this well just because of the caliber of individuals that we get to work with on a regular basis, and I really mean that."