Twins Bullpen Overview by the Numbers
Image courtesy of Rogers photo - © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsWhere Were They Last Year and Previously?
It would behoove the Minnesota Twins to focus on improving their bullpen significantly in advance of 2019. By fWAR, the Twins 2018 bullpen was their best unit (3.0) since the 2013 iteration (5.1). Surprising? Not really. In recent seasons, the Twins have been a perpetual 2-3 fWAR bullpen team. Their off-season acquisitions performed fairly well before they were traded away.
The Twins 2018 pen made some significant shifts in cumulative performance reflecting the organizational pitching direction (more velocity, more strikeouts). Consider the following:
Despite achieving similar overall value, the pen went from almost last to almost top ten in strikeouts. While the Twins bullpen wasn’t a strength in 2018, it was improved. Significantly, if the Twins hadn’t been so remarkably out of contention by the trade deadline and had benefited from a full season of Trevor May, they would have ended up with four top 50 relievers (Taylor Rogers, Ryan Pressly, Trevor May, and Zach Duke).
A Note on Elite Bullpens
A cumulative fWAR of 4.3 or higher will land you a top 10 bullpen, pretty much every year, pretty much without fail. While the super elite bullpens (Yankees, Astros) typically net an fWAR of 8+ the Twins aren’t far from having a top third pen.
Two Elite Options
The Twins have two elite options at the end of their pen. For the purposes of this hypothetical, let’s assume two things; Trevor May pitches an entire season, and both he and Taylor Rogers replicate their 2018 performance in 2019.
Rogers turned himself into an exceptional bullpen arm in the second half with a tweak to his pitch mix that resulted in the third best FIP in MLB (2.33) and tied him for 10th in MLB in fWAR (1.9 – tied with one Aroldis Chapman). Rogers has outstanding control (2.11 BB/9 – good for 16th in MLB), a solid 9.88 K/9, respectable numbers against RHH, sporting a .220/.267/.377 line against opposite-handed hitters. In short, Rogers is an ideal candidate for all high leverage situations in which the Twins need a LHP.
May was another spectacular surprise. After returning from TJ surgery, May initially struggled at AAA. When he finally made it back to the Twins, May put up 0.6 fWAR in just 24.1 IP. May had a ridiculous K/9 (13.32 – good for 11th in MLB among relievers who threw at least 20 innings). May also had the 11th best swinging strike rate (16.4%). Over a full season of work, he gives the Twins pen another 1.5 fWAR pitcher, a right handed, high leverage bullpen option (who should not be solely tied down to a ninth inning role).
What They Need
While the Twins have two great options at the back end of the pen, they have little else. Trevor Hildenberger regressed to a replacement level pitcher in 2018 (although there was a one run differential between his ERA and FIP, and a 1.6 run differential between his ERA and xFIP). All the aforementioned top 10 bullpens from the last few years of MLB play have one thing in common: nine to 10 guys who put up some positive value (I’m using a fWAR of 0.2 or higher as my proxy here), in other words, depth. The Twins had only seven such pitchers last year, including Duke, Pressly, Fernando Rodney, Oliver Drake, and Kohl Stewart (who amassed some of his value in a unique bullpen role).
After those seven, the Twins essentially had a slew of replacement level guys (Andrew Vasquez in limited work, Hildy, John Curtiss), or guys who amassed negative value (Addison Reed, Matt Magill, Tyler Duffey, Alan Busenitz), almost all of who suffered from problematic home run rates (a pain point for the Twins pen in general). The Twins could use one more excellent bullpen piece, but mostly, they need some solid depth (part of the reason not looking at Nick Anderson or Jake Reed at the end of last season was so criminal).
Some Free Agent Options
Whom might the Twins target? As you might expect in a particularly juicy free agent year, the relief pitching market is resplendent with options. To highlight some of these, I filtered through FA relief pitchers who are right-handed, assuming that between the elite Rogers, and the replacement level Moya, the Twins are about set with left-handed relievers. For the purposes of outlining some options, I also left out pitchers who have options remaining, like Nate Jones, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler, in addition to pitchers I felt were way out of the Twins reach, like Craig Kimbrel (probably should have left Ottavino off too).
The Twins have a ton of options for upgrading their pen, including internal options, trade, or targeting upgrades through free agency. What are your thoughts on the bullpen heading into 2019? Who would you pursue in free agency if you were running the front office?
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