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  • Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher

    Perhaps no group on the Twins suffered more as a result of the starting staff’s struggles last year than the bullpen. Success stories were overlooked, dominant relief outings were often wasted in losses and the unit as a whole was generally taxed and overworked.

    That’s too bad, because the significant strides made in this department sort of got lost in the shuffle. One year after ranking last in the American League in bullpen ERA (4.51) and WHIP (1.46), the Twins moved to the middle of the pack in both categories with marks of the 3.77 and 1.26.

    Granted, “middle of the pack” isn’t anything to brag about, but it’s still a substantial improvement over the wreckage of 2011. And those overall numbers were dinged heavily by 52 terrible innings from Jeff Gray, who was inexplicably kept around for most of the season. When you look at the core relievers who are returning to this year’s mix, the performances were almost uniformly stellar.

    Let’s take a look at the seven arms that will be at Ron Gardenhire’s disposal when things get underway on Monday…

    Closer: Glen Perkins, LHP
    2012 Stats: 70.1 IP, 2.56 ERA, 16 SV, 78/16 K/BB, 1.04 WHIP


    Perkins was one of the few bright spots in that dreadful 2011 bullpen, putting a forgettable career as a starter behind him to emerge as one of the league’s most dominant relievers. Last year he put to rest any notion that his breakout campaign was a fluke, backing up it up with an equally splendid effort and taking firm hold of the closer role by year’s end. Complementing a mid-90s fastball with a lethal slider that baffles righties as well as lefties, Perkins has proven that he’s got everything it takes to slam the door in the major leagues.

    Setup Man: Jared Burton, RHP
    2012 Stats: 62 IP, 2.18 ERA, 5 SV, 55/16 K/BB, 0.92 WHIP


    Plucking relief arms from other organizations on minor-league deals has been a common practice for the Twins, and it’s one that typically hasn’t worked out too well lately (see: Jeff Gray, Matt Maloney, Dusty Hughes, Eric Hacker, etc.). While Burton technically falls into the same category, it was clear when the Twins signed him that he was from a different mold. Unlike many of the marginal arms brought in through this avenue, Burton’s question marks were health-based rather than talent-based. He had previously been a stand-out reliever for the Reds, but lingering shoulder issues had finally pushed him out of the picture in Cincy. The Twins smartly took a flier and it worked out brilliantly, as Burton regained his health and unleashed his splitter/changeup hybrid (aka the “splange”) on unsuspecting AL hitters to devastating effect. Burton’s numbers in Year One with the Twins were better than any he’d posted in the past, and seemed too good to be true. In fact, they probably were. He’s almost certain to regress this year, to some extent, so we’ll just have to hope that he stays healthy and the fall isn’t too hard.

    Lefty Specialist: Brian Duensing, LHP
    2012 Stats: 109 IP, 5.12 ERA, 69/27 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP


    The stats listed above for Duensing are a bit misleading, because they’re heavily weighted by his ugly stint as a starter. Hopefully that won’t again be a factor for the southpaw, who has settled comfortably into a role as a situational weapon in the bullpen. To that end, he’s been fantastic. Even last year, when his overall numbers were bloated, Duensing posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.14 WHIP as a reliever. He’s been pulled out of his appropriate role too often in the past couple years, but when used properly he's among the best in the league at what he does. Valuable asset.

    Middle Reliever: Casey Fien, RHP
    2012 Stats: 35 IP, 2.06 ERA, 32/9 K/BB, 0.97 WHIP


    Even more so than Burton, Fien’s tremendous results in his first year with the Twins don’t exactly seem sustainable. His lights-out performance over 35 appearances was not necessarily a total fluke, as he’s been a solid reliever in the minors for many years, but Fien was a 28-year-old who had previously totaled 14 innings in the majors. The Twins will likely be leaning on him as their No. 2 right-handed reliever, at least out of the gates, so heavy regression would hurt in a major way.

    Middle Reliever: Ryan Pressly, RHP
    2012 Stats (A/AA): 103.2 IP, 5.38 ERA, 82/36 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP


    Selected from Boston in the Rule 5 draft, Pressly is a former starter who’s found new life as a hard-throwing reliever, and he'll now get his first chance to pitch in the majors. Reports from Ft. Myers have generally been very positive, with observers calling out his noticeable velocity and sharp breaking ball. But here’s the thing: his purportedly nasty stuff hasn’t translated to strikeouts. Not in Double-A last year, where he averaged 6.8 K/9, and not in Florida this spring, where he’s managed to whiff just six of 51 batters. Color me skeptical.

    Secondary Lefty: Tyler Robertson, LHP
    2012 Stats: 25 IP, 5.40 ERA, 26/14 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP


    Much like with Duensing, there is more than meets the eye when looking at Robertson’s numbers from last year. A glance at the ugly ERA and high walk total would suggest that he was a complete mess in his first exposure to the MLB ranks, but the truth is that Robertson was quite effective when in his element, holding lefty hitters to a .190 batting average and .585 OPS while fanning one out of every three. Against righties he truly was a complete mess (twice as many walks as strikeouts), and that's been his M.O., so Gardenhire would be wise to exercise even more stringency with Robertson’s usage than Duensing’s.

    Long Reliever: Josh Roenicke, RHP
    2012 Stats: 88.2 IP, 3.25 ERA, 54/43 K/BB, 1.44 WHIP

    A shiny ERA covers up some serious flaws exhibited by Roenicke last year. He was erratic, walking 43 and uncorking eight wild pitches in 88 innings, and he allowed too much contact. That's a recipe for trouble even when you throw hard, as Jeff Gray demonstrated last season. If the Twins are expecting Roenicke to walk the tightrope so effectively once again they are bound for disappointment. But my guess is that they're not so much concerned with his results as his workload. The guy was a horse in Colorado’s bullpen last year, making 63 appearances and frequently logging multiple innings. There’s value in a rubber arm like that, especially for a team that figures to weather several abbreviated starts. As long as Roenicke can merely hold his own (a la Anthony Swarzak, who may be gunning for his job when he returns from the DL) he’ll have a chance to stick.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      Last October, Ryan stated that the Bullpen was his second highest priority.
      Its to bad that the Twins can no longer go out and sign a reliable Bullpen Arm.
      Small Market Teams cannot do this.
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by Highabove View Post
      Last October, Ryan stated that the Bullpen was his second highest priority.
      Its to bad that the Twins can no longer go out and sign a reliable Bullpen Arm.
      Small Market Teams cannot do this.
      Letting someone with an era of 5.40 last year and an era of 8.49 in the spring to start the season in the major league is a disgrace to the players and the fans.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by jun View Post
      Letting someone with an era of 5.40 last year and an era of 8.49 in the spring to start the season in the major league is a disgrace to the players and the fans.
      I'm getting really sick of Robertson too.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by YourHouseIsMyHouse View Post
      I'm getting really sick of Robertson too.
      Couldn't agree more. I might just be holding a few notable at-bats against him (See: Fielder) because I know his numbers aren't as putrid as my imagination believes them to be.....but every time he huffs and puffs his way out to the mound - I cringe.

      I'm very skeptical of this group. Perk and Burton were awesome last year, but I have my doubts that both can repeat. Duensing is solid out of hte pen, so there's that. But after that this group really worries me. This is an awfully shaky bullpen foundation and the guys that would be first up to replace them if they fail hardly reassure me.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Robertson is a one-two batter guy. Roiencke is around incase Swarzak is a mess. We also have Tim Wood sitting on the dl in the wings. Hey,we could've signed Capps, Rauch and Hawkins.
    1. messed up's Avatar
      messed up -
      I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Robertson should not have made the team this year. After a decent start last year he was nothing short of pathetic and now with a poor spring training I hope they have a short leash on him.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by messed up View Post
      I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Robertson should not have made the team this year. After a decent start last year he was nothing short of pathetic and now with a poor spring training I hope they have a short leash on him.
      Of the options available, who would you have selected?

      Oh and he was better the last two months than he was before that...better at end of the season than the beginning. His 'decent start' consisted of an ERA over 8 in June and over 7.00 in July...his pathetic times consisted of ERA in the mid 3.00s
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jun View Post
      Letting someone with an era of 5.40 last year and an era of 8.49 in the spring to start the season in the major league is a disgrace to the players and the fans.
      Read the bottom of the barrel for ST stats

      Among those with ERAs over 6 this spring:

      Roy Haladay
      Dan Haren
      James Shields
      Doug Fister

      Just more proof that SP stats mean very little.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by messed up View Post
      I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Robertson should not have made the team this year. After a decent start last year he was nothing short of pathetic and now with a poor spring training I hope they have a short leash on him.
      The Twins have six injured pitchers who should join the team in the first two months of the year (Diamond, Swarzak, Wood, Deduno, Perez and Harden). I doubt anyone will remember the two weeks and four innings we had to endure Tyler Robertson.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      > And those overall numbers were dinged heavily by 52 terrible innings from Jeff Gray

      I won't do the research but I suspect most bullpens could locate 52 innings from one or two bottom of the barrel staff members to bolster their argument for a stronger year this year.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      For whatever reason, I'm holding my breath on Burton in much the same way as Diamond. As a side note, I thought his extension was a strange move of the offseason that didn't get a lot attention. Hoping to be wrong, of course.

      I'm getting more comfortable that Perkins can continue to be at least close to as good as the last couple of years. Duensing feels like a pretty known quantity. I feel OK that Fien will be OK. The rest may as well be giant question marks to me.

      Bottom line, I'm hopeful than can be OK to good, but there's a little nagging feeling that they might collectively be "an issue" all year long.
    1. jun's Avatar
      jun -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Read the bottom of the barrel for ST stats

      Among those with ERAs over 6 this spring:

      Roy Haladay
      Dan Haren
      James Shields
      Doug Fister

      Just more proof that SP stats mean very little.
      They are experienced major leaguers and all of them are starters who had some success, Robertson has not shown anything close to that.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Robertson won't last and the Twins snag some piece of trash off the waiver wire, but other than that this bullpen looks strong to me.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Just more proof that SP stats mean very little.
      Alright. Here is a question for you (trivia) :

      Name the year the Twins had their best ST record as a team.

      Then re-think while ST matters or not.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post

      . Duensing is solid out of the pen, so there's......
      ......the strong likelihood that Gardy will once again impulsively think that the Duens is the logical option to be inserted into the rotation when the second or third starter arms break down....
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      ......the strong likelihood that Gardy will once again impulsively think that the Duens is the logical option to be inserted into the rotation when the second or third starter arms break down....
      I want to believe this is unjustified paranoia. I really, really do....but all I can do is shake my head and wait for it to inevitably happen.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Alright. Here is a question for you (trivia) :

      Name the year the Twins had their best ST record as a team.

      Then re-think while ST matters or not.
      You imply 1991 or 1987. I will go with 1991. I think it has actually been true (or true-ish) that Twins regular season standings mirror the minor league standings (aside from 2011 in particular). That seems anomalous though.

      And that is team standings, not individual player performance. Spring training should mean little more than simply getting players up to 100% capability for the season.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I don't understand Roenicke and Wood being signed. At all. Pressly should probably be used in that role and the Twins should send Swarzak packing to find Bigfoot. I like Pressly because maybe there is a little Matt Guerrier in him. And I wish it was Slama time for say a 20-inning trial. I actually think a straight up Slama-Robertson RH-LH usage could be effective in the 6th and 7th innings.

      Speaking of, Robertson will be much better this year than last, if he is used properly. 40 innings against lefties would increase his value a lot. He struck out 22 of the 72 lefties he faced last year and was very effective at the end of the year.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Alright. Here is a question for you (trivia) :

      Name the year the Twins had their best ST record as a team.

      Then re-think while ST matters or not.
      Spring training matters. Observation of the approach at the plate, the command on the mound, the work ethic in practice, leadership, confidence...

      All of those matter. Your observations about a day in spring training much more valuable descriptions of the progress than a box score.

      There isn't enough data even it were regular season to draw any conclusions. The lack of data is compounded by the varying context of the opponent.

      No one can say spring training does not matter. It does. It is the data that can not be used to make inferences of the future.

      Returning to record in the spring. Maybe it is possible that an extremely bad or good record in the spring might tell something about the season. I am confident the same is not true about individual data.

      Do spring training records mean anything? - SweetSpot Blog - ESPN
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Alright. Here is a question for you (trivia) :

      Name the year the Twins had their best ST record as a team.

      Then re-think while ST matters or not.
      2002 Orioles went 20-9 in spring training and went 67-95 for the season.
      1999 KC team went 22-9 and finished the season 64-97.
      87 Twins went 21-10
      So yes and no that spring training matters. a good record could mean your second line players are playing well trying to get a job.
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