Astros-Twins ALDS Preview: Which Bullpen Has the Edge?
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsMinnesota Twins
What has made the Minnesota Twins bullpen so formidable in this 2020 season has been their mix of dominant, high-end talent at the top of the bullpen, with exceptional depth throughout the back of their bullpen. No matter the occasion, the Twins are always able to throw out a quality arm who can get guys out at the plate.
Coming into 2020, the high end reliever for the Twins was supposed to be left hander, Taylor Rogers. That hasn’t exactly panned out as Rogers has struggled with consistency, and he has played himself into more of a matchup-type role rather than the no-doubt closer for the Minnesota Twins. Filling his role as the ace of the bullpen has been Tyler Duffey. Duffey has pitched like one of the best relievers in baseball over the last 14 months thanks to his outstanding command and ridiculous curveball that generates a whiff % of 41.3. The other carryovers from last year’s bullpen have been Sergio Romo and Trevor May. Sergio Romo still kills right handers, and while Trevor May struggled for much of this season, he hasn’t allowed a run in his last 8 appearances.
The new additions to the bullpen in 2020 have been what has really pushed this group over the top. That has started with Matt Wisler. Wisler was acquired off of waivers this offseason and has posted ridiculous numbers as his 1.07 ERA is third best among all American League pitchers with at least 20 IP. Tyler Clippard was acquired via free agency this offseason and has used reverse splits for much of the year to shut down left handed hitters. Finally there’s Caleb Thielbar and Jorge Alcalá at the back of the bullpen who have been surprise contributors for the Twins in 2020. Though they are at the back of the bullpen, don’t be surprised to see them get work this postseason.
Coming off of an excellent 2019 season in which the Astros bullpen finished with the 2nd best ERA in all of baseball, Houston’s bullpen hasn’t quite been as dominant in 2020. One key reason for this has been that their star closer, Roberto Osuna, only pitched in 4 games this season before being shelved with elbow problems. As a result, Houston was forced to shift everyone up in their bullpen and count on guys that weren’t originally in their plans.
The ace of the Astros bullpen is a name that Minnesota Twins fans should all know extremely well, Ryan Pressly. Pressly pitched with the Minnesota Twins for 5 and a half years before being traded away to the Astros in 2018 for Jorge Alcalá and Gilberto Celestino. Pressly hasn’t been quite as dominant this season as he was last year, but his 2.81 FIP indicates that he has been better than his numbers might suggest. After Ryan Pressly the Astros will trot out some unfamiliar names in Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley, and Andre Scrubb. None of these pitchers have experience on the playoff stage before.
The Astros have a tendency of moving starting pitchers into the bullpen in the playoffs. In 2017, Houston shifted Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton to the bullpen and found success. They figure to do the same this year by moving starting pitchers Josh James and Cristian Javier to the bullpen along with José Urquidy (figuring Framber Valdez starts game 2).
This group isn’t the dominant group of Roberto Osuna, Collin McHugh, Will Harris and Héctor Rondón from last season, but their mix of solid relievers with their starting pitchers should form a formidable group for the Wild Card round.
Who Has the Edge?
Above are the combined statistics of the expected relievers for each team in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. These numbers are different than the bullpen statistics for each team, but are a better indicator of the actual group that will be appearing over the next three days. As shown above, the Minnesota Twins group of relievers has a clear edge in terms of 2020 production. Twins relievers are striking out more batters while allowing less runs and less baserunners. At the top of the respective bullpens, Tyler Duffey has been performing better than Ryan Pressly, and down the list the Twins have better performers towards the bottom of their bullpen in Caleb Thielbar and Jorge Alcalá than do the Houston Astros.
While the Twins have the clear numbers advantage in terms of bullpen performance, the wild card will come from how well the Astros converted bullpen arms perform out of the bullpen. Many times we see converted bullpen arms put up better numbers in limited innings out of the bullpen than they do over 6 innings as the starting pitcher. In Josh James, Cristian Javier and José Urquidy, you could see stellar performances out of the bullpen that we might not be expecting or the numbers might not suggest based on how they’ve pitched as starting pitchers.
The other advantage for the Minnesota Twins comes from the fact that the Houston Astros are light on left handed bullpen arms. The Twins have struggled all season against left handed pitching, especially left handed relievers. The Astros best reliever, Ryan Pressly, is right handed and 6 of their 8 expected relievers will be right handed.
Do you think the Minnesota Twins edge the Houston Astros in relief pitching? Which reliever will be the biggest X-Factor for the Minnesota Twins in this series? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
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