Replicating the Relief Success in Minnesota
Image courtesy of © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsBack in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft the Twins selected Kohl Stewart with the 4th overall pick. After peaking at 28th in the Baseball Prospectus top 100 in 2015, his fall from grace has been both long and hard. Stewart never possessed good strikeout stuff on the farm, but from his ERA darted the wrong way each of the past two seasons. Even with those concerns, he was the first prospect called upon down the stretch by the Twins and he turned in 36.2 IP during his big-league debut.
Employing the opener strategy, Minnesota subjected Stewart to just four traditional starts. His other experience came in the form of piggybacking off an initial reliver. What’s interesting about the output though, is that Stewart benefitted by avoiding the first inning. Working as a traditional starter, Kohl posted a 6.61 ERA across 16.1 IP while never making it out of the 5th inning. In the next four games with an opener, he lasted at least five innings three times and owned a 1.33 ERA with a .424 OPS against.
Regardless of the situational improvement, Stewart’s strikeout stuff didn’t change much. While going good he still tallied just a 13/9 K/BB. The .185 BABIP was reflective of a guy that generated ground balls over 55% of the time when he was on his game. A guy like Stewart has significant value if he can keep the ball in the yard and generate easy outs. By being stingy in surrendering line drives, batters were rarely able to exploit a pitcher that wasn’t setting them down.
It’s not as though Stewart saw a significant jump in velocity when working in relief, after all the intention was to still have him pitch significant innings. What he did change in his latter outings was the reliance on his curveball. After utilizing his bender just 8% of the time in his four starts, he went to it nearly 14% of the time after the opener. A heavy fastball and curveball mix helped to keep opposing hitters on their toes.
Recently turning 24 years-old, there’s probably no reason to completely shut the door on Stewart continuing to work as a starter. He’ll likely begin the year at Triple-A serving as depth for the big-league club. That said, Fernando Romero remains ahead of him, and both Stephen Gonsalves and Adalberto Mejia make more sense in the rotation than the pen. With Stewart stretched out some, working him into somewhat of a long man role could be an enticing possibility.
It took longer than desired by fans (and likely Kohl himself) for the former first rounder to reach the big leagues. Now that he’s made his debut and we’ve gotten a taste of what it may look like, there could be a role in which he thrives to an even greater extent. As the roster evolves players are always going to look for their best opportunity to contribute. For Kohl, a relief role could unlock a heightened level of effectiveness and help the Twins to build on an area of deficiency in the process.
- Monkeypaws, mikelink45, DocBauer and 3 others like this