• This Pen is Mighty, and Mighty Cheap

    Glen Perkins leads a great Minnesota Twins bullpenLate-inning leads have seemed so rare for the Twins that it's easy to overlook just how effectively the bullpen has been able to protect them. But make no mistake, Minnesota's relief unit has been among the finest in baseball this year.

    Only 44 times in their 110 games have the Twins carried a lead into the seventh inning, but in those games they are 34-7. When entering the eighth with a lead, they are 38-5. When entering the ninth with a lead, they're 42-1 (thank you, Mr. Perkins). Twins relievers rank third in the AL in ERA, second in WHIP, first in FIP and first in WAR (per FanGraphs).

    The bullpen has without question been the greatest strength of this team. That's not exactly ideal; you'd certainly prefer to see a lineup and starting staff capable of building more leads rather than relief pitchers who can excel in the (often fruitless) late innings.

    But the Twins' top-notch bullpen has helped prevent the season from unraveling into total disaster, and the beauty of this group is that each member is fairly young and remains under team control through next year or beyond.

    It wasn't so long ago that the Twins' bullpen was a mess. In 2011, Twins relievers posted the highest ERA in the majors, with failed experiments like Jim Hoey and Dusty Hughes contributing to the chaos. That was uncharacteristic for an organization that has typically been great at uncovering overlooked arms capable of becoming crucial late-inning cogs.

    The Twins have regained that edge in the past couple seasons, with productive hurlers such as Jared Burton (whom Parker wrote a this terrific piece on), Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke being acquired either through waivers or on minor-league deals. By utilizing these avenues, and by producing a homegrown closer, Terry Ryan has been able to put together a unit that is not only effective, but cost-effective. Glen Perkins is presently the team's highest-paid reliever at $2.5 million; in 2011 the Twins were paying about $18.5 million for Joe Nathan and Matt Capps alone.

    Some salaries will escalate slightly next year, and performances may vary, but for the most part it looks like the Twins should be able to maintain a strong, inexpensive bullpen, allowing them to dedicate the bulk of offseason resources and attention to more needy areas.

    That's a relief, eh?
    This article was originally published in blog: This Pen is Mighty, and Mighty Cheap started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 20 Comments
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      Its a good thing that the Twins bullpen is performing well because there has been inconsistent relief in Rochester. Also, the Twins may need to try Swarzak and/or Duensing in the starting lineup again. They seem to have learned something while pitching long relief.
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      It will be hard for the Twins to get the payroll under 60 million unless they have a cheap Bullpen. A very important factor for this Organization.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      The bullpen is one thing that Gardy manages well. Everyone knows their role and as seen by this team they seem to excel. I remember Burton praising them for the way they handled him coming back from his surgery.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      The team should probably trade someone from the 'pen, if not in August then in the offseaon. They have one too many guys there already and Tonkin (despite a poor outing his last time out) looks like he's ready to move up. My on-the-fly list of expendability would be: 1) Roenicke 2) Duensing 3) Burton 4) Fien and then Perkins.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      There's some nice pen options in the minors too. I do think that a good pen is underrated, and I miss the hard throwing guys from the early 2000s. I hope Ryan uses a couple of those guys to generate some additional talent this offseason.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Why did you have to bring up Matt Capps? Now my whole day is ruined.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I prefer "inexpensive." Ha!

      I actually think they've done well with the bullpen. I don't think it's an area you want to spend very much on. You can get guys like Burton and Fien in minor league deals. Guys like Perkins and Swarzak and Duensing (to lesser degree early) were failed starters. And, bullpen pitchers tend to be kind of streaky, from year to year, and sometimes month to month. That's not to say it's not an immensely valuable role on a team or in a game, as we've seen.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Twins relievers are the strength of the team.

      Here is how they compare to other teams. The data is from fangraphs.

      WAR 1st 5.4
      xFIP 15th 3.76
      K/9 20th 7.89
      BB/9 4th 2.81

      The top rank in WAR is more reflective of opportunity than top of the league skill. If you pitch a lot more innings, you have more opportunity to add to the WAR.

      Their ranks in the categories suggests the Twins have a good bullpen, but probably not among the top 10 in baseball.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      Their ranks in the categories suggests the Twins have a good bullpen, but probably not among the top 10 in baseball.
      Not sure I could agree with that. The categories you've chosen are hardly the only ones that matter. Yes, the Twins rank 15th in xFIP, but they're also tied for first in FIP. They're sixth in ERA and fourth in WHIP. They're not a strikeout-heavy group (which contributes to the relatively high xFIP) but still it's pretty crazy to claim they're not a top 10 unit in the league based on production, especially when you consider the immense workload they've had.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Not sure I could agree with that. The categories you've chosen are hardly the only ones that matter. Yes, the Twins rank 15th in xFIP, but they're also tied for first in FIP. They're sixth in ERA and fourth in WHIP. They're not a strikeout-heavy group (which contributes to the relatively high xFIP) but still it's pretty crazy to claim they're not a top 10 unit in the league based on production, especially when you consider the immense workload they've had.
      The workload is the huge factor imo. The pen has solid numbers despite the large amount of innings soaked up by the 6-7-8 ranked guys. A competent rotation would better shield this underbelly and the numbers would look even better.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Yes, the bullpen is cheap and we have some expendables (Roeincke) and arbitration guys (Swarzak and Duensing) who could move on and still keep it cheap. Yes, when Nathan was here the bullpen was eating $20 million of payroll. Now with names like Aaron Thompson and Mike Tonkin in the wings, the Twins can actually have a cheaper bullpen next season. Biggest disappointment has been Duensing. He starter to reliever numbers were off kilter the year before, but this year the former long relief guy has been a batter-or-two guy, and not at all effective. If someone does a waiver claim, I expect him to be moved (and was surprised he wasn't moved during the trade deadline...overvalued, no doubt, by Ryan). And if you look at possible failed starters...maybe Hernandez and Hendriks will enter the long relief mix in the future. Oh, almost forgot Pressly, who now seems to be wearing down. Picture him starting next season at AAA and being stretched out as a possible starter...if the Twins fail to sign 85 minor league free agents for once.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      @jorgenwest I am going to have to disagree with you as well. This is definitely a top 10 bullpen. With more opportunities, it is also more opportunities to implode. Argument can work both ways. The bullpen has been excellent. They may not be much individually, but as a unit they are managed well and do a very good job.
    1. jdotmcmahon's Avatar
      jdotmcmahon -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Not sure I could agree with that. The categories you've chosen are hardly the only ones that matter. Yes, the Twins rank 15th in xFIP, but they're also tied for first in FIP. They're sixth in ERA and fourth in WHIP. They're not a strikeout-heavy group (which contributes to the relatively high xFIP) but still it's pretty crazy to claim they're not a top 10 unit in the league based on production, especially when you consider the immense workload they've had.
      Just to clarify Nick, difference in FIP/xFIP has nothing to do with strikeout rates, it's because the Twins 'pen has a well below average HR/FB rate (6.9% v. 9.8% league average - 4th best in MLB)...xFIP assumes a league average rate, which explains the higher xFIP and lower ranking. We should probably assume some regression in the HR/FB department, so odds are the true ranking is somewhere in between 1st and 15th. That's not to take anything away from the relievers this year, who have kept this from being a historically bad team (as opposed to just a terrible one).
    1. jsimssd72's Avatar
      jsimssd72 -
      I always hate to judge someone or a group on a value that is an expected value not a true value. xFIP is an expected performance valuation and dependant to much on fly ball rates and the expected HR rate and doent take into factor GB rate pitchers for examle. I think xFIP has its uses to evaluate potential future performance with the league avg but to me is not a stat to value past performance that is known.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Bullpen is a smart place to dumpster dive and Ryan has shown a propensity to find diamonds in the rough for the pen throughout his career, so this shouldn't be too surprising. The only flaw is we sometimes hang on too long to the surprise successes.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      I will concede. The point about performance in spite of a heavy workload can't be overlooked. It takes a deep staff and good management of the pen.

      Can we expect this be a top bullpen next year? I am not as certain looking at some of the numbers. As long as Ryan can continue to identify inexpensive free agent pieces and Gardy continues to utilize those pieces, I guess I should have more confidence in continued success.
    1. CGNikolic's Avatar
      CGNikolic -
      Great article and information, but here is a question for you guys, what do you think the bullpen looks like next year? Do you keep guys like Roenicke and Fien as they become "less inexpensive" or do you let them go and continue to bottom feed for the bargains that Terry Ryan, as pointed out earlier, is very good at. Obviously Perkins will be the closer (and should be for a long time), and Burton will likely stay on if not traded via waivers over the next few weeks, but who else? Do guys like Swarzak and Duensing get a chance to be starters; do they stay if they don't? What of Ryan Pressly? Can he be a starter based on his performance this year out of the pen, or should he stay there based on his moderate success? Obviously this question is best answered after discussing who the Twins STARTERS will be.. which is another whole debacle
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Why is everyone so down on Josh Roenicke? He's been very good the last few years, including 2013. The last three years, his ERA+ has been 123, 142, and 135, respectively (though he only pitched 19 games in 2011).

      This year, he's sporting a 3.06 ERA, a 1.319 WHIP, and a 135 ERA+. Just looking at the actual results (which I admit I've done without looking into all sorts of advanced stuff that seems too nuanced for a quick post), he seems like a very good value for half a million dollars.

      What am I missing?
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      Why is everyone so down on Josh Roenicke? ...
      What am I missing?
      Strikeout to walk ratio is not good. Roenicke and Pressly are the least likely to be in next year's bullpen.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      Why is everyone so down on Josh Roenicke? He's been very good the last few years, including 2013. The last three years, his ERA+ has been 123, 142, and 135, respectively (though he only pitched 19 games in 2011).

      Onerous year, he's sporting a 3.06 ERA, a 1.319 WHIP, and a 135 ERA+. Just looking at the actual results (which I admit I've done without looking into all sorts of advanced stuff that seems too nuanced for a quick post), he seems like a very good value for half a million dollars.

      What am I missing?
      He is a perfectly fine stop gap and innings eater but there are now better options to replace him.
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