Mission Accomplished: An Elite Twins Bullpen
Image courtesy of © David Banks-USA TODAY SportsFor months there was a growing notion that the Twins would make a move. This club looked the part and jumped out to a big divisional lead. With a relief corps that could use some reinforcements, the front office would almost assuredly deal from depth to bolster the bullpen. Although it didn’t happen in as timely of a matter as some may have hoped, and there could have been some hiccups avoided mid-summer, moves came. Two veteran arms with high ceilings would be added to a back end that already had some promise.
But then, two became one, and a handful emerged.
Dyson was the best reliever dealt at the deadline. There were bigger names that weren’t moved, but it was he who had previous closing experience and top-notch stuff. He has since been shut down and it looks like his season may be over. Romo and his wipe-out slider are still getting the job done, and he’s stuck in high leverage as expected. One of the two moves worked, but it’s the ones set into motion many months before that are truly paying off.
Back in February I suggested that the Twins would win 92 games en route to a Central division crown. Chief among the reasons was the revamped coaching staff and infrastructure within the organization. The current group is a collaborative power that is constantly changing on the fly and looking for an opportunity to exploit the next level out of each player. For some, it takes longer to unlock then others, but if there’s a way this contingent of coaches is going to find the right buttons. There’s no more apparent area currently reflective of that then the bullpen.
Since the trade deadline the Twins have posted 2.9 fWAR (2nd in MLB). Their 2.06 BB/9 is the lowest in baseball as is the 3.58 FIP that suggests they’re even better than a fifth best 3.67 ERA. The 1.54 WPA is fifth in baseball and one of just 12 teams currently putting up positive numbers. No one has opponents chasing more than the Twins' 35.2% and the arms they’re doing it with are virtually all home grown.
You already know Taylor Rogers is an absolute menace. He’s a lefty with high velocity stuff that doesn’t care what side of the plate you stand on. Tyler Duffey owns 0.8 fWAR since August 1st and hasn’t given up a run since July 23 (a streak of 18.2 IP). He has a ridiculous 30/5 K/BB in that time, and looks the part of the elite closer that Minnesota drafted out of Rice way back in 2012.
Looking for his calling with the Twins, there’s no denying Trevor May appears to have found it. Despite an ugly breaking pitch against Cleveland, and one that Rafael Devers beat him on in Boston, his 20 innings since the deadline have been exceptional. May has generated 0.5 fWAR and has allowed just those two earned runs in 20.0 IP. He has a 25/4 K/BB and opposing batters have mustered a sad .325 OPS against him.
Arguably the most impressive work comes from the guy that the least was expected of. Still just 23-years-old, Zack Littell was asked to take a game against the Rays on the chin in May. He went back to Triple-A and transitioned to relief. Ramping up the velocity in shorter stints, he showcased his stuff in brief call-ups throughout the year. Now adding the time up, he’s pitched 24.2 innings in relief since June. Littell has allowed just two runs, both in the same outing, and has 21 strikeouts to his credit. He’s still working through command issues at times, but the .209 batting average against is exceptional.
With just two weeks left until postseason baseball, Minnesota’s earliest bugaboo has now become an area of strength. This isn’t a lineup that needs to pad a starter’s lead bridging a gap to Taylor Rogers. The Twins are something like six or seven deep in quality arms, and none of those guys could care less who is in the opposing batter's box. Opponents may not have heard of anyone aside from the elder statesmen Romo, but this is a group that will generate name recognition as they turn from the plate watching the ball go around the horn following any given at-bat.
There’s no denying that Rocco Baldelli is going to need a healthy dose of mix and match in October. Only the Astros go deep enough to throw starting cares to the wind. Teams like Minnesota will need to get what they can from the first man on the bump and then turn it over to the reinforcements behind the wall. Fortunately for this group, everyone from Baldelli to Wes Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, and the entirety of the minor league pitching support staff deserves a significant pat on the back for the speed with which they turned a deficiency into an asset.
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