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The Rays got their man at the deadline. Arggggh!

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Today saw a few key promotions on the farm with Gilberto Celestino (acquired in the Ryan Pressly trade) moved up to Fort Myers after a to...
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Intro to Building a Bullpen-MLB 101

Ever since the Twins decided to stop playing in a stadium that had the aesthetic of a bowling alley, it has felt like they've needed to improve the bullpen. I’m not saying there is a correlation here, but maybe the threat of a screaming foul ball taking care of someone’s shin made the relievers pitch just a little better in the Metrodome. Personally, I don’t think I have trusted a Twins bullpen since 2010 when they had Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain and, *gulp*, Matt Capps sitting out there in left-center.
Image courtesy of © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
And my oddly specific intuition is mostly correct. Since that year, the Twins have been ranked the 29th, 25th, 4th, 23rd, 23rd, 21st, 19th and 18th best bullpen respectively by fWAR each year from 2011 to now. That comes out to an average of ~20th each year that is propped up massively by the one year it was actually good. Meaning that the bullpen has been near the top of the to-do list during the offseason for quite some time now.

This offseason was no different, while the bullpen was technically the best it had been since 2013, it was obvious that they needed to upgrade with some reliever additions if they wanted a chance to build a stable pen. And so we waited and waited this offseason as cheap, reliable veteran relievers were signed and so far the bullpen addition has been … Blake Parker.

I’m being a bit unfair here because Parker had an incredible 2017 with the Angels and was still pretty good last year. There also appears to be internal help as Fernando Romero has also been moved to the pen along with possibly Martin Perez or Adalberto Mejia. Also internally, Trevor Hildenberger and Addison Reed present themselves as interesting bounce-back candidates but I really only trust the server of sliders to actually do so (imaginary sliders, not real ones, it does annoy me slightly that Hildy’s best pitch is actually the changeup but that’s neither here nor there).

One interesting thing from the numbers I presented earlier was that 2013 bullpen, going from 25th the year before to fourth is quite the drastic jump. While I won’t be looking at that bullpen specifically as the target of this article, I will be looking at another similar bullpen example in the Padres. San Diego’s bullpen in 2017 was ranked 24th in ERA, 29th in FIP, and 29th in fWAR. In 2018, their bullpen was ranked sixth in ERA, second in FIP, and second in fWAR. These are all major improvements from only a one year difference. How did they do it? Well hop on in and I’ll break down how their personnel changed and what the major factors for these drastic turnarounds were.

Let’s start with the Padres in 2017, here are the eight relievers who logged the most innings for the Padres out of the bullpen in 2017 ranked by total innings:

Attached Image: PenChart1.png

These players made up the majority of the second-worst bullpen that year, and here’s how they lined up in 2018 with asterisks on the returning players:

Attached Image: PenChart2.png

A few things here, this is now the second straight article I have made that references Robbie Erlin, I don’t know how to feel about that. Also, the Padres really blurred the line between starter and reliever so many of these guys logged innings in both roles which forced me to check how they got their innings for this article to be accurate which was a pain in the butt. Also, Jordan Lyles has a negative career rWAR, stop giving him jobs. And finally, who was the leader in rWAR for the Padres last year? That’s right, Hunter Renfroe apparently was, what an odd team.

Anyways, let’s ignore my semi-coherent rambling thoughts and talk about the topic at hand, the 2018 Padres only saw four guys remain from the previous year along with 4 fresh faces who made major impacts on the 2018 team. Where did all of these guys come from? Well, let’s break that down also:

Free Agency-Craig Stammen, Jordan Lyles
Trade-Matt Strahm, Robbie Erlin
Developed-Adam Cimber, Phil Maton
Waiver claim-Brad Hand, Kirby Yates

An awfully balanced way to build a pen, almost suspiciously balanced. Why is it suspicious? I don’t know, it just is.

Even those free agent additions weren’t big name tickets, as mentioned before, Lyles holds a negative career rWAR and Stammen was consistent for years with the Nationals but had missed two whole years of major league time before latching on with the Padres in 2017. Strahm was a talented lefty with the Royals who came over when the Royals were actually buyers in 2017 (if you can believe that) while Erlin was in the Mike Adams trade many moons ago (y’all remember Mike Adams)?

Maton and Cimber were never highly rated prospects in the consistently great Padres system but worked themselves up through the ranks before getting their major league chances in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Hand and Yates are interesting cases. Hand was a struggling starter for years with the Marlins before San Diego claimed him, made him a reliever, and turned him into Andrew Miller Lite. Yates bounced around a few teams and had decent peripherals in some small samples but when even the Rays don’t want an extra look at you, that’s usually a bad sign. But he added a splitter when he joined the Padres and then became death, the destroyer of worlds.

All in all, this is an awfully long-winded way of saying that a team doesn’t need to make a big splash to have an elite bullpen. The Padres used wood, glue and duct tape to build one of the best bullpens in the game thanks to their pitching coach Darren Balsley and a front office that has an eye for talent and the patience to let that talent develop.

The Twins will look to somewhat follow suit as they advance in 2019 hoping that players like Matt Magill, Fernando Romero and possibly an NRI or two can improve under the eyes of Wes Johnson and stick in the Twins pen to give them a similar boost that the Padres saw in 2018. Talent takes many shapes, sometimes it's hard to see how a player can become great, but oftentimes they’re just a few adjustments away from letting their skill shine. Along with improving internally, the Padres were also forward thinking on how they could get the most from their pitching staff as they utilized them more as “out-getters” rather than designating them specifically as starters or relievers.

On the outside, it doesn't appear as if the Padres made any major moves to go from one of the worst bullpens in baseball to one of the best. And even after they traded Hand and Cimber to the Indians, they went on to have the highest bullpen fWAR in all of baseball in the second half! All they did was improve everyone by just a little bit and the effects were enormous, having a system of internal improvement will yield results that ripple throughout the entire team more than any single signing can. So, if Wes and the boys prove to be the difference makers they all seem to be, the Twins could easily follow in the footsteps of the Padres and have a great bullpen in 2019.

Oh, and last year the Padres paid less for all of those eight guys than what Addison Reed alone made.

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16 Comments

Great article. I hope the optimism is warranted! I guess we'll see, but I am dreading the dozen one-run losses that are sure to occur in the first six weeks. 

For fun, I'll break down how the Twins probable 2019 bullpen breaks down by the way the player was acquired:

 

Free Agency-Addison Reed, Matt Magill, Blake Parker

Trade-Trevor May, Adalberto Mejia

Developed-Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, Fernando Romero

Waiver claim-

 

This is my best guess at least, interesting to see the difference but I don't think it means a whole lot

    • glunn, mikelink45 and MN_ExPat like this
I really appreciated the article and effort it took. What it comes down to, in a nutshell, is how do you build a bullpen?

If there was an easy answer, then teams like the Tigers, a few years ago, would have taken their lineup and amazing starting staff and won at least one WS.

For all the gruff Ryan has endured, one thing he was good at, being a scout at heart, is he found ways to build a pen. Guys like Guardado, Trombley, Nathan, Guerrier, and so many others weren't FA RP that signed up. They were trades, fliers, failed or average starters. Again, were it easy, everyone would do it. Going back even further how many quality RP did McPhail find?

Considering the volatility of the position, I can forgive the FO, a bit, for not making at least a solitary move other than bringing Parker in. To help stabilize things, there wasn't ONE GUY you felt good enough to take on board? That bothers me.

Even with Reed looking like toast and needing IR, at least, I see the potential here. But even with a smart FO who has brought in a couple interesting fliers who have performed well and could surprise at some point, is there somebody here who we can really count on?

Romero and Mejia could both be in the rotation still at some point, 2019 or 2020. But they also have the stuff to be excellent relievers. May is a potential stud. Parker is nice. Which version of Hildenberger do we get? Rogers is very good! Can Johnson get Magill to take his heat and slider/slurve to a more consistent level? I am very hopeful when I look at what is on hand, and the backup options awaiting, potentially, at Rochester.

But right now, I am feeling concerned we don't have that #1 guy we can count on and turn to and lead our bullpen.
    • glunn likes this

Speaking of which, you should see my wipe-out sinker. I hold it with that V grip, then throw it at about 50 mph. The downward sink is amazing. In fact, all my pitches bend down like that, at about 50 mph, including my sinking fastball and my 12 to 6 curve. Sadly, the curve never quite makes it to the plate. Maybe if I try to throw it over the back stop...

    • ashbury, glunn, DocBauer and 3 others like this

The pain is that with so many "prospects" on the roster - Littell, Thorpe, Moya, Vasquez, Romero, Gonsalves, Stewart (and Wade, Arraez and Gordon), the Twins ability to play musical chairs with any of the minor league free agent types is hit-and-miss. You play them, discard them (and they might move on) but you do need a 40-man spot for them to take.

 

So do the prospects get the call first or names like Harper and Morin and Collns and Guilmet as well as the placeholders currently on the 40-man like Magill and Duffey (and maybe Mejia).

 

Who will close?

 

No situational lefty anymore...these guys are having their career destroyed now having to pitch to 3 guys!

    • DocBauer and BJames like this

I can see why Romero is in the Pen.To me, he hasn't looked that great.He seem to lack a cure or solid offspeed pitch.To me, he's just getting by on his fastball.On the other hand guys like Gonsalves and Stewart seem to be able to mix in more pitches.  

    • DocBauer and howieramone2 like this
I can remember in 2002 following spring training that a guy like JC Romero was going to be lights out. I hadn't hardly heard of him before that spring training, I mean I knew they tried to start him a few times the year before but honestly I didn't think much of him. Anyway that year the twins put together a bullpen that included
Guardado, failed starter
Latroy Hawkins failed starter
JC Romero failed starter
Johan Santana, rule 5 pickup, flirted with starting some games, didn't become a full time starter till 2004.
Bob Wells journeyman, prob failed starter
Tony fiore mid season pickup
Michael Jackson, (hee hee), prob a waiver wire pickup, I'm not sure
Juan Rincon prob failed starter.

That was one of the better bullpens in recent twins history and look at that conglomerate of guys, I'd say not much hope for those guys until the season played out and that team won 94 games.
    • glunn and DocBauer like this
However, right now seeing Reed, Duffy and Hildendinger isn't exciting me a whole lot. Like I said in the above is that those guys looked tough in spring training. Not like Reed has so far, those guys weren't getting lit up in the spring. So I'm not sold yet, I am hoping for the best though!
    • DocBauer and Doctor Wu like this

 

Ever since the Twins decided to stop playing in a stadium that had the aesthetic of a bowling alley,

I never thought of the Metrodome that way before, but it might help to explain some of my fondness for the place. :)

    • Doctor Wu likes this

Speaking of which, you should see my wipe-out sinker. I hold it with that V grip, then throw it at about 50 mph. The downward sink is amazing. In fact, all my pitches bend down like that, at about 50 mph, including my sinking fastball and my 12 to 6 curve. Sadly, the curve never quite makes it to the plate. Maybe if I try to throw it over the back stop...


Hilarious!

I wasn't blessed with great athletic genes, just a small/average amount and a lot of effort and "want to", lol. But when my dad and I used to play catch, he would always comment and laugh that I had a natural break to everything I threw.

If only I had been born LH!
    • jimbo92107 and railmarshalljon like this

 

I can remember in 2002 following spring training that a guy like JC Romero was going to be lights out. I hadn't hardly heard of him before that spring training, I mean I knew they tried to start him a few times the year before but honestly I didn't think much of him. Anyway that year the twins put together a bullpen that included
Guardado, failed starter
Latroy Hawkins failed starter
JC Romero failed starter
Johan Santana, rule 5 pickup, flirted with starting some games, didn't become a full time starter till 2004.
Bob Wells journeyman, prob failed starter
Tony fiore mid season pickup
Michael Jackson, (hee hee), prob a waiver wire pickup, I'm not sure
Juan Rincon prob failed starter.

That was one of the better bullpens in recent twins history and look at that conglomerate of guys, I'd say not much hope for those guys until the season played out and that team won 94 games.

 

That was a pretty good bullpen turnaround in 2002, although actually Guardado had been solid for quite a few years by that point already (it was partially masked by league run scoring being very high). Hawkins was effective in 2000 and the first half of 2001 too before collapsing, although credit to him for putting collapse behind him and kicking up his performance another notch in 2002.

 

Mike Jackson was getting old by then, so he was on a minor league deal in spring 2002, but he was a pretty good reliever in his time and was probably a lock for the roster. Was the closer on some pretty good Cleveland teams, and even got MVP votes in 1998, apparently. Career 18.9 WAR which is impressive for a career spent mostly as a setup guy.

 

Wells was pretty good in 1999-2000, but pretty bad in 2001-2002 too. I remember being puzzled when we gave him a multi-year deal covering those years. (And Wells wasn't much of a failed starter in his pro career -- mostly just an undrafted free agent who did some spot starting.)

 

Rincon wasn't much of a factor until 2003.

    • DocBauer likes this

The pain is that with so many "prospects" on the roster - Littell, Thorpe, Moya, Vasquez, Romero, Gonsalves, Stewart (and Wade, Arraez and Gordon), the Twins ability to play musical chairs with any of the minor league free agent types is hit-and-miss. You play them, discard them (and they might move on) but you do need a 40-man spot for them to take.
 
So do the prospects get the call first or names like Harper and Morin and Collns and Guilmet as well as the placeholders currently on the 40-man like Magill and Duffey (and maybe Mejia).
 
Who will close?
 
No situational lefty anymore...these guys are having their career destroyed now having to pitch to 3 guys!


Great points!

Concentrating just on the bullpen side of things, it seems the FO has made some really smart, small signings. Now, I know it's only ST and that SSS vs career numbers and stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt. But the truth is, a couple of the arms brought in have looked good. Morin and Collins may not be special, but they have had real ML success and experience before being derailed by injury. I am still trying to figure out Harper! With his tremendous numbers in his milb career, and that AMAZING curveball, why has he bounced around and never had a cup of coffee? Does he have a bad FB? I really want to know!

One of the things I like about this new FO is they aren't afraid to look for opportunity. I didn't like the Perez signing, still very unsure about it, but he's had a great spring, is slinging mid to upper 90's, and the former top prospect is working with Johnson on his approach and pretty much everything else. Is this a potential find? Jury is still out, of course.

I don't think this FO, or this new staff, is playing favorites or "scholarshiping" players. Witness Duffey just being sent down. I really enjoy all the new approaches I'm seeing being implemented. It seems the staff is really refining everything from delivery to pitching to strength for each individual pitcher. It's WAY too early to see if they will be successful. But Romero to the pen makes so much sense as he continues to develop his secondary stuff. (Maybe he overthrows)? Could Magill harness his FB and slurve and take a step forward? Is Harper a find?

This staff and FO seem to understand that building a bullpen is a nuance, and not an exact science. Now, will they get it right? Only time will tell. I am really hoping at least a couple of these guys will pass through waivers and end up at Rochester for depth.

I'm not "settled" in my opinion of the pen. But I am more optimistic than I was a month ago.
    • howieramone2 likes this

I can see why Romero is in the Pen.To me, he hasn't looked that great.He seem to lack a cure or solid offspeed pitch.To me, he's just getting by on his fastball.On the other hand guys like Gonsalves and Stewart seem to be able to mix in more pitches.


Control of his electric stuff is an issue, like it is for a lot of young pitchers. And I agree, something off speed has to be developed or he will remain in the pen. That wouldnt be a terrible thing, of course. I sometimes wonder if he is just too focused on heat. Maybe if he lost just a mile or two off his FB and slider, and continued to refine SOMETHING off speed, he might have better control and fool the batters more. That could slide him right back in to the rotation mix in the near future.

That was a pretty good bullpen turnaround in 2002, although actually Guardado had been solid for quite a few years by that point already (it was partially masked by league run scoring being very high). Hawkins was effective in 2000 and the first half of 2001 too before collapsing, although credit to him for putting collapse behind him and kicking up his performance another notch in 2002.
 
Mike Jackson was getting old by then, so he was on a minor league deal in spring 2002, but he was a pretty good reliever in his time and was probably a lock for the roster. Was the closer on some pretty good Cleveland teams, and even got MVP votes in 1998, apparently. Career 18.9 WAR which is impressive for a career spent mostly as a setup guy.
 
Wells was pretty good in 1999-2000, but pretty bad in 2001-2002 too. I remember being puzzled when we gave him a multi-year deal covering those years. (And Wells wasn't much of a failed starter in his pro career -- mostly just an undrafted free agent who did some spot starting.)
 
Rincon wasn't much of a factor until 2003.


But what's great about all of this is that it proves building a bullpen is not just a science...sign this guy and that guy and trade for that guy...its more of an art.

I have often mentioned previously, and did earlier in this thread, about the Tiger teams that seemed to have everything going their way for more than a couple of years but could never get over the hump because their bullpen was always a mess.

I still feel the FO blew it by not bringing in a single, talented, experienced arm to settle the pen. Just too many factors, issues and inexperience not to make that one important move. But Nathan and Aguilera weren't proven. Neither were guys like Trombley and Guerrier.

Until proven otherwise, I am high and optimistic in regard to May, Rogers, Romero, Parker and Mejia. I question Hildenberger, but know what he's done in the past. There a couple of fliers that could turn out, initially or brought up from Rochester. I am NOT sold! But I am optimistic.

That was a pretty good bullpen turnaround in 2002, although actually Guardado had been solid for quite a few years by that point already (it was partially masked by league run scoring being very high). Hawkins was effective in 2000 and the first half of 2001 too before collapsing, although credit to him for putting collapse behind him and kicking up his performance another notch in 2002.

Mike Jackson was getting old by then, so he was on a minor league deal in spring 2002, but he was a pretty good reliever in his time and was probably a lock for the roster. Was the closer on some pretty good Cleveland teams, and even got MVP votes in 1998, apparently. Career 18.9 WAR which is impressive for a career spent mostly as a setup guy.

Wells was pretty good in 1999-2000, but pretty bad in 2001-2002 too. I remember being puzzled when we gave him a multi-year deal covering those years. (And Wells wasn't much of a failed starter in his pro career -- mostly just an undrafted free agent who did some spot starting.)

Rincon wasn't much of a factor until 2003.


Yeah, my point was that none of those guys were big splash guys and that bullpen was solid. So hopefully they do well this year.
Photo
Aerodeliria
Mar 18 2019 10:04 AM
Last year, I only got to see A. Reed pitch against the Angels (twice). By that point in time, he was already toast. His fastball had almost zero movement and the Angels scorched a few of those fastballs. He tried to blow a fastball past Simmons off the outside part of the plate. Simmons absolutely crushed it to left field. Reed scares me.

So is he on the IR...or was that a suggestion?

I am hopeful about Hildenberger, maybe because the last time I saw him pitch was actually two years ago.

I liked May's approach last year. To me he seems like he has the goods to be a closer.

The remaining members are 'those mysteries inside of a riddle.'

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