Projecting the 2021 Twins Bullpen
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsI personally do believe the Twins are done adding to the bullpen. Although I would have loved to see Sergio Romo or Tyler Clippard re-signed, their recent moves of adding Anderson and Hamilton tell me that they are okay giving a young, unproven arm the opportunity to compete for a spot at the front end of the bullpen.
Remember, this is an organization that has been relying on Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers, Matt Wisler and Cody Stashak over the last two seasons and, as a group, accrued the second-most fWAR in baseball over that time. In the two years that Rocco Baldell and his staff have been in control, they’ve been able to get the most out of their relievers (if only we had hung onto Ryan Pressly for one more year!!), and even though Anderson and Hamilton were not the impact arms that Twins fans were clamoring for, this regime has shown that we can trust them in their decision making and usage of relatively unknown bullpen names.
So with all that said, let’s take a look at who could be in the bullpen to start the season and what their role will likely be. Remember, rosters have been expanded to 26 guys and teams can carry a max of 13 pitchers on the roster, which I imagine most will do. After ruling out the five starters, that will leave us with eight relievers to the bullpen.
8. Ian Hamilton RHP
This was the hardest spot to project so I was going with upside here. This will be one of the Spring Training stories to follow as I think others who will compete for the two jobs are Gibaut, Waddell, Anderson, Edwar Colina, Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, and Lewis Thorpe. Smeltzer, Dobank,and Thorpe will likely be competing for the last starting job, assuming they don’t add another starter via free agency, but one thing to note is that Thorpe is out of options which may give him a slight edge over the others.
The recently-acquired Hamilton has been unable to sneak through waivers without getting claimed this offseason as both the Mariners and Phillies tried to do so after adding him themselves. Despite only 12 innings of Major League experience, he’s the Twins prototype with a fastball in the high 90’s and plus slider. Unless one of the aforementioned names really show out during Spring Training, I think Hamilton is given the initial opportunity here during low leverage situations.
7. Cody Stashak RHP
6. Jorge Alcala RHP
5. Caleb Thielbar LHP
This group will be in the rotation more regularly as low or medium leverage options in the sixth and seventh innings. Through 40 big league innings, Stashak has pretty even splits against right and lefty hitters and generates a lot of whiffs and poor contact with his slider, which is important as his fastball tops out at 92 and isn’t a true power pitch.
I think Alcala’s 2020 is going mostly unnoticed but he was actually really good, especially against righties (.182 wOBA), posting some elite numbers.
Alcala should absolutely be trusted in middle inning, medium leverage situations and might even move up the list if he sustains his elite numbers against right handed batters.
Thielbar’s inspirational five-year comeback might have overshadowed how well he pitched in 2020 although we can temper expectations a bit as we can’t expect him to never give up a home run. That said, he’s one of two lefties in the pen and provides a different look as his offspeed relies more on vertical movement than horizontal movement. He’ll probably be called upon when the opposing team has a couple lefty’s coming up in the order, but can also be trusted against righties in moderation.
4. Hansel Robles RHP
3. Tyler Duffey RHP
Robles was pretty bad in 2020 but was good in 2019 and has been mostly solid otherwise while also bringing moderate success in medium and high leverage situations. The Twins obviously believe that 2020 was an outlier and with great spin and whiff rates must believe his 2019 season is repeatable. An added bonus is his reverse splits, throughout his career he’s had slightly more success against lefties with a better strikeout rate and wOBA. He’ll share the set up role with Duffey but will also get some save opportunities along the way.
Duffey showed that 2019 was no fluke by having an even better 2020. He’s not an overpower pitcher but getting ahead in the count and striking batters out at an elite rate. On paper his curveball and fastball aren’t great, but he generates an elite number of whiffs by throwing his looping curveball in the bottom of the zone and pinpointing his fastball on edges.
Like Robles, he’ll be trusted with bridging the gap to Colome and Rogers while also earning some save opportunities himself.
2. Alex Colomé RHP
1. Taylor Rogers LHP
Colomé will be a breath of fresh air as Rogers has generally struggled against righties throughout his career. He’ll bring a different look to a slider dominant bullpen as he uses a fastball and cutter to get batters. He’s not going to overpower hitters with either pitch and relies on soft contact and ground balls to get outs, which plays right into the Twins strong infield defense.
Rogers wasn’t great in 2020 but we shouldn’t completely forget about the two years prior where he accrued 3.9 fWAR, good enough for fourth best among all relievers in baseball. Some of his struggles can be attributed to luck as his oBABIP was 90 points higher than his career norm and a ERA-FIP of 1.21. I would expect numbers closer to 2018-19 than 2020 but also have comfort in knowing the Twins have Colomé, Duffey, and Robles as very good fall back options.
A single bad outing from a relief pitcher or bad day from a bullpen as a whole tend to be magnified and overstated, as well as skew numbers to look worse than they actually are. Per fWAR, the Twins have had the second best bullpen in all of baseball over the last two years and improved upon it this offseason. There will assuredly be bad days throughout a 162-game stretch, but overall they will once again have one of the best bullpens in baseball.
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