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Twins Ready to Compete for Best Bullpen in Baseball

Rewind a year and the talk around this time was how poor the Minnesota Twins bullpen looked going into 2019. The team was coming off a down year, and relievers looked capable of ceding leads. New pitching coach, new manager, many similar faces, then. The narrative is entirely different for 2020.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
When headed to Spring Training prior to the 2019 season, the Twins were coming off of two years in which they finished 24th and 18th as a bullpen respectively. Garvin Alston had been shown the door, and so too had skipper Paul Molitor. In an age where rotations had become simply a means to an end, it was the power bullpens that reigned supreme.

Breaking camp to head north Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson took a relief corps that included Taylor Rogers, Adlaberto Mejia, Trevor May, Blake Parker, Trevor Hildenberger, and Ryne Harper. Just two of those names remain for the 2020 squad, and they’ve now been developed into absolute studs.

Coming out of the 2019 season, Johnson and Baldelli had orchestrated a relief group that posted the third best fWAR (7.3) across baseball. Rogers and May were joined by Tyler Duffey in hitting career marks, and Zack Littell was groomed into a solid back end arm. Though this group may not have the names of some other top units, their creating household numbers on their own.

Johnson helped Rogers to produce the 11th best single season reliever fWAR (2.1) in Twins history. It was the best single-season performance since 2006 when Joe Nathan recorded the second-best mark (3.1) in club history, and it was a step up from Taylor’s already impressive 2018 season. It isn’t just about what Johnson got out of an already good arm, however.

Acquired in the Ben Revere trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, Trevor May never worked out as a starter. Injuries mounted, and after sorting out his back issues, relief work became the way to go. He posted a career best FIP in 2018 and ratcheted up the strikeout numbers. Last year though, he became a true shutdown type while posting 11.1 K/9, and career lows in both H/9 (6.0) and HR/9 (1.1).

Joining May in taking a step forward was Tyler Duffey. The former Rice closer went down the starting path and we nearly cast aside after a disastrous 7.20 ERA in 2018. Over 57.2 IP a year ago, he turned in a 2.50 ERA, 12.8 K/9 (nearly double the 2018 number), and a 3.06 FIP. With one of the best curveballs on the staff, the guy known as Doof certainly can mow 'em down in big moments.

Minnesota identified Sergio Romo in an astute trade during last year’s deadline, and the fan favorite was brought back this year after posting a 146 ERA+ and 10.6 K/9. Looking great in Cleveland a year ago, 35-year-old Tyler Clippard and his strong career numbers over 13 years were added to the veteran presence.

Being able to add Littell, who posted a 0.88 ERA and 27/8 K/BB over his final 30.2 IP, was one of the Twins great accomplishments a season ago. Matt Wisler is a former Top-100 prospect that hasn’t seen big league success, but there’s no denying Johnson sees something he likes there. Minnesota gave him a guaranteed contract, and the slider is a pitch to work with.

Then there’s phenom Brusdar Graterol. It’s hardly a death sentence to send a 21-year-old kid to the bullpen (ask Johan Santana). Still looking to develop a complete repertoire, Graterol’s triple-digit heater should be plenty useful when attacking the opposition. Baldelli being able to go there in earlier innings is something a luxury only a pen this good could afford. Maybe his role is tweaked down the line, but there’s something to be said about adding arguably the best available relief arm by simply picking from your own organization.

Things never go according to plan, so being able to rest on depth like Cody Stashak and his nutty 25/1 debut K/BB, or Jorge Alcala and his big fastball are certainly realities new to the organization. When hired from the Indians organization it was consistently noted that Derek Falvey’s calling card was developing pitching. It’s not hard to see how powerful the infrastructure he’s blueprinted now is, and the fruit that it continues to bear.

Minnesota was topped by the Rays (7.6 fWAR) and Yankees (7.5) last year. Jumping to that top spot isn't at all unlikely. This ain’t your grandad’s Minnesota Twins bullpen. They have to go out and perform, but this is a unit that is going to be an absolute problem in the best way possible.

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  • DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan, JoshDungan1 and 1 other like this

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7 Comments

Great post.

 

I would highlight that bullpen depth in AAA could become essential when/if the rotation strings together too many outings of 5 inning pitched or less....which is a a definite concern with the rotation as currently constructed (eh, cough...Odo and two rookies... eh cough).

 

 

After watching recent editions of Twins pens, I may have teared up a little realizing how good this one could be. :)

    • tarheeltwinsfan and JoshDungan1 like this
I really liked the bullpen a lot even before the proposed addition of Graterol. (Not going to discuss my mixed feelings about that here). The pen is a great mix of a couple proven and productive elder statesmen, some experienced arms, and a group of very talented young arms with depth potential.

The Twins BP doesn't have the "proven" vets some teams have? Well, those guys had to earn their reputation at some point also, didn't they? Really hard to ignore what Rogers, May and Duffey have done. Really hard to ignore the potential we saw in Littell and Stashak. SSS, but Poppen looked like he could have a future. Alcala? We'll see, but the STUFF is there to be a fast riser now that he's in the pen.

I am NOT sold on Wisler. He could be an easy cut, former top prospect or not. But what an interesting flier. Usually your problem with any pitcher is his change or breaking ball. But he has a great slider and someone has to teach him how to throw a good FB? Hello Mr Johnson!

And Romero?

There is just so much to like here, even without Graterol included.
    • JoshDungan1 and Doctor Gast like this
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Doctor Gast
Jan 22 2020 06:59 AM

Next to our awesome offense our BP is our next strength. Last year after a great start the BP tanked some what. I was disappointed that FO didn`t signed any big names but became amazed at how the BP took shape thru our system from out of nowhere. We have still a lot of untapped talent ready to be released. Our BP will be great this year 

I'm excited about the potential, but history has proven that bullpens are fickle.The best laid plans for dominance often turn into flops.Guys that were great last year, suddenly can't find the strike zone, or when they do, the ball finds the cheap seats.Hopefully these weren't career years for these guys! 

    • ericchri likes this
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LylesCrocodiles
Jan 22 2020 10:11 PM
If this bullpen lacks one thing it would be another LH setup guy. I know Clippard has the reverse splits but Rogers is the only LH. And it’s not like the Twins will have a lot of LH starters either. Might be another area to address at the trade deadline.
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twinssporto
Jan 23 2020 07:20 AM

Duffey was a huge surprise to me last year.  As a starter I always thought he looked timid or scared. As a reliever he looks more in control and certainly throws the ball harder and faster than as a starter.  I've done a 180 on the kid since his original arrival.

 

The pen will be fun to watch this year. 


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