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Tyler Duffey: The Bullpen Ace that Almost Got Away

By May of 2019, Tyler Duffey had just about reached the end of the line in Minnesota. Optioned to the minors for a 10th time since his initial call-up in 2015, the right-hander had to be looking forward to a fresh start.

Thankfully, unlike the two other best relief pitchers in baseball – both former Twins – he didn't need one to turn the corner.
Image courtesy of Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The flurry of moves Duffey endured over a three-day span last year must have had his head spinning. I don't recall the exact circumstances around his being recalled, optioned, and recalled again on consecutive days, and I don't recall if he actually traveled back and forth to Rochester. I hope not.

Attached Image: duffeymoves.JPG


While this roster maneuvering may have been extreme, it was hardly unfamiliar ground for Duffey, who'd grown accustomed to shuttling back and forth between the majors and Triple-A. Following his 10th such turnaround, the 28-year-old seemed to be firmly placing himself in the "Quad-A player" category: Good enough to excel at the highest level of the minors, where he'd posted a 2.90 ERA in 2018 (59 IP), but not good enough for the bigs, where his ERA was 7.20 in 25 innings.

I can think of two former Twins pitchers who were once deemed Quad-A players. And incidentally, they now surround Duffey on the list of top-performing MLB relief pitchers since the 2019 trade deadline, according fWAR:

1. Liam Hendriks, OAK - 1.7

2. Tyler Duffey, MIN - 1.5

3. Nick Anderson, TB - 1.4


Granted, it's a bit of a selective endpoint, and fWAR is hardly the be-all end-all measure of relief effectiveness, but I think it's fair to categorize these as the three top bullpen arms in the game based on recent results.

Hendriks, of course, reached the majors for the Twins as a fringey starting pitching prospect in 2011. He made 30 appearances for the Twins (28 starts) over three seasons with a 6.06 ERA before moving on. It took another five years for him to emerge as an elite closer in Oakland, at in 2019, at age 30.

Anderson followed a different path to stardom, and while he too was borne out of the Twins' organization, his sadly never even passed through Minnesota. (Not professionally, anyway.)

The Brainerd, MN native was signed out of an independent league by the Twins in 2015. He performed extremely well in their system, with a 2.25 ERA and 11.4 K/9 rate over four seasons, but for whatever reason, never got a look in the majors – not even in the late stages of a lost 2018 that saw them cycling through various spare arms. (Anderson had put up an 88-to-19 K/BB ratio in 60 innings that year as Duffey's teammate at Rochester.)

After that season, the Twins traded Anderson to the Marlins for a bag of peanuts. In 2019, Miami gave the hard-throwing righty a shot and he was an immediate sensation, striking out 69 hitters over 43 2/3 innings with a 3.92 ERA before being deal to Tampa at the deadline. Since that point, as we referenced earlier, he's been the third-best (or so) relief pitcher in baseball.

The point here is not to relitigate the past or blame the Twins for misjudging their own talent. There's no way they could've stuck with Hendriks through a half-decade of struggle and mediocrity. And while they certainly should've given Anderson a look in 2018, who's to say it would've made any difference? Even a strong performance in a smattering of appearances wasn't going to entrench him. Keep in mind that Oliver Drake posted a 2.21 ERA in 19 appearances for the Twins around that time, and was let go afterward. (Drake, as it happens, has also since caught on as a pretty good reliever for the Rays. Another "Quad-A" guy.)

The bottom line is that evaluating bullpen arms is a fickle endeavor. And the Twins could have so easily gotten it wrong with Duffey. What if that 10th time being optioned to the minors was for good? What if they gave up on him and decided to move on?

They didn't. Duffey was recalled the next day, and hasn't looked back. Since then, he has a 2.31 ERA and 82-to-12 K/BB with 41 hits allowed in 58 1/3 innings. And since the start of last August, he's been utterly ridiculous: 0.65 ERA, with 31 scoreless appearances out of 32. In 2020, he's been very nearly perfect.

The Twins might've let a couple of MLB's relievers get away. But right now the one they kept looks like the very best, and he's surrounded by plenty of other high-end contributors in a bullpen that's been supercharged over the past 16 months.



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15 Comments

This makes me frustrated again with the way the Twins are using the 60 man.We have starters there, but we continue to overuse our relievers with these foolish reliever games - I hate them.Now Rogers has proven he can't go consecutive days (again) and we have our prime relievers unavailable for today' game.WHY?Duran, Chalmers...Why not Balazovic, but he isn't even on the 60 man.We could start using Blankenhorn as the next utility man, or Gordon, or one of the others.  

 

I wonder how the St Paul group feels.

    • PDX Twin likes this

Thanks, Nick. Always a big fan of Hendriks. Agree there was no way the Twins could have hung on to him considering the rules for options, etc.

 

Would be nice to have Anderson in their current pen. 

    • 70charger, DocBauer and tarheeltwinsfan like this

The problems with pitchers is very small adjustments can make huge differences either way.You will see one year amazing numbers but every other year nothing.They are so volatile, even mores so for relievers.Hendricks was let go by the old guard, but Anderson was by the new.However, as I have mentioned in trade posts, you need to understand what leads to certain decisions.Sometimes it is public perception.I do not recall the trade when it happened in the off-season and doubt most do sending Anderson away.He was aging, non-top prospect.Most likely he will have a good couple years and bounce around team to team hoping to be close to what he was.Pen guys are very replaceable, that is why there is the shift from paying big money for top end closers because they were over valued by many, the Twins among them.The pen is important, but I will not cry over losing out on a pen guy.  

    • Dman and wabene like this
I’ll admit I was ready to give up on Duffey. I never saw this sort of resurgence coming.

I am still confused why Oliver Drake was DFAd after pitching so well for us. It’s no surprise he’s pitched well for the Rays.

I also didn’t see Anderson breaking out like he did, but I do remember wanting him to get a shot over the 100% cooked Matt Belisle.
    • ashbury, h2oface, wabene and 2 others like this

The Twins couldn't keep Hendriks around, but they could shuffle through many as bad or worse through the same period, while other teams found a way to shuffle Hendriks and Hendriks shuffled himself. The rules of player movement are tenuous at the AAAA level. Just ask Oliver Drake.

 

The biggest gaffe is the pitching experts in house not even giving Anderson a shot, and he was young. Really inexcusable for that to happen, and the result was immediate. Our guys just totally missed what was right under their nose while fishing for the catch of the day around the league, catch that they had to trade folks like Pressly for...... (who, btw, is sucking so far this year. https://www.crawfish...n-pressly-be-ok ) while giving away..... giving away... Anderson.

    • mikelink45 and Channing1964 like this
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Doctor Gast
Aug 12 2020 12:11 PM

In 2019, Wes Johnson changed Blake Parker pitch selection & he had some short term success but after hitters figured it out Parker got hammered & the BP blew up. Some time afterwards, out of that mess Duffy finally figured out relieving. Always been a fan, happy about his success. I`m too frustrated, the Twins knows that Rogers can`t pitch consecutive games but they still do it

    • h2oface and rdehring like this

I’ll admit I was ready to give up on Duffey. I never saw this sort of resurgence coming.

Ditto. I watched him get lit up in Pawtucket. Couldn't locate the breaking pitch. Got tattooed when he came in with his heater. I was ready to move on.

 

Wes Johnson, or whoever at AAA, found an answer. Just goes to show how close many pitchers are to making it, and why you see these thirty-something guys still giving it a go. Just one "aha" moment away...
 

    • spycake, DocBauer, rdehring and 2 others like this

 

Hendriks, of course, reached the majors for the Twins as a fringey starting pitching prospect in 2011. He made 30 appearances for the Twins (28 starts) over three seasons with a 6.06 ERA before moving on. It took another five years for him to emerge as an elite closer in Oakland, at in 2019, at age 30.

 

...

There's no way they could've stuck with Hendriks through a half-decade of struggle and mediocrity.

Hendriks was a B grade prospect per Sickels circa 2011, reaching MLB at age 22, had comparisons to "prime" Kevin Slowey who had been a 2nd round draft pick. Hendriks certainly wasn't overpowering, but when I think "fringey" I imagine someone older or even less of a prospect.

 

And it may have taken Hendriks five years to become a top closer, but it didn't take him nearly that long to find success in an MLB bullpen. Just one season removed from the Twins org, in his first action as a reliever, Hendriks posted a 1.5 fWAR relief season for Toronto in 2015, followed by a trade to Oakland and 1.4 and 1.0 fWAR years in their pen over 2016-2017. (Of course, he scuffled in 2018 and was available to the whole league on waivers before Oakland outrighted him to AAA for a few months, so it wasn't all smooth sailing!)

 

Lesson there is, you probably should try a guy like that in the pen before casting him loose. And to our credit, we did that with Duffey more recently.

    • mikelink45 and rdehring like this

 

I am still confused why Oliver Drake was DFAd after pitching so well for us. It’s no surprise he’s pitched well for the Rays.

I think a lot of teams wanted Drake in AAA, off their 40-man roster, but nobody really wanted to give him a MLB roster spot for very long. Even the Rays did that with him after his successful stint with the Twins (which was in extremely low-leverage situations, by the way) -- the Rays lost him on waivers less than a month after claiming him from the Twins, and later traded cash to get him back from Toronto, and finally put him through waivers again, only giving him a MLB look after he spent 2 months in AAA.

    • rdehring likes this

 

And while they certainly should've given Anderson a look in 2018, who's to say it would've made any difference? Even a strong performance in a smattering of appearances wasn't going to entrench him. Keep in mind that Oliver Drake posted a 2.21 ERA in 19 appearances for the Twins around that time, and was let go afterward.

Anderson wouldn't have been "entrenched" after a 2018 audition, but he most certainly would have stuck around longer than Drake. Drake (age 31) was out of options, so he was going to cost a 25-man spot going forward; Anderson (age 28) would have only cost a 40-man spot.

    • mikelink45 and wabene like this
Agreed not worth lamenting Hendricks as it was so long ago and a different staff. I think they did make a mistake in not taking a look at Anderson over others.

Hate to say it, but even smart coaches and FO get it wrong sometimes. But then you pick up a Wisler and suddenly have what looks like a power arm middle reliever for nothing.
    • Danchat, wabene, rdehring and 1 other like this

 

By May of 2019, Tyler Duffey had just about reached the end of the line in Minnesota. Optioned to the minors for a 10th time since his initial call-up in 2015, the right-hander had to be looking forward to a fresh start.

Thankfully, unlike the two other best relief pitchers in baseball – both former Twins – he didn't need one to turn the corner.The flurry of moves Duffey endured over a three-day span last year must have had his head spinning. I don't recall the exact circumstances around his being recalled, optioned, and recalled again on consecutive days, and I don't recall if he actually traveled back and forth to Rochester. I hope not.

Duffey was called up for a doubleheader as the designated "26th man." And because the 26th man is exempt from the 10-day minimum for optional assignments to the minors, the Twins knew they could pitch him in the doubleheader, option him back down the next day (when he wasn't likely to pitch on consecutive days anyway), and then recall him the day after that when he was fresh again. So no worries, I suspect he didn't actually fly to Rochester for just 1 day! :)

    • wabene and Melissa like this
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Channing1964
Aug 12 2020 01:56 PM
Without reading all the posts, my take on Duffey is that he is a guy that bought into the fact that he is just a guy that isn't going to be successful as a major league starter. Give Wes Johnson credit for evaluating these guys and stressing that they listen to him and get with the program. There are always gonna be successes and failures. see Reed, Parker, etc...and Duffey, May, Littel. I think Wes Johnson does one hell of a good job.
    • Melissa likes this

Yeah, Nick Anderson was arguably the best performing reliever in the minors for 3 years before the Twins traded him. I'd really like to know what coaches and scouts for them saw that they didn't think would translate. He's a grave miss-evaluation for the organization on that end. 

 

But that's a good problem, that I'm complaining about them screwing up on a guy like him, because it's a very small issue in the grand scheme. 

 

And I am (and was) really happy Nick got traded to someone who gave him a chance, because he more than deserved it.

    • DocBauer, wabene and BeatTheRich like this
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Nick Nelson
Aug 12 2020 06:21 PM

 

Duffey was called up for a doubleheader as the designated "26th man." And because the 26th man is exempt from the 10-day minimum for optional assignments to the minors, the Twins knew they could pitch him in the doubleheader, option him back down the next day (when he wasn't likely to pitch on consecutive days anyway), and then recall him the day after that when he was fresh again. So no worries, I suspect he didn't actually fly to Rochester for just 1 day! :)

I knew it was something along those lines. Thanks for the reminder!


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