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Twelve's a Crowd: Handicapping the Playoff Pitching Staff

If you'd told me two months ago that the Twins would be so brimming with quality bullpen talent by the end of September, they'd be looking at leaving out deserving candidates from the postseason roster... well, I'd have given you a real funny look.

But, here we are. Even with deadline centerpiece Sam Dyson fizzling out entirely, the Twins have the second-highest bullpen WAR in baseball since they acquired him. With the relief corps figuring to play a pivotal role in this year's postseason run, let's examine some of the difficult decisions being weighed.
Image courtesy of Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
In projecting the playoff bullpen, we need to set a few parameters. We'll presume that the Twins carry 12 pitchers, which is generally the most you'll see given the reduced need for starting depth. Even the Brewers, who last year bullpened their way through the playoffs, carried only 12 pitchers.

So, we can safely assume that six of those pitchers will be Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Sergio Romo. Next, there is a batch of borderline locks: Randy Dobnak, Martin Perez, Devin Smeltzer. The length these guys provide is essential, especially with Minnesota possibly planning on multiple bullpen games in a series. One might quibble with Perez's presence in that second group, but I think his effectiveness against lefties (.592 OPS) solidifies his bid, given the lack of specialist alternatives.

That leaves us with, at most, three open spots for the taking. And that's if the Twins elect to carry a shorthanded bench in favor of additional pen flexibility. Here are the candidates, listed from most-to-least viable as I see it:

1. Cody Stashak, RHP

Stashak has ever-so-quietly put together a dominant showing in his major-league debut, posting a 23-to-1 K/BB ratio through his first 22 innings with an elite swing-and-miss rate. Control and stuff: two traits you absolutely want in your bullpen against imposing lineups filled with sluggers. The only question is how Stashak, a former 13th-round draft pick who opened this season in Double-A, will handle the pressure of such a stage. There's been zero indication to this point that he'll be rattled much.

2. Zack Littell, RHP

In his second appearance of the season, Littell wore one against the Rays, giving up eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in mop-up duty. Since then, Littell has a 0.94 ERA over 25 appearances. He vacillates between a 94 MPH fastball and 87 MPH cutter in equal measure, and the formula's been very effective for him. Littell has recorded five or six outs in three of his past four appearances, so he's primed to handle a couple innings. That's very handy for the Twins in their situation. You could make a fair case that Littell should be No. 1 on this list, or even in the lock category.

3. Brusdar Graterol, RHP

The 21-year-old's initial exposure to the majors has had its ups and downs, but the invigorating high points reaffirm his potential impact. Graterol is the kind of weapon you like to have at your disposal in tight contests, bringing triple-digit heat that's tough to square up when he locates it. Obviously there's an added level of risk and uncertainty at play here, but I think the Twins will wisely accept that in tandem with his upside.

4. Lewis Thorpe, LHP

Now we're getting into the "outside looking in" group. Thorpe is an interesting case, because he offers length the Twins might value in front-to-back bullpen games. But he has a 6.15 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. There have been moments where Thorpe's looked really good, and his competitive moxy would fit right in with the intensity of October, but it's hard to imagine the Twins calling on him for multiple innings in a playoff game. He hasn't been good against lefties so match-ups don't really factor.

5. Kyle Gibson, RHP

The Twins have given Gibson every chance. His last three appearances cascaded into catastrophe, systematically eroding the notion that he can help in any kind of postseason role. First, Gibson came back from an IL respite and got bashed for six runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Then, he made a relief appearance and promptly gave up a costly home run. Most recently, he was an erratic mess against Kansas City, failing to complete two innings. Over his past five appearances, opponents are hitting .413 against Gibson. The physically-hampered righty continues to miss bats even in this diminished state, which is the only solace I'll take in the (likely?) event that the team carries him out of sheer loyalty.

6. Fernando Romero, RHP

At the beginning of the season, it would've been easy to envision Romero at the head of this conversation. But that was a long time ago, and the 24-year-old has since had a rough go of things. Constantly wrestling with his command, Romero has seen his upper-90s fastball fail to garner the desired results, in both Triple-A and the majors. There's still a glimmer of intrigue in that raw arsenal, but he's been too shaky to merit any trust.

7. Ryne Harper, RHP

It's a raw deal for Harper. He was a vital bullpen fixture in the first half. He's a great story. I'd love to see him playing a role in the postseason. I just don't think the Twins can justify carving out a spot for him. Harper's heavy reliance on a big slow curveball, supplemented by a sub-mediocre fastball, was solved by big-league hitters after about three months, resulting in a 5.51 ERA and .318 opponents' average since the break. The idea of serving those pitches up against a bloodthirsty Yankees or Astros lineup is... discomforting.

8. Trevor Hildenberger, RHP

Given his history, Hildenberger might've nudged his way back into the postseason picture -- despite his immense struggles over the past year-plus -- had he managed to string together a few shutdown performances here in September. But that hasn't happened. The righty looks awful. In three appearances since returning to the Twins, he's allowed six runs on six hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings, with two swinging strikes on 59 pitches. He's not usable.

9. Kohl Stewart, RHP

Stewart's last three appearances for the Twins have come against likely postseason teams: OAK, NYY, ATL, WAS. Here's how that went: 7 IP, 13 H, 10 ER (12.86 ERA), 6 K, 3 BB, 2 HR. He serves no purpose outside of mopping up meaningless innings and that's just not a guy you need around in a five-game playoff series.

10. Jorge Alcala, RHP

The fact that he has made one appearance since being called up 10 days ago, as the sixth pitcher in a game that slipped out of hand late, tells you all you need to know about where he stands in this bullpen hierarchy. Alcala is merely an extra emergency arm to have around for September, and it's become clear he was never auditioning for anything more.

Based on these rankings and the supposition of a 12-man staff, here's how I see the ALDS bullpen shaking out: Berrios, Odorizzi, Rogers, May, Duffey, Romo, Dobnak, Perez, Smeltzer, Stashak, Littell, Graterol.

What do you think? Would you rearrange these rankings? How many pitchers do you foresee them carrying? Have any creative thoughts on strategy and deployment? Sound off in the comments.

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47 Comments

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Alex Schieferdecker
Sep 24 2019 08:18 AM

I think the only real challenge for the Twins is to pick between Perez and Thorpe. I hope to see both get a start in this final set of games, and that may clarify the situation. Perez's success against lefties is notable, but you generally are going to want length from him, not usage as a LOOGY.

    • glunn and birdwatcher like this

I think that if the Twins want to use Perez as a reliever, they should have sprinkled him in here in that role over the last couple weeks. Why keep giving him (poor) starts all the way until the ALDS?

Littell and Dobnak are givens. I think that Perez is a given. Not as sure about Smeltzer. Stashak should be a given. I don't think Graterol is a given at all at this point.

    • SQUIRREL, glunn and DocBauer like this

 

Will people be upset if the 25th spot goes to Gibson? I don't think its the best use of the roster but perhaps there are other team morale/loyalty reasons that Rocco and co. would bring him along?

 

I think I would be fearful but not upset at the decision.

Anyone can be on the bench. So Gibson could still be with the team, even if he's not on the roster. 

    • brvama, Hosken Bombo Disco and wabene like this
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Nick Nelson
Sep 24 2019 08:28 AM

A lotta steam in favor of Thorpe in these comments. I gotta say -- I don't get it.

 

Thorpe in 4 September appearances: 8.35 ERA with 16 hits and 7 BB in 12 IP. Opponents hitting .327/.404/.531.

 

Granted, Perez has also been bad in September, but not quite as bad, and he has the LHB advantage, more experience, etc. I get that people are really down on Perez but I'm not sure we're recognizing how poorly Thorpe's pitched since his first handful of outings.

    • SQUIRREL, USAFChief, glunn and 7 others like this

 

What are the rules about selecting 25 players for the playoffs? Must the same 25 also be on the World Series roster? Also, what allows a team to drop one player and add another? Who determines whether a player is truly injured, so as to be substituted for?

Teams set their rosters in advance of each round, so they can change between series.

 

Injured players can be replaced on the roster during a series, but the injured player is ineligible to return that series *or* the next series. And you can only replace an injured pitcher with another pitcher, or an injured position player with another position player.

 

The exception is concussions. A player with an acute concussion would be eligible to return after 7 days. Not sure if that applies to catchers only? Anyway, it's an argument for leaving Astudillo off the roster, as we could more easily bring him in as a replacement if necessary.

 

https://www.thecubre...xport/html/3549

    • SQUIRREL, glunn, brvama and 1 other like this
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MMMordabito
Sep 24 2019 08:40 AM

I hope we can see more Alcala this week starting with situations unlike his debut and then maybe ending with situations like his debut.  

 

They basically called the fire department, turned on the hydrant and said "DRINK".  

 

He could easily slide from 10 to 6 in a week, given the right circumstances.That still doesn't put him on the roster.Now, if that baptism by fire has fortified his psyche, he does have an outside chance of getting results from his obvious stuff.Maybe that would make the decision more difficult.It's a good problem to have.

 

It wasn't even necessary to have Stewart and Hildenberger on this list.They should have zero chance, even if there are 8 injuries in front of them.I would bet on and select Jake Reed or Alex Schick before giving either of those two a playoff call.

 

A lotta steam in favor of Thorpe in these comments. I gotta say -- I don't get it.

 

Thorpe in 4 September appearances: 8.35 ERA with 16 hits and 7 BB in 12 IP. Opponents hitting .327/.404/.531.

 

Granted, Perez has also been bad in September, but not quite as bad, and he has the LHB advantage, more experience, etc. I get that people are really down on Perez but I'm not sure we're recognizing how poorly Thorpe's pitched since his first handful of outings.

 

If Perez's role in the playoffs is to be a lefty specialist, it's pretty odd that he hasn't been used that way once this season, no? Obviously you cannot start him in one of these playoff games, is he worth putting on the roster to face one guy a night in a role he's never had?

 

Berrios

Odorizzi

Dobnak

Smeltzer

Rogers

May

Duffey

Littel

Romo

Graterol

Stashak

 

As bad as Gibson has been, I think I'd trust him to get you 2-3 innings in game 3 or 4 at Target Field over Perez

    • wabene likes this

The only thing I will say about Perez is I think his cutter is more suited and lethal in cooler temperatures.My Theory is that is why he did so well in April and May.Essentially in warmer temps the ball is moving too much.I am very curious to see how he does in his next outing which should be in the 70's.   

    • glunn, brvama and KidBro like this

 

Will people be upset if the 25th spot goes to Gibson? I don't think its the best use of the roster but perhaps there are other team morale/loyalty reasons that Rocco and co. would bring him along?

 

I think I would be fearful but not upset at the decision.

Yes.He doesn't need to be on the 25-man roster to travel with the team.Should treat it like being on the IL, which is where he should be.

Agree 100% with those twelve.Another argument in Perez's favor is that he owns the Astros.He is career 7-4 with 2.70 ERA in 12 starts against them. And he was scoreless this season in his only game against them.Also he has a 2.97 ERA in 5 starts at Houston.I'd start him if they play the Astros, in the pen (with Dobnak and Smeltzer the starters) if they play the Yankees

    • glunn and railmarshalljon like this
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longstrangetrip
Sep 24 2019 09:31 AM

 

Good point. Then you wonder if Rogers will be used to get the final outs, as he usually is.

Without a doubt, Rogers will be used to get the final outs.Houston and NY being so righthanded is actually to Taylor's advantage, because his back foot slider makes him devastatingly effective against righties....213 BAA and .620 OPS against righties, .277 BAA and .676 OPS against righties.Granted, his HR rate is better against lefties, but I'll take his overall numbers against righties. 

    • glunn likes this

Jose and Jake

And pray you rake.

    • USAFChief, glunn, 70charger and 6 others like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Sep 24 2019 11:30 AM

Without a doubt, Rogers will be used to get the final outs.Houston and NY being so righthanded is actually to Taylor's advantage, because his back foot slider makes him devastatingly effective against righties....213 BAA and .620 OPS against righties, .277 BAA and .676 OPS against righties.Granted, his HR rate is better against lefties, but I'll take his overall numbers against righties.

I’m still not sold Rogers will be that guy, but you could certainly be right.

It will be interesting to watch if the Twins ever call for the Rogers back foot slider to the righty for three, four pitches in a row. Especially after the batter has laid off it, to call for it one more time. I don’t know who those batters would be but this is definitely going to be fun!

 

Will people be upset if the 25th spot goes to Gibson? I don't think its the best use of the roster but perhaps there are other team morale/loyalty reasons that Rocco and co. would bring him along?

 

I think I would be fearful but not upset at the decision.

I wouldn't be upset. Maybe a little surprised, but if that last spot is down to Gibby, Perez, and Thorpe, then I'd get the rationale. I think I'd personally take Perez over Thorpe, but not sure between Gibby and Thorpe. Gibby has pitched really well in Yankee stadium before. He has strikeout stuff. If they determine he can give us an inning or two, I like his chances over Thorpe's.  

    • 70charger likes this
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nicksaviking
Sep 24 2019 11:45 AM

 

I know, but then my next choice (before reading this article) for the final spot is Thorpe, and he brings even less to the table. All the righties in the remainder bin are going to serve up meatballs to batters from either side of the plate, I am afraid.

 

I might then argue for the extra bench bat if I thought neither Thorpe or Perez brought a net positive to the roster, and I don't.

 

Maybe I'd go with an extra bat if it's against Houston who has the superior rotation and could be a pinch hit away from getting to their pen, and the extra arm against the Yankees who are better offensively and might be more taxing on the bullpen.

    • glunn and birdwatcher like this
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nicksaviking
Sep 24 2019 11:54 AM

 

Will people be upset if the 25th spot goes to Gibson? I don't think its the best use of the roster but perhaps there are other team morale/loyalty reasons that Rocco and co. would bring him along?

 

I think I would be fearful but not upset at the decision.

 

If a WS title is the top priority, it's harsh to say, but loyalty shouldn't be in the equation at all.

 

With Gibson's situation seemingly stemming from an illness, chronic or otherwise, I'm not writing him off yet. I'm no doctor so if this is something that ebbs and flows and Gibson gets another outing or two and shows good stuff and doesn't look terribly taxed as he has recently, I'm not against giving him a roster spot.

 

I have no idea if he can bounce back from what ails him, but my unfamiliarity with this gives me less pause than if he was trying to play through an injury, which I've rarely seen work out. 

 

I mean aside from that other Gibson fella back in 1988.

    • ashbury, Nick Nelson, DocBauer and 1 other like this

Graterol has electric stuff. Not only is he a lock, I'd see if I could get the first 3-4 innings of game 3 out of him. He was a starter in the minors.

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KirbyDome89
Sep 24 2019 02:01 PM

 

A lotta steam in favor of Thorpe in these comments. I gotta say -- I don't get it.

 

Thorpe in 4 September appearances: 8.35 ERA with 16 hits and 7 BB in 12 IP. Opponents hitting .327/.404/.531.

 

Granted, Perez has also been bad in September, but not quite as bad, and he has the LHB advantage, more experience, etc. I get that people are really down on Perez but I'm not sure we're recognizing how poorly Thorpe's pitched since his first handful of outings.

Perez has been worse over a longer stretch? Idk 

 

6 locks plus 2 near locks along with Stashak & Littell means you're taking 2 of 3 from Graterol, Perez, and Thorpe. IMO it's pick your poison at that point. 

    • LA VIkes Fan likes this
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yarnivek1972
Sep 24 2019 03:39 PM
I think 12 pitchers would be enough.


I guess it kinda depends on what Falvine and Baldelli come up with as a plan. A lot of us here are under the impression that two planned bullpen games (one of which is anchored by Dobnak) are a given. That may not be what they have in mind.

I like the idea that has been floated about going with Odorizzi in game one, Dobnak in 2 and Berrios in front of the home crowd in 3. I think he would feed off it more than Odorizzi. Game 4 I would go with Smeltzer for one trip through the order. He pitched well against the Yankees earlier this year, but the downside of that is that the hitters have seen him. And back to Odo in a potential game 5.

I don’t think you can plan out who is going to follow your “short starters” because you can’t be sure who gets used in the previous game. But, using the (expected) short starters in games 2 and 4 ensures a day off for the pen before the next game.

So, my staff would be:

Odorizzi
Dobnak
Berrios
Smeltzer

Rogers
Duffey
Romo
May
Littell
Stashak
Graterol
Perez (if the decision needed to be made today - Gibson, Thorpe and Harper are the only other candidates. I STILL think not bringing up O’Rourke to see if he could be a loogy was a mistake).

Smeltzer would be available for an inning in game one and Dobnak for a couple in game 5.
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nicksaviking
Sep 25 2019 10:42 AM

Gibson wasn't great last night, but his velocity was up 2 MPH from the most recent set back from his illness. If he gets one more outing where he's still sitting 94-95, I'd be much more amenable to giving him one of the bullpen spots. There's more to pitching than velocity obviously, but without any medical information to go on, I think it's probably the closest thing we can use to measure whether he's back to reasonable health.

    • ashbury, glunn, DocBauer and 1 other like this
Lots of great opinions, so I will throw mine in as well.

I agree with the premise of a 12 man staff.

And I also agree Littell is a GIVEN.

*Note on Littell: I have already decided he is a mainstay for the pen, and a good one, for the next few seasons. He is no longer the inexperienced and nervous starter who just didn't look ready in 2018. But I forget about how young he is and guys who got their feet successfully wet in the pen before transitioning back to the rotation. Am I/we selling him short for 2020??? Regardless, he's a given for the playoffs.

GIVENS:

Berrios
Odorizzi
Rogers
May
Duffey
Romo
Littell
Dobnak

If you don't think what we have seen from him, especially after the Pineda suspension, and think Dobnak is not a lock, especially for a bullpen game or two, then one of us is either nuts or out of touch.

ALMOST GIVENS:

Stashak
Perez
Smeltzer

Stashak lacks experience, as do a few others on this list. But nobody can discount how well this kid has done. In fact, the only reason he doesn't have more appearances and IP on the season is because he rode the Rochester shuttle to bring in a fresh arm when needed.

At some point, the Twins will need a second LH arm out of the pen. But, they also may need length at some point as well. Smeltzer and Perez can both fall in to this category. Smeltzer has PERFORMED in whatever situation he has been brought in to. I think his future is pretty bright, but Perez has more experience. We can bang on Perez all we want after his hot start, but after a brutal stretch, he has been better to close out the year. By no means great, but better. And he remains good against LH batters. Is there room for both? I'm not so sure.

ALSO:

Gibson
Graterol
Thorpe

Let me make this clear, I LOVE the potential of Thorpe! And I love the glimpses I have seen of him. I believe he could be an outstanding RP as early as 2020 but that would be very short sighted as I think he has SP stuff and potential. And right now, crunch time, he is behind Perez and Smeltzer.

Despite allowing a run the other night, I was surprised what I saw from Gibson the other night out of the pen. He was throwing 94-96 and most of hits allowed were weak or against the shift. He brings experience in a variety or roles. But is he healthy and strong enough to do that NOW come playoff time?

Graterol, IMO, has a great career ahead of him. I laugh at times when some talk about him moving to the pen. You just don't do something like that with an arm and potential he has. But we are talking about contributions NOW, this year. We have seen him not yet ready, and we have seen him look outstanding. Are the Twins ready to ride this SSS in to the post season and hope for lightening?

Gibson vs Graterol is your 12th arm unless they decide to leave off one of Perez or Smeltzer.

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