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Cool Heat: Shaggy Is A Closer In Waiting

With his long curly locks and laid back attitude, JT Chargois fits the description you'd expect for a guy with the nickname Shaggy. On the surface, though, he doesn't quite match the prototype for an imposing late-inning reliever.

At least, until he lets loose that incredible fastball.
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA Today
Back in October, I wrote about the righty's heater, which measured up against some of the game's best in 2016. A glance at what others on that list managed to achieve on the mound is beyond encouraging. Among those who were able to throw that hard while avoiding tons of walks, there was basically universal success. Hitters aren't going to do much with consistent 97 MPH fastballs that find the zone, especially if there's any secondary pitch to play them up.

Chargois has that: a hard slider that registers in the upper-80s and keeps hitters from keying on his red-hot fastball. He also has shown the ability to keep both in the zone, though that wavers. His command certainly wasn't there in a disastrous MLB debut last June that saw him cough up five earned runs while recording only two outs and throwing less than half of his 30 pitches for strikes.

Ask the righty about that Saturday afternoon, and his easygoing smile evaporates.

"That kind of performance is not acceptable," Chargois said. "I don’t feel like that’s who I am, it’s not what I’m about."

What went wrong?

"Everything. Your dream’s coming true right in front of your eyes, and I have to do my job? That seems impossible."

The moment Chargois had long dreamed of quickly turned into a nightmare as a loaded Red Sox lineup turned a one-run ninth-inning lead into a blowout. Following a brilliant two-month run in the minors that earned him his promotion, he couldn't find any answers. The 25-year-old faced eight batters and six reached base as a carousel spun around him on the Target Field mound: three singles, two walks, a hit batsman, a run-scoring wild pitch.

Immediately after the game, he was optioned back to the minors. In Rochester, he picked up where he left off by limiting hits, missing bats and – most importantly – throwing strikes. In 17 outings after returning to the Red Wings, he walked only four of 93 batters faced. Two months later, he was back up in the big leagues and this time he was ready to show what he was about.

Appearing 24 times the rest of the way, he posted a 2.82 ERA, and finished strong by allowing just one run on six hits in his final 13 trips to the hill.

The impressive rebound put Chargois in a position where he now has a very realistic shot at winning a bullpen job this spring. But unsurprisingly, the manager wants to see more consistency and efficiency.

"We saw a little bit of both sides of that last year," Paul Molitor noted. "Strike thrower and aggressive, and the results were usually pretty good. And other times, you look up and he’s at 28 pitches to get through an inning."

This issue has nagged at Chargois at times in Grapefruit League play. Last Monday, he came on in relief of starter Justin Haley in the third inning and got two quick strikeouts, but things began to drag with several deep counts and an HBP before he finally wrapped it up.

"We had him slated to pitch two today," Molitor said afterward, "but he had a long inning, so I didn’t send him back out there for just seven or eight pitches."

Pitch economy was rarely a problem for Chargois after he made it his focus last year. Following that clunker debut, he averaged fewer than five pitches per out recorded the rest of the way, in both the minors and majors. That's where he wants to live. If he does, he can certainly set his sights on a late-inning role – perhaps the most coveted one.

Glen Perkins is destined to start the year on the shelf. While there is a general assumption that incumbent Brandon Kintzler will open as closer, Molitor has been reluctant to make that official. "I'm not going there yet," the skipper responded when I asked him about it last weekend.

One wonders if the door is being left open for Chargois. In one sense, his level of experience lags behind guys like Kintzler and Ryan Pressly, who've spent much more time in the majors. But in another sense, he has a significant edge.

Kintzler had never recorded a big-league save prior to 2016 and his pitch repertoire is hardly tailored to the gig, though he performed admirably when called upon last summer. Pressly brings gas but has no closing experience and Molitor seems disinclined to mess with the setup role where he proved capable.

Chargois, meanwhile, is a closer through and through. He dominated in that capacity as a junior for Rice University, and in the Cape Cod League, before the Twins made him the 72nd overall draft pick in 2012. Though he was selected during a time period where Minnesota was infatuated with trying to turn collegiate relievers into starters (they did so with Rice co-closer Tyler Duffey, whom they drafted three rounds later), there were never such inklings with Chargois.

After signing, he went to Elizabethton and closed. Injuries cost him the next two seasons, but when he returned in 2015 he went to Fort Myers and closed, then moved up to Chattanooga and did the same. Last year, he recorded 16 saves in Double-A and Triple-A. So it was fitting that his ill-fated first taste of the majors came in the ninth inning.

Sooner or later, it feels inevitable that Chargois will own the final frame for the Twins. And if the precedents set by other MLB closers who bring velocity in the same range – such as Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Edwin Diaz and Ken Giles – are any indication, he could become one of the league's best.

But before he lands the job, he must prove that he can tame that big heat, and the key to doing so might be keeping his cool. Luckily, that seems to come naturally to Chargois.


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61 Comments

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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 19 2017 09:20 PM
It's too bad the nickname "Louisiana Lightning" has already been used. How about "Louisiana Hot Sauce"?
    • Nick Nelson and Mike Frasier Law like this

Should be closer by next year, at age 27.  If we can manage to get between 3-5 years of solid closing out of him without getting hurt, maybe even more if we are lucky, that would be fantastic for this team going forward.  Remember that we've only gotten 3.5 years of closing out of Perkins.  I liked Kintzler in that role last year, but it's just not a good long-term solution.

It is time.  I look at age as a major factor for pitchers because arm and shoulder issues are inevitable.  Age 27 is actually getting old for a real prospect.  Its time to put him in and sink or swim. 

    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, DaveW and 6 others like this

Concur with mikelink. What better time than now to get him ready for the role? I'd like for him to be in the 8th inning set up role to start the season, then transition to closer full-time by July. 

    • Mike Sixel, LA VIkes Fan, SF Twins Fan and 1 other like this

Not so much even the age, but, for me, the position the Twins are in as far as competing.  Chargois needs to be the closer at the big league level so he gets the experience and he is ready when we really need him, which would be next year or after.  I like Kintzler but he is not the closer of the future.  Its time.

    • Mike Sixel and tarheeltwinsfan like this

Concur with mikelink. What better time than now to get him ready for the role? I'd like for him to be in the 8th inning set up role to start the season, then transition to closer full-time by July.


Based on what? He was ok down the stretch last year but hasn't exactly lit it up this spring.

Why the hurry to put players in significant roles they've done nothing to earn?
    • David HK and Shaitan like this

 

Based on what? He was ok down the stretch last year but hasn't exactly lit it up this spring.

Why the hurry to put players in significant roles they've done nothing to earn?

 

A 2.82 ERA in his final 24 appearances last year is just okay? I also pay zero attention to spring training stats. As long as he's still throwing heat, then let's put him in there. 

 

The hurry is so we can see some semblance of what the bullpen could be like in the future, since this will be another below .500 season. Or we could cater to all of the veterans and have Breslow/Belisle in the 8th inning, Kintzler in the 9th and pretend 2018 doesn't exist. 

    • Mike Sixel, rghrbek and David HK like this

A 2.82 ERA in his final 24 appearances last year is just okay? I also pay zero attention to spring training stats. As long as he's still throwing heat, then let's put him in there.

The hurry is so we can see some semblance of what the bullpen could be like in the future, since this will be another below .500 season. Or we could cater to all of the veterans and have Breslow/Belisle in the 8th inning, Kintzler in the 9th and pretend 2018 doesn't exist.


ERA is much less important than say k/9 and k/bb.

The alternatives right now are Pressly and Rogers bridging to Kintzler, not Berlisle and Breslow. I would take Pressly and Rogers way, way ahead of Chargois right now.

I endorse Chargois making the opening day roster as the last reliever (non long-man) and giving him opportunities to prove himself. If he does well, increase his role.

But throwing him into the 8th inning now is setting him up for failure and potentially sinking the season before it begins, and for nothing gained.
    • David HK and gheggs42 like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Mar 20 2017 08:19 AM
Kintzler (or Perkins if he returns) is not the future. Shaggy should at least get some chances to close right away in 2017, if not be given the job outright.
    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan and 2 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Mar 20 2017 08:29 AM

 

It's too bad the nickname "Louisiana Lightning" has already been used. How about "Louisiana Hot Sauce"?

I like it. Bayou Blaze? 

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Craig Arko, Oldgoat_MN and 3 others like this

 

ERA is much less important than say k/9 and k/bb.

The alternatives right now are Pressly and Rogers bridging to Kintzler, not Berlisle and Breslow. I would take Pressly and Rogers way, way ahead of Chargois right now.

I endorse Chargois making the opening day roster as the last reliever (non long-man) and giving him opportunities to prove himself. If he does well, increase his role.

But throwing him into the 8th inning now is setting him up for failure and potentially sinking the season before it begins, and for nothing gained.

It's time to replace management by rote with flexibility--use bullpen by committee. To be blunt, this team doesn't have proven veterans for defined roles and it is pointless to make believe that they do. Using a designated 7th, 8th, and 9th inning pitcher is self-defeating and lazy thinking.  Challenge the guys to prove they belong in the majors first and rotate them based on availability and success ("the hot hand").  Time will tell who's who.

    • Mike Sixel, David HK, Tom Froemming and 2 others like this

I used to think I was too high on prospects and young players.

    • Mike Sixel and Oldgoat_MN like this

 

It's time to replace management by rote with flexibility--use bullpen by committee. To be blunt, this team doesn't have proven veterans for defined roles and it is pointless to make believe that they do. Using a designated 7th, 8th, and 9th inning pitcher is self-defeating and lazy thinking.  Challenge the guys to prove they belong in the majors first and rotate them based on availability and success ("the hot hand").  Time will tell who's who.

 

What does this even mean?

 

I recommend this interview with Perkins for some player perspective on why constantly shifting roles doesn't work over the long haul of a season.

 

https://soundcloud.c...th-glen-perkins

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stringer bell
Mar 20 2017 08:57 AM
Pressly also has the stuff to be a closer. I'd like to see him get a chance, although as I remember it, he wasn't great in close and late situations last year (of course they didn't have that many). The BP could be all right, if everybody lives up to expectations.
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Dave The Dastardly
Mar 20 2017 09:01 AM

An aggressive manager (like Dougie) would have Shaggy on the major league team. Molitor has no patience for young players and prefers not to use the yutes (apologies to Cousin Vinny) until they're at least 30 years old and have proven themselves to be perfect while throwing their arms out in the minors. Somebody should prod Molly every now and then and make sure he hasn't fallen asleep.

    • David HK likes this

 

The alternatives right now are Pressly and Rogers bridging to Kintzler, not Berlisle and Breslow. I would take Pressly and Rogers way, way ahead of Chargois right now.

 

Cue to Seth Stoh's article where he says Belisle is the bridge to Kintzler in 3, 2, 1......

 

 

What does this even mean?

 

I recommend this interview with Perkins for some player perspective on why constantly shifting roles doesn't work over the long haul of a season.

 

https://soundcloud.c...th-glen-perkins

Several issues here:  Nobody has earned a defined role (maybe not even Molitor!)  Second, baseball has evolved to place a higher value on the "fireman" role--base runner(s), close score, dangerous hitter(s)--a "tough" job.  Third, the "closer's role is overvalued and grossly overpaid compared to the firemen. Last, I wouldn't be citing Perkins.  He strikes me as the guy who was trying to avoid pressure situations and maximize salary at the same time.  Entering a game at the start of an inning, with a lead (which was often two or even three) is a much easier task than entering with base runners and the score tied (or even behind).  The "closer" got much glory and a huge paycheck, but each game still counts only one.  

    • Mike Sixel, Oldgoat_MN, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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Willihammer
Mar 20 2017 10:27 AM
Perkins' point in the interview is that he prefers to have a clearly defined role to one that changes day to day based on game situations. Be it closer, 8th inning, 7th inning, or long relief. He talks about adrenaline and preparation and how routine helps during a 162 game season. Its a fair point but I tend to think a more communicative manager might be able to address some of these concerns and get more flexibility out of his players.
    • Oldgoat_MN and David HK like this

 

ERA is much less important than say k/9 and k/bb.

 

I would think that the way to prove k/9 and k/bb are effective would be an associated low ERA....

    • David HK and Broker like this

 

I would think that the way to prove k/9 and k/bb are effective would be an associated low ERA....

 

Not in that few of innings, and especially not when projecting effectiveness going forward.

 

And especially not for relievers.

    • Mike Sixel and James like this

 

Perkins' point in the interview is that he prefers to have a clearly defined role to one that changes day to day based on game situations. Be it closer, 8th inning, 7th inning, or long relief. He talks about adrenaline and preparation and how routine helps during a 162 game season. Its a fair point but I tend to think a more communicative manager might be able to address some of these concerns and get more flexibility out of his players.

 

I think there can be some flexibility, but not nearly as much as is one might think. It might be something like "you have this sequence of hitters after the 6th inning" more than you are only going to pitch in the 8th or be a closer.

 

It is too hard to chase leverage, pitchers can't warm up quickly and cool down and expect to get up again. There is a reason relievers are sequenced based on situation.

    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this

 

I think there can be some flexibility, but not nearly as much as is one might think. It might be something like "you have this sequence of hitters after the 6th inning" more than you are only going to pitch in the 8th or be a closer.

 

It is too hard to chase leverage, pitchers can't warm up quickly and cool down and expect to get up again. There is a reason relievers are sequenced based on situation.

 

I do agree that there is some middle ground that is more realistic.

 

The only actual research on manager effectiveness is based on RP usage, including warming them up (though that data is VERY HARD to collect). It is clear that getting RPs up and down a lot is very bad for them. So, you'd have to be very well planned out to be more flexible....and have lots of guys you can send to AAA and back to get them some rest.

    • USAFChief likes this
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Willihammer
Mar 20 2017 11:41 AM

I think there can be some flexibility, but not nearly as much as is one might think. It might be something like "you have this sequence of hitters after the 6th inning" more than you are only going to pitch in the 8th or be a closer.
 
It is too hard to chase leverage, pitchers can't warm up quickly and cool down and expect to get up again. There is a reason relievers are sequenced based on situation.

That's where communication comes in. A good manager, IMO, gives players insight into his thought process so that they are looking at score, days rest, spot in the opponents order, handedness, etc, all the components of leverage, so that everyone is on the same page.

 

That's where communication comes in. A good manager, IMO, gives players insight into his thought process so that they are looking at score, days rest, spot in the opponents order, handedness, etc, all the components of leverage, so that everyone is on the same page.

 

I agree, but would also argue this naturally settles into roles that we generally see and recognize (at least during the majority of the regular season).

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Willihammer
Mar 20 2017 12:55 PM

I agree, but would also argue this naturally settles into roles that we generally see and recognize (at least during the majority of the regular season).

Is it possible to give players the comfort of routine while also being friendly to analytics, that's the question I'm getting at. I think its possible to do both, it just requires the manager to define roles based on the components of leverage and not innings, save situation, etc.

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