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The Lurking Late-Inning Limbo

When you look at this Twins team, hovering around .500 after a month of play in a mediocre division, it's not all that hard to see them hanging in the race throughout the summer. The rotation should remain respectable at least, with legitimate options on hand to replace faltering starters and Big Erv leading the way.

The offense, powered by Miguel Sano, also can sustain as above-average – maybe better if Byron Buxton keeps coming on and Joe Mauer gets it going.

The one unit that fails to inspire much confidence at this point is, ironically enough, one that has experienced few misfires thus far. Despite its sufficiency up to this point, the back end of Minnesota's bullpen is quite suspect.
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson, USA Today
No one can take away from Brandon Kintzler what he has accomplished in the closer role thus far. He was extremely reliable after taking over for Glen Perkins last year, at least up until a September slide, and he's been nails over the first four weeks of 2017.

Through 12 appearances Kintzler has held opponents to a .227 average while converting all seven of his save chances. He has shown tremendous poise on the mound, buckling down in tense situations and making big pitches when needed.

But poise only goes so far, and ultimately there are a number of signs suggesting that the veteran righty is on precarious footing in the ninth inning. Entering Wednesday's game, he had been benefiting from a .188 BABIP, stranding 100 percent of base-runners. Those kinds of fortuitous trends simply do not sustain, and we saw a glimpse of it in his rocky ninth inning against Oakland last night.

This isn't to say a complete collapse is necessarily imminent, but the same weaknesses that always made Kintzler an iffy bet for the closer job persist, and eventually they're going to become problematic.

Mainly, there is the sky-high contact rate.

Last year, Kintzler finished 124th out of 130 relievers (min 50 IP) in K-rate at 15.6 percent. Early this year he has moved in the wrong direction despite an uptick in velocity, with his six strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings equating to a 12 percent clip.

When so many batters are putting the ball in play, hits are going to start bleeding through even if you're limiting hard contact and getting ground balls. Again, this doesn't mean Kintzler is going to fall off a cliff, because he has some legit skills that compensate for the lack of whiffs. But when you're relying on batted balls finding gloves so much, there are inevitably going to be costly mishaps with the stakes so high and the margins so thin.

I feel he's better suited for a middle relief or setup role and I do believe that eventually the Twins are going to reach the same conclusion. It might take some turbulence to get there, but unless Kintzler can fundamentally change his peripheral composition, it's almost bound to happen.

And when it does, where do the Twins go? This leads us to a more troubling matter, which is the lack of quality late-inning depth behind Kintzler.

Ryan Pressly was bringing gas in spring training, leading some to conclude he might succeed Kintzler in the closer role at some point this summer. Pressly is indeed throwing harder than ever this season, with a lively fastball averaging nearly 96 MPH in April, but he's still failing to establish himself as a truly dominant reliever.

Last year Pressly's numbers were more good than great and he appears to be headed down that same path. His slider, despite its premium velocity, hasn't been a very strong pitch for him and he's been reluctant to throw it. And opponents are generating hard contact, with six of the nine hits he's allowed going for extra bases.

Tyler Duffey might have the stuff for the task, but the team still seems to be wavering on his destiny as a starter or reliever. Matt Belisle is making a case for less leverage instead of more, with his best asset – control – looking shaky in the early going (with seven walks, he has already matched year's total in 40 appearances). Michael Tonkin is probably on the verge of being designated for assignment.

So we turn to the minors. JT Chargois is the best candidate in line to take over a ninth-inning role, given that he's done it successfully at every level. He's a closer in waiting. But now he's on the disabled list with an elbow impingement, which sounds a little ominous for someone who's had his battles with arm issues. Tyler Jay, another former collegiate closer who seemingly moved onto the fast track when the organization switched him back to a relief role this spring, still hasn't pitched in a game due to biceps tendinitis.

A promising relief pipeline stalling out due to health and performance setbacks? Stop me if you've heard it before.

One way or another, the Twins need some options to emerge. The back end of the bullpen is likely to become a problem soon and right now there is a shortage of options available to address it.

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48 Comments

Nail. Head.
    • Nick Nelson, USAFChief and snepp like this
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Don't Feed the Greed Guy
May 04 2017 05:35 AM

This is a great question, because I want to see us compete this year, but not at the expense of future vitality.

DO promote from within. Bring up Chargois when he’s healthy.
DO move up our studs in AA to Rochester, ASAP. Three of the five top Relief Pitchers of the Month are in Chattanooga. http://twinsdaily.co...pril-2017-r5546 John Curtiss, Nick Burdi, and Mason Melotakis could help the Twins, if this rise to the top of the mediocre AL Central heap continues into August.

DO NOT trade one iota of future hope for a Wild Card ride in 2017. This rebuild is a slow bake, not a microwave job. Let our boys learn about being in a pennant race. Maybe a two-man rotation can push Minnie into a postseason run, maybe not.

    • JW24, nytwinsfan, rghrbek and 2 others like this
I'm thinking Nick Gordon for an overrated NL reliever we could make our closer.
    • SirLoin likes this

No worries. Yeah, shades of Joe Nathan follies during last night's 9th. (He got into trouble a lot, which we tend to forget.) Plouffe came through once again.

    • David HK likes this

Last night made me nervous, "watching" on game day.  And I don't disagree with the premise of this article.  Still, it almost feels like it had been sitting in a drawer, waiting to be posted after a game in which Kinzler was shaky.

 

The door is open for Duffy to embrace closing; when Kinzler was in trouble, I asked myself who they could call to clean up this mess, and I said Duffy, not Pressly.

 

Man, I'd like to see Melo and the Burdman soon.  Curtiss can be the drummer.

    • nytwinsfan, Eris and David HK like this

Not too many years ago, management had similar concerns about a contending team  with a sub-optimal closer and ended up trading Wilson Ramos for Matthew Capps.  Lets not even think about going there again.  It is even more challenging now as closers are even more expensive, e.g., last years deadline trades for Chapman and Miller will help make the Yankees contenders for years.

 

My biggest concern is that the decision to go to Kintzler in the 9th is almost automatic.  How about if a reliever is pitching well in the 8th, let him pitch the 9th too.  Right now, there are not too many good options.  I agree with Han Joelo, I would give the ball to Duffy.

    • mikelink45, nytwinsfan and David HK like this

Yeah, Melotakis and Burdi should be ready pretty soon (they should both be promoted to AAA today). Also, Turley is possible relief help if he's not in the rotation, and ditto Mejia.

 

I would under no circumstances trade a prospect for relief help at this point. If by the time the trade deadline comes around there is still no relief help from within in sight, then we can reconsider, but it just isn't worth trading a piece for another slightly above average reliever, when help is on the way from within.

    • Deduno Abides likes this

All I know is, having Kintzler as Kloser is running up my laundry bills, having to change trousers 2-3 times whenever the 9th inning rolls around with a lead...

    • Vanimal46 and gheggs42 like this

 

I'm thinking Nick Gordon for an overrated NL reliever we could make our closer.

 

I know this is a joke, but not funny!

    • Yoke, diehardtwinsfan, snepp and 3 others like this

I was just told several times yesterday that the bullpen was fine, that no one deserved to be promoted from AA to AAA, and that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Glad to see I'm not alone in wondering what the plan is.

    • rghrbek likes this
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nicksaviking
May 04 2017 07:53 AM

 

I feel he's better suited for a middle relief or setup role and I do believe that eventually the Twins are going to reach the same conclusion. It might take some turbulence to get there, but unless Kintzler can fundamentally change his peripheral composition, it's almost bound to happen.
 

 

It would be nice if our team would see the writing on the wall and act prior to, not after it's too late. I would guess if asked Molitor would justify keeping him in there by talking about loyalty and doing what's fair to Brandon.

 

Well there's 24 other players on the team who it isn't fair to if you lose games because you were being fair to a single guy.

    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this

So last year the general thought was Kintzler's not that valuable in a trade because he didn't have a long track record, nor a ton of saves to generate interest... Is that still going to be the case this year now that national publications are devaluing saves, and wanting to use goose eggs as the new metric? 

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nicksaviking
May 04 2017 08:08 AM

 

So last year the general thought was Kintzler's not that valuable in a trade because he didn't have a long track record, nor a ton of saves to generate interest... Is that still going to be the case this year now that national publications are devaluing saves, and wanting to use goose eggs as the new metric? 

 

Saves, goose eggs, Nobel Prizes; I think the other 29 teams will all decline to pick up the phone simply because of the 12% K rate.

    • Mike Sixel and Vanimal46 like this
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ashburyjohn
May 04 2017 08:26 AM

I was just told several times yesterday that the bullpen was fine, that no one deserved to be promoted from AA to AAA, and that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Glad to see I'm not alone in wondering what the plan is.

A difference of opinion on the Internet. A site doesn't speak all with one voice?

 

9b3.png

    • snepp, 70charger and drjim like this

No one on this team I would rather have on the mound.  Its not my nerves I am worried about.  Davis made me nervous, Reardon made me nervous, Aguilera probably made me nervous. Guardado made me nervous, Nathan made me nervous. Perkins made me nervous.  What I like about Kintzler is that HE doesn't seem nervous. Reminds me a lot of Eddie in a lot of ways and he ended up in the Twins HOF.  Yes, ground balls will sneak through but they will also be turned into outs and double plays.  Pressley has a ridiculous 9 SO/BB ratio and he has also given up 6 more runs in 3 fewer innings. Who would you rather have out there in the 9th. Maybe eventually some one else but I am fine with Kintzler for now. I am still way more concerned about the rotation.  Thrilled with Santiago and Santana and nonplussed with the other three.

    • mikelink45, KGB, howieramone2 and 1 other like this
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Nick Nelson
May 04 2017 08:36 AM

 

Last night made me nervous, "watching" on game day.  And I don't disagree with the premise of this article.  Still, it almost feels like it had been sitting in a drawer, waiting to be posted after a game in which Kinzler was shaky.

I figured some might see it this way. True story though: I usually post on Wednesdays and switched with Seth this week to take Thursday, so I already that this post written well ahead of last night's game and it was going up today either way. 

 

 

It would be nice if our team would see the writing on the wall and act prior to, not after it's too late. I would guess if asked Molitor would justify keeping him in there by talking about loyalty and doing what's fair to Brandon.

 

Well there's 24 other players on the team who it isn't fair to if you lose games because you were being fair to a single guy.

I mean, Kintzler has done absolutely nothing to deserve losing the job up to this point. So if we're talking about fairness, I'm not sure stripping him of closer duties based on the things discussed here adds up. But my hope is that the manager recognizes his ill-fitting skill set and keeps the leash short. Of course, that requires having a replacement on hand. 

    • chpettit19 and howieramone2 like this

 

A difference of opinion on the Internet. A site doesn't speak all with one voice?

 

9b3.png

 

if only that had been the tone.....and not that questioning the FO was just wrong/bad/evil....If only we could have disagreements w/o straw man attacks so often.

I am completely 200% against trading prospects for a reliever unless you are a WS contender and trading for Chapman/Miller. It's just not worth it.

Chih-Wei Hu made his MLB debut for the Rays back on April 24. He only pitched once and they just sent him back down, but it would be nice to have him in our system instead of getting nothing out of Kevin Jepsen.
    • Mike Sixel and Danchat like this

Duffey seems like the guy that should be in that role at this point, but my question is, have there been any teams recently to switch closers without the original closer hitting a real rough patch?

 

I don't think Kinzler can sustain this sort of thing, but I'm not sure that they'll make the switch until he blows a couple games.

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Nick Nelson
May 04 2017 08:55 AM

Here's another fact to chew on: since the start of 2016, Kintzler's 15.0% K rate ranks fifth-worse among relievers with 60+ IP.

 

Two other pitchers in the bottom 15 on that list opened this season as their team's closers: Jeanmar Gomez (PHI) and Sam Dyson (TEX). Both have already lost their jobs after immense early struggles. 

    • nicksaviking likes this
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nicksaviking
May 04 2017 09:07 AM

 

 

I mean, Kintzler has done absolutely nothing to deserve losing the job up to this point. So if we're talking about fairness, I'm not sure stripping him of closer duties based on the things discussed here adds up. But my hope is that the manager recognizes his ill-fitting skill set and keeps the leash short. Of course, that requires having a replacement on hand. 

 

But if the hypothesis of this article is that his peripherals show this will not continue, wouldn't the fair thing for everyone (except Kintzler) be to not let the inevitable happen in the first place?

    • Mike Sixel likes this

 

But if the hypothesis of this article is that his peripherals show this will not continue, wouldn't the fair thing for everyone (except Kintzler) be to not let the inevitable happen in the first place?

 

the reality is, most companies, let alone sports' teams, wait until something is broken ad hurting before making it better (or preventing the hurt in the first place). Indeed, because they don't want to be hasty or judgemental or abandon what they decided was right in the first place, they keep waiting even after it is broken, in case it turns back around. That's just how the world works for most of hte world.

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LA VIkes Fan
May 04 2017 09:31 AM

Good article and I agree with one exception. I think the Twins have already reached the conclusion that they need back end bullpen help. There just isn't anyone presently ready to provide that help in the minors with Chargois injured, and he stunk in ST (although those two things are probably related). I think that's why Duffy is still pitching in relief when we need starters and that's why Jay has been put into the bullpen. That bullpen is going to eventually collapse and the FO is trying to create options. It explains why they signed a couple of veteran relievers in the off season - we don't have anybody else that's ready NOW.  It also explains why Tonkin is still around despite failing almost every MLB test and they are clutching on to Haley.  They don't look great until you look at the other options. You look at the Rochester and Chatanooga rosters and you just don't see a whole lot there. Melotakis and Burdi have good stats this year but Burdi just got to AA and Melotakis hasn't pitched at the AAA level yet. Busenitz might be a competent middle reliever, but Rucinski is 28, Wimmers hasn't produced and nobody else stands out. What do you guys know about Nik Turley?

 

I think they are going to try to get by with Duffy in that Andrew Miller role, which should limit the importance of a closer, hope that Kintzler can hold up for a while, and hope that either Pressley can improve or someone like Burdi, Melotakis or Jay can be ready by August.  I agree that trading any sort of real prospect for a reliever is a TERRIBLE idea - we should be going the other way and trying to get a prospect for Belisle or Breslow.  Bottom line is there are no short term fixes here. We just gotta hope that this group can hold it together until the All Star break and at least one of the young guys can merge when things start to go south by late July and August.  

    • howieramone2 likes this

August? Why would we wait until August to call up Burdi or Melo? 

    • Dantes929 likes this

 

Last night made me nervous, "watching" on game day.  And I don't disagree with the premise of this article.  Still, it almost feels like it had been sitting in a drawer, waiting to be posted after a game in which Kinzler was shaky.

 

The door is open for Duffy to embrace closing; when Kinzler was in trouble, I asked myself who they could call to clean up this mess, and I said Duffy, not Pressly.

 

Man, I'd like to see Melo and the Burdman soon.  Curtiss can be the drummer.

I think they opened for Strawberry Alarm Clock at the Met back in the summer of '68...

    • USAFChief and bizaff like this

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