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A 26 man roster is an improvement, but is MLB making a mi...

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The world of sports has changed over the years. As a result, leagues have adapted roster sizes to allow for more active players, reserve...
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Spring Training Games Thread 2021

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One thread to rule them all...   Er. Sorry. Got a bit ahead of myself. (Power does tend to go to one's head.)   Anyway, seein'...
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Jake Odorizzi, What's going on w/ him?

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Since the beginning there was a lot of FA talk surrounding Jake &thattherewas a lot of interest from various teams. Thought he'd be g...
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American League Power Rankings, by O/U

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With spring training in full swing, who are the favorites in the A.L.?15. Baltimore OriolesBetOnline O/U - 63.5 winsThe Orioles are bruta...
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Danny Santana

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Some reports that the Twins are interested in Danny Santana! As a utility guy if he can still play SS and CF I can see how he would fit...
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Why You Shouldn't Be Mad About "Losing Out" On [Insert Top Reliever Here]

Liam Hendriks is off the board and it appears Brad Hand may sign shortly, but history tells us avoiding the top of the bullpen market will likely be a wise decision by the Twins.
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
At around the same time that Twins fans heard the Hendriks news, MLB Network was releasing their #Top10RightNow relievers which featured him at the top of the list:



Naturally, many were concerned with the White Sox bolstering their already solid bullpen and many more were wondering if the Twins would sign Brad Hand, who recently said he would love to play for his hometown team. When I saw this list, the question I posed was what did this look like two years ago ... suggesting that it probably looked very different from the current list. The only names on both lists are Aroldis Chapman and Josh Hader. Want to know what last year's list looked like? See for yourself.



Once again, Chapman and Hader are the only two names that are on even two of the three lists, and we now have two decades worth of data in this new era of power pitching bullpens that shows this type of fluctuation in the games top relievers is the norm rather than the exception. Quite literally when reviewing league wide relief pitcher data on Fangraphs you can see that what we now know as the modern day bullpen started forming right around 2000. The last 21 seasons are all in the top 21 of relief innings pitched and 18 of the 21 are in the top 21 of K/9, while the other three are still in the top 26. (Sidenote: the 1875 season is 21st on the list at 7.19 K/9 over just 41.1 innings pitched...bizarre outlier)

What has the lifespan of an “elite reliever” looked like over the last 20 years?

Although not the end-all and be-all indicator, I used fWAR as my measure while limiting the search to pitchers who had a season where they pitched at least 50 innings so my research wasn’t influenced by guys who didn’t put in a full season of work. This obviously eliminated 2020 from the data set which I think is actually pretty fair given the unique set of circumstances compared to every other season. I then found the standardized score of each player's fWAR and found that the data fit a bell-shaped distribution and was close to being “normal”.
Attached Image: Screen Shot 2021-01-12 at 10.55.41 PM.png
Using the standard normal table, I defined an elite reliever as someone who finished in the top three-percent of the data set which equated to 1.88 standard deviations above the mean. There are 147 individual seasons and 78 unique pitchers who accomplished this feat, which is evidence in itself that a reliever lifespan as “elite” doesn’t last more than a season or two in a vast majority of cases. Furthermore, it was infrequent that a pitcher even appeared on the list as many as four times.

Mariano Rivera (7) -- who we knew would be an outlier on this list -- Kenley Jansen (4), Jonathan Papelbon (4), Joe Nathan (4), Craig Kimbrel (4) and Aroldis Chapman (4) are the only pitchers who appear on the list more than three times, and they account for about 18.4% of the total list. A handful of pitchers accomplished the feat three times of which the most notable might be Eric Gagne who accumulated 83.6% of his career fWAR in those three seasons. He has since admitted to steroid use during his run which could explain his massive three-year peak in an otherwise uninspiring career, but is nonetheless another case of an elite reliever falling off after a few short years.

So let's bring this back to the two elite free agent relievers entering the 2021offseason that Twins fans were clamoring for. Per fWAR, Liam Hendriks 2019 season was the second best relief season of the century behind the aforementioned Gagne’s 2003 which we now know was partially thanks to steroids, and he was the best pitcher in 2020 accruing the same fWAR (1.4) as Brewers reliever Devin Williams. If the data above tells us anything it’s that Hendriks, who will be 32 by season's start, will likely be overpaid and no longer elite for at least half of his contract with the White Sox. Both parties definitely benefit from the shortened 2020 season as he saved 50-60 innings on his arm, but on top of history being against him he is also on the older end of when the list of relievers above peaked in their careers. And remember, a vast majority of the pitchers in the data set only appeared once or twice. The former Twin might be a “Twin Killer” in 2021, possibly 2022, but 2023 and 2024 (there is a team option) is a crapshoot that the White Sox went all-in on.

On the other hand, heh, Minnesota native Brad Hand hasn’t truly had an elite season in his career. His best season in 2017, where he accrued 1.7 fWAR, would rank as the 259th best season of the century although he had a solid year last year where he finished as the fifth-best reliever in baseball. In 2020, he was on pace for what would likely have been an “elite” season, but if you’ve gathered anything from this article so far it’s that relievers are nearly impossible to predict. Hand is about a year younger than Hendriks and doesn’t have the same umph behind his fastball that some of the names listed above have, which are both factors that could make his lifespan as a top, if not elite, reliever a little longer.

The real issues with these two, and other “elite” relievers, isn’t necessarily the unpredictable production that their teams will get out of them, but it’s their cost that has me saying “no, thanks”. Even if Liam Hendriks isn’t an elite closer in a couple years, he’ll likely be serviceable as a 7th/8th inning type, but the problem lies in paying a 7th/8th inning type $15.4MM per year. MLB Trade Rumors has Hand signing for two-years, $14MM which actually wouldn’t be a bad deal, a short term deal paying $7MM AAV for a top end reliever is practically a steal. That said, they also had Hendriks signing for three-years, $30MM and he ended up getting an extra year, although it’s a team option, plus an extra $5.4MM AAV and these two factors will surely drive up Hand’s cost. I’d be willing to give Hand two-years, maybe three if it’s a team option, but no more than $9MM based on the volatility at his position.

Let me end with a mea culpa, especially directed towards fellow Twins Daily-er Nick Nelson. You see, I was a BIG Craig Kimbrel bobo, as a certain Twins Cities sports radio station might say, and went back and forth with Nick quite a bit on the topic. Even with damning evidence that Kimbrel was toast, I wanted the Twins to DO SOMETHING ... ANYTHING ... but specifically throw money at Kimbrel. I’m sorry, Nick. The data presented in this article, and Kimbrel’s production since 2019, has shown me the light. We shouldn’t be mad about “losing out” on [insert top reliever here].

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17 Comments

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specialiststeve
Jan 15 2021 08:06 PM

Great article.. checking he FA reliever list takes a while and there are MANY good options.... overspending is NOT needed. If one of the top arms agrees to below market... fine otherwise wait and will get 80/90 percent of the production for a cost much less from a similar arm... 

So back to the dollar store. What a relief - it's worked so out well year after year with all of the World Series trophies piling up in Minneapolis.

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Tom Froemming
Jan 15 2021 08:41 PM

This front office has had a ton of success with building bullpens without making big investments. I think this approach makes sense, but they will need to extend themselves in other areas to have a good offseason. I'd much rather they make a big investment on a starting pitcher or everyday player than a reliever.

    • Brock Beauchamp, Twins33, adjacent and 8 others like this

I thought this was an excellent article, but then I wondered - what would you have written if in fact the Twins had signed Hendriks and Hand?The slant and take might have been quite different, like the way we justify over paying for Donaldson who we expected would not be worth his final year salary.Baseball has a very strange system for signing veterans who might be sliding down from their peak - like Kimbrel?

    • adjacent likes this

Writing an article stating that the "grapes" truly are "sour" is a thankless job.

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tony&rodney
Jan 16 2021 09:00 AM

Agree with ashbury, even if the article is nicely done.

We are Twins fans and Smeltzer, Thorpe, and whoever may be the team's solution.

Relief pitching is funky and results come in all shapes - sign Kinzler.

It's weird to have faith in the Twins front office for the first time in my life, but I'd definitely rather they develop some guys they think they can work with rather than spend on a reliever. Or maybe I'm just still scared of a Matt Capps kind of situation

    • alphanumeric and mikelink45 like this
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tony&rodney
Jan 16 2021 09:47 AM

I am supportive of the Twins, but have never understood the hype for the current front office, nor do I get the vitriol that has been spewed on an excellent baseball man, Terry Ryan. The decisions are largely financial and we mostly accept that concept.

The Twins have not competed in either the World Series or the series to get into the World Series for a long time. There are multiple factors that can account for the drought. Perhaps signing an established relief pitcher would help. Claiming Hand seemed to be one opportunity. The risk was not outlandish. He is now likely to get multiple years at the claiming price. 

Looking at the options remaining, Rosenthal seems like a solid choice to sign.

 

I thought this was an excellent article, but then I wondered - what would you have written if in fact the Twins had signed Hendriks and Hand?The slant and take might have been quite different, like the way we justify over paying for Donaldson who we expected would not be worth his final year salary.Baseball has a very strange system for signing veterans who might be sliding down from their peak - like Kimbrel?

 

I think if we'd signed Hendriks and/or Hand the article would have been written. It would have been along the lines of "He's good and makes the bullpen better, but is it the best use of our resources?" Which I think is fair.

 

Would I have wanted Hendriks? Sure, in a vacuum. In a world where the Twins have no financial constraints. Do I want him at what the ChiSox paid him? I don't think so. He's getting a premium as a "proven closer" and it's just so rare that those guys add enough extra value consistently over relievers that can be found/made at much lower prices that it's usually not worth it. 

 

(I do think it's ok to pay a bit of an extra premium to retain your own players; continuity can matter, showing loyalty can matter for organizational reputation, etc. but even that has limits)

    • Brock Beauchamp and DocBauer like this

I question... What is the level of importance for relievers? Too Much? Do we all feel that way about Jeff Reardon (87) and Rick Aguilera (91). Both played major significant roles in winning 2 World Series. Do we then blame Joe Nathan, probably Minnesota's only other elite Closer for not carrying the Twins to a Championship? He was probably better than either Reardon or Aguilera, but you still need other pieces and a Manager that knows what he is doing and has a feel for the game. Tom Kelly pulled all the right punches in '87 and '91. Knowing when to use Aggie and Reardon and when to leave Morris (Game 7) in to finish. Only hindsight will tell you if what you did was right or wrong. If Hendricks helps the WSox to another title was signing him right or wrong? If not signing him and the Twins finish behind the WSox and SAVE money was not signing him right or wrong? Is the whole purpose of playing... to win the World Series or to make money? Where do the Twins stand?

 

It's weird to have faith in the Twins front office for the first time in my life, but I'd definitely rather they develop some guys they think they can work with rather than spend on a reliever. Or maybe I'm just still scared of a Matt Capps kind of situation

Can we just establish a rule in here that there be no further mention of "Matt Capps"?! LOL

    • Danchat likes this

What was amazing was that ALL teams passed on getting Hand for one-year and $10m. Now will probably be forced to still pay that amount, and have to offer a multi-year deal. 

 

The Twins could still use a bonafide closer. Both Duff and Rogers are better suited as set-up guys who can also close on occasion. I was a bit aghast that Wisler wasn't brought back, as his salary wouldn't have killed the payroll, and the guy did work as an opener, closer and multi-inning reliever to decent success. If he could hold or build on that success, he might've been a tradechip in the least.

 

Hendricks did good. Back when he was toiling as a starter prospect and not knowing where his career would take him, he ahs to be quite happy with this payday.

 

Bring Back Pat Neshek!

This is the exact reason I never would spend big on a reliever in FA.They are so volatile and many times get over paid.Yes, there are some guys that end up being worth it, but they are so few and far between.Closers were the thing for awhile, but teams learned the save was a such a loaded stat. I will never be upset for letting bullpen guys walk or not signing top guys.So often they end up being way overpaid. 

Good article Matt!While I am not happy with Twins offseason to date(Bowden gave us an F Grade on The Athletic which is still too high), I have to agree that throwing a long term/high $ contract to a reliever makes little sense, if history is any guide.The one time the Twins tried that - Addison Reed - was a disaster.Obviously, if payroll was not an issue, then sure, Hendricks or Hands would be nice, but that is obviously not the case here.

 

Starting from the premise that the Twins need to bolster the bullpen with a shutdown arm,mid price but high reward FAs abound.I would be happy with a Trevor Rosenthal, Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, Alex Colome or, yes, even Brandon Kintzler(in that order).Such an addition should be at least #2 on their priority list(an established starter or at least one young, controllable pitcher with a high ceiling should be #1, IMO).And no one on this list should cost more than $5MM/yr - a perfectly reasonable figure for this org. looking for their first playoff win in 19 years.

 

Assuming the Twins have a minimum of $30MM left to spend, this would at least give them enough for resigning Cruz, maybe resign Odo(or some other second tier starter), add a $5MM per yr. reliever and maybe a utility IF.This would up the grade to a C which will would mean going into the playoffs a distinct underdog but still with a decent shot.To increase these odds, they'd need to add another $15MM or so to the budget.Big question of this offseason is :will this organization go for the brass ring or be content to run in place??

 

    • DocBauer likes this
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tony&rodney
Jan 16 2021 06:03 PM

Addison Reed was a good gamble on a mid innings reliever, not to be confused with either Hendriks or Hand. Maybe the Twins like what they have right now, for the prices.

I'm just going to try and address about everything here because there's a lot of good meat on the bone to chew on.

But first, a tip of the cap to Matt for so much hard work and a very interesting and detailed OP!

1] EVERYONE wants that ONE GUY to finish a game or get the crucial outs in a big bullpen moment. But for DECADES the bullpen was just a group of guys to come in and finish things off and HOPEFULLY secure a win. Sometime in the 80's, roughly, the SAVE became a countable and important stat. In those days, 20-30 saves was excellent. A few guys even saved more than 30. Around the 90's and the early '20's era, we suddenly saw 40-50 saves as a benchmark.

But then something interesting happened. Some very smart people began to break down what a save actually meant and how empty the SAVE stat actually was. What they discovered was a lot of those saves were given to a guy who pitched 1-3 outs, with a lead, and was at times facing the lower part of the order, possibly facing a PH or two. They also discovered that games were actually won or lost in the 7th or 8th inning not necessitating a "closer" appearance in the 9th. And sometimes, it was the "set-up" man who actually faced a higher leverage situation. Which is also why a lot of closer types began in that role before transitioning to what we know now and define as the "closer" spot.

I DO NOT disparage the performances and careers of ANY past closer, especially great Twins such as Reardon, Guardado, Aguiilar, Nathan, etc.

But the game changes, as all sports do. Perception and the game within the game also changes. Several years ago, the term "fireman" became something more thzn just the title of an award presented at the end of season. Smart, forward thinking teams realized the 7th and 8th inning were often more important and harder to navigate than the 9th.

2] A traditional closer is no longer what it was. YES, there are times in a game when you want a quality and experienced arm to finish a win in the 9th against the top or heart of the order. But I think what has been proven, and slowly been adopted, is you really want about THREE arms or so that can you can "count on" to handle the final couple of innings. Prove me wrong?

3] Hendricks, Hand, etc, are all fine and proven arms. And I want the Twins to have as many quality pen arms as they can. But the pure "closer" idea is quickly becoming outdated.

Don't misunderstand, I'd LOVE a Hendricks, Hand, etc, in the pen. And the signing or Addison Reed...which looked good at the time...should NOT preclude the Twins from signing an "expensive" bullpen arm now or in the future. And true, quality pen arms can maintain viability in to their mid and even late 30's. But if you haven't seen a lot of those arms fade quickly vs $, then you aren't paying attention.

4] Even if you have a top closer for the 9th, he doesn't do much good unless he has opportunity to fulfill his role. Not just a team who can score enough runs, but a pen who can bring a lead to him. This brings us back again to the middle innings and having a deep and capable pen overall.

5] Rocco and the FO have adopted the newer priciple/analytics approach of a deep and versatile pen without defining roles such as primary set-up man or closer. They prefer matchups and fireman roles. THAT you can debate as you will; history vs changes in the game.

AGAIN, I have ZERO objection to adding a quality arm to the pen regardless of label. And we know there is volatility in the pen, game to game, week to week, month to month. But hitters are the same. We end up looking at the full season and final results for hitters as well as pitchers. So Rogers, with good peripherals, is suddenly toast? What might he have done in a full season? Now, he might have had a poor/mediocre season in 162G, and we will never know. But to not think/expect he can't be part of the back end of the pen going forward is also being short-sighted.

TODAY, with no additional moves yet made, the bullpen has Rogers, Duffey, Robles, Stashak, Alcala, Stashak and Thielbar penciled in. One new addition along with some subtractions, a group of un-interesting milb FA arms that could provide another Wisler, Harper, etc to help and surprise, along with an exciting Colina or Chalmers...even though I dream of him finding a 3rd pitch and sticking in the rotation...plus arms like Smeltzer or Thorpe providing help. (Also hoping a new year allows Thorpe to FIND himself again as a possible rotation piece).

There are a dozen RP arms out there still available at different ages who could absolutely be viable additions to the current pen without some huge $45M investment.

6] I still would have brought Wisler back. Not sure I buy $ and no options or a 1yr surprise but Robles essentially replaces either him or Romo at this point.

I WANT Clippard back for $2-3M. He proved, yet again, how good and reliable he is. I WANT another proven RH arm. Is Soria the answer? He COULD be. Do we get on Yates or Rosenthal for around $5M-ish? Maybe. Or Colome?

I want a deep and versatile pen. But I'm just not sweating a huge RP contract at this point with all that is still available externally and internally.
    • JLease and Heiny like this
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Dodecahedron
Jan 18 2021 10:00 AM

I don't know that I have seen much in the Twins fanbase in the way of being upset about not getting reliever X or reliever Y.

 

Apart from overreacting to Nathan's injury* and Ryan's teardowns, the Twins do a surprising job of getting a lot of out their relievers. I've learned to not question the team when it comes to building the bullpen, as the results often surprise me. 

 

*Who can blame them? I would have overreacted too.