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  • Patience with Bullpen is a Must

    It appears that the polarizing Twins topic of the first ten days of spring training is the Twins bullpen. There are many who believe that the Twins messed up by not adding more veteran relief pitchers to major league contracts during the offseason. Iím firmly on the opposite side of that argument. I believe that the Twins took a good, calculated risk that Joel Zumaya could actually stay healthy in 2012. If that happened, they could have a difference-maker in the bullpen. As it turned out, his spring training was short and thanks to a torn UCL, his season is already over. As soon as Zumaya was hurt, many fans wanted the Twins to respond instantly by acquiring a proven, veteran bullpen arm. The one difference-making bullpen option that may be available would be Rangersí righty Koji Uehara, but he will make $4+ million in 2012 and has a no trade clause that he has already used.

    The Twins have 32 pitchers in big league camp. Taking out the starting pitchers and the four relievers who are all but guaranteed a big league spot (Capps, Perkins, Swarzak, Duensing), and up to 21 players are vying for the remaining four spots. 11 of those are non-roster free agents. My opinion is that the organization has about a month to see if they can fill the three remaining bullpen positions from that group of 21.

    Here is a quick look at that list:

    On 40 Man Roster: Alex Burnett (24), Terry Doyle (26 - Rule 5 Pick), Jeff Gray (30), Deolis Guerra (21), Carlos Gutierrez (25), Matt Maloney (28), Jeff Manship (27), Lester Oliveros (23), Tyler Robertson (24), Kyle Waldrop (26).

    Non-Roster Invites: Jason Bulger (33), Jared Burton (30), Samuel Deduno (28), Phil Dumatrait (30), Casey Fien (28), Luis Perdomo (26), Aaron Thompson (25), Daryl Thompson (26), Esmerling Vasquez (27), PJ Walters (26), Brendan Wise (26).

    Some fans will choose to say that these guys either are not good enough, not ready, or that they were available to the Twins as minor league free agents because no one else wanted them. Some might say that some are too old to succeed at this point. Some will say that Pitcher X canít succeed because we have seen too much of them. Others will say that Pitcher Y canít pitch, in part, because we havenít seen them and we know nothing about them other than they became available because another team let them go.

    Let me take you back through a little bit of Twins history. Specifically, letís take a look at some of the Twins bullpen arms from the last decade, but also looking back a little further.

    Matt Guerrier came to the Twins after the Pirates placed him on waivers in November of 2003. He was coming off of a 2003 season in AAA Nashville in which he went 4-6 with a 4.53 ERA and just 78 strikeouts in 105.1 innings. The Twins were able to send him to Rochester in 2004, but out of options, he had to make the Twins roster in 2005, and he did. He made the team as the last bullpen arm, and gradually gaining the confidence of the coaching staff to use him in key, late inning situations. He was overused in 2008 and posted a 5.19 ERA. Many fans wanted him let go, but they brought him back and he had two more terrific seasons in the back of the Twins bullpen.

    Dennys Reyes came to the Twins before the 2006 season. In 2005, he posted a 5.15 ERA in San Diego. In 2004, he posted a 4-8 record with a 4.75 ERA in Kansas City. In 2003, he spent time with Pittsburgh and Arizona and posted an ERA over 10 with both teams. In 2002, he posted a 6.38 ERA in Texas. So, who would have expected him to, at age 29, go 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA in 66 games with the Twins. He spent two more seasons in the Twins and went a combined 10-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 126.1 innings.

    ďEverydayĒ Eddie Guardado is one of the best left-handed relievers in Twins history. He was a failed starter. In 1993 and 1994, he combined to go 18-34 with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Once moved to the bullpen, he proved himself and eventually moved into the closerís role.

    LaTroy Hawkins is another failed starter. Even after moving to the bullpen, it took him a couple of years to grasp the concept. From 1995 through 2001, he went 29-54 with a 5.78 ERA. Then in his final two seasons with the Twins (2002-2003), he was one of the best set up men in baseball. He combined to go 15-3 with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 157.2 innings.

    JC Romero went 3-11 with ERAs of 7.02 and 6.23 in 2000 and 2001, respectively. In 2002, he posted a 1.89 ERA in 81 games out of the Twins bullpen.

    Not all relievers come into the big leagues and dominate right away like Jesse Crain, Juan Rincon and Pat Neshek did. Of course, each of those three has also lived the up and down nature of being a relief pitcher in the big leagues. And sometimes, all you need is a guy to come in and have one good year. Check out these examples:

    Tony Fiore came to the Twins in May of 2001 after being released by the Devil Rays days earlier. In fact, the Twins had signed him almost exactly two years earlier and sent him to AAA. The Twins released him after the 1999 season. In 18 big league games in 2000 and 2001 with the Devil Rays and Twins, he posted a 7.30 ERA in 24.2 innings. He allowed 30 hits, walked 12 and struck out 16. Then somehow, he went 10-3 with a 3.16 ERA with the Twins in 2002.

    The Twins claimed lefty Craig Breslow off of waivers from Cleveland midseason in 2008. He had previously been released by Milwaukee, San Diego and Boston. The then-27 year old posted 1.63 ERA in 42 games with the Twins the remainder of that season.

    Letís go all the way back to the 1991 Twins World Series championship team. The Big Train (Carl Willis) had previously posted an 8.25 ERA with the White Sox in 1988. He was let go by the White Sox, Angels and Indians before signing with the Twins. The 30 year old (in 1991) went 8-3 with a 2.63 ERA for the Twins in 89 innings. In 1992, he posted a 2.72 ERA in 79.1 innings for the Twins. In 1993, he posted a 3.10 ERA in 58 innings for the Twins.

    Last offseason, the Twins needed some pitchers to step up for the Twins in their bullpen. One pitcher did that. Glen Perkins posted 2.48 ERA in 61.2 innings out of the Twins bullpen. He was easily the Twins top pitcher despite the fact that most fans wanted him to be released after a couple of disastrous seasons.

    Most of these guysí success occurred after players had turned 27 or 28 years old. When I see guys who have had big league success like Jared Burton and Jason Bulger brought in on minor league deals, I think it is exciting. Hard-throwers like Vasquez, Perdomo and Deduno are certainly at least intriguing. Youngsters like Alex Burnett and Lester Oliveros warrant some patience. A guy like Kyle Waldrop has put in his time in the minors and earned an opportunity in the big leagues. His ground ball rates are incredible. Brendan Wise is an Australian who hasnít played in the big leagues but who profiles a lot like Waldrop. Carlos Gutierrez needs to stay healthy, but the hard thrower in another ground ball machine. Deolis Guerra is still the youngest player on the Twins 40 man roster and has a tremendous changeup and his numbers after moving to the bullpen last year were great. Jeff Manship profiles very much like Matt Guerrier. They throw with the same velocity, same control, same changeup and curveballs that are often described as the best in the organization. Unfortunately Manship was hurt last year, but he comes into spring training healthy and should perform. Two guys that seemingly have been forgotten but are not gone from the Twins could also factor into the Twins bullpen later in the season. Anthony Slama and David Bromberg were both removed from the 40 man roster and outrighted to Rochester. Neither was even invited to big league camp, but Slama has put up some of the best minor league bullpen numbers that weíve seen in recent years. Bromberg will likely start the season as a starter, but cold be a bullpen arm to consider later in the season.

    Listen, Iíll be the first person to tell you that the Twins bullpen was a mess in 2011. I will also say that of the Twins biggest question marks coming into the 2012 season, the bullpen is atop that list. But based on an organizational history of giving guys opportunities to move up and contribute, Iím at the very least intrigued by some interesting roster and non-roster bullpen possibilities. Iím willing to get to the end of March before considering looking for a trade.
    This article was originally published in blog: Patience with Bullpen is a Must started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 26 Comments
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      The Twins need two of the above pitchers to step up and that is indeed asking a lot considering the injury problems and lack of experience. My hopes are Kyle Waldrop finally gets a serious look. He was a #1 draft pick in 2004 (25th Overall) and has a 60% groundball rate in the minors. He has been slowed down by injuries and could really be a nice replacement for Matt Guerrier. My best guess is Jared Burton and Jason Bulger make the team out of spring training. They both have good stuff, a nice track record, but can they stay healthy? I'm not very high on Terry Doyle at all. Alex Burnett and Lester Oliveros need more seasoning in the minors before contributing at the Major League Level.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      bullpens are going to be bad when starts cannot consistently go 6-7 innings. My big issue is that they overpaid for Capps to the tune of a draft pick and several million, and that they didn't go out and pick up another decent arm such as Dan Wheeler on the cheap. I liked the Zumaya deal, but not if it was the only one. I agree that trading is not wise right now, but doing nothing is equally foolish.
    1. dave_dw's Avatar
      dave_dw -
      Love the article. This hits the nail on the head. If you don't have quality, get quantity. The more mediocre options you get the better chance one of them develops into a good option. I'm very interested to see who takes a step forward this year!
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Jared Burton's numbers the last three years he was healthy are much better than Wheeler's the last three years. Bulger's got great strikeout numbers in his MLB and AAA careers. With Waldrop, Gutierrez, Manship, Oliveros and Burnett, there is much more potential than any of the free agents they could ahve signed. Like I said, if they're just going to get average guys, I'd rather give the young guys a shot. If they can get a difference-maker, like Uehara (without giving up the farm!), I'd be in favor.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      I'm with you on this one. The Twins have actually made some pretty significant 'investments' with a few of these guys--1st round picks for Guty and Waldrop, trades for Oliveros and Guerra , and Capps for that matter. As you've stated before, if the Twins are in contention, they'll definitely go get more bullpen help. If not, these guys can get some low-intensity innings in.

      As far as Capps goes, yeah, an overpay (in hindsight), but I don't think Madson is twice as good or that Papelbon is 3 times as good as Capps. For the Twins, they maybe thought better to go with the devil you know than the devil you don't know.
      And, I know its just me, but I'm tired of hearing how the Twins could've had a different closer + a draft pick. The Twins have five high picks already and will owe over $12 million in signing bonuses, highest in the league.
    1. Captain Kirkus's Avatar
      Captain Kirkus -
      Great job Seth! I agree with this 100%. Twins are one of those teams that consistently produce quality bullpen arms. Each year someone steps up or "overachieves" and contributes to an already established bullpen. Last year we didn't have that back bone to go along with Perkins. Gone were Crain and Guerrier. Nathan was hurt, along with everyone else. Hopefully this year 1 or 2 arms will step up and pair that with Perkins, Capps and even Duensing who is great against lefties. We have plenty of arms to choose from in camp, no reason to trade a prospect just as the farm system is heading in the right direction.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      Thanks Seth for a rational and intelligent look at the bullpen situation. The Twins now have a month to see who amongst this group 'earns that job.'

      Personally, I am having a bit of a rough time with this new site. As you know, I don't care for a lot of the negativism that appears here. Is also tough when one disagrees and is immediately asked to no longer read/comment on certain individuals posts. Think I am going to miss sethspeaks.net, but I certainly understand your motivation for moving here.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Totally agree with you Seth. As a matter of fact, when I looked at the Twins' pen situation a couple days ago, what I wrote was very similar.
      (only one detail: Deduno is not a power pitcher, his average fastball is in the high 80s)

      A couple of those players will have break-through STs and break-through seasons. Burnett is due. 3 seasons ago he was brilliant in AA and then rushed to the majors too soon. Hopefully he puts it together this Spring and carries through the seasons. Lots of early acolades about Waldrop's sinker in the camp too. Grey, Vasquez, Burton and Bulger could be the next Guerrier and Reyes. Oliveros has a ton of potential (and the hardest thower among everyone in camp now that Zumaya is done) and he is 24. Interesting group and will be intersting to see them fight for a spot through out the Spring.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      I just really don't agree they shouldn't have picked up another veteran option in the bullpen. Setting aside pissing away $4M on Matt Capps, they made it clear they were looking for some more help by picking up Zumaya. Which was a smart move, but once you do it, you're saying, yeah, we need more bullpen help, at which point there is simply no conceivable reason not to have grabbed an solid veteran in a buyer's market for peanuts when Zumaya had about a 20% chance of making it through the season.

      Even if you buy the whole "rebuilding, let's raise some players internally" angle, there's no point not to grab a bargain to help avoid an embarrassing season, another of which will hurt fan confidence on the third year of a new stadium, setting up a downward spiral. Not that one bullpen pitcher would make all the difference but it wouldn't hurt. And there would still have been plenty of open spots for internal options.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      "Even if you buy the whole "rebuilding, let's raise some players internally" angle, there's no point not to grab a bargain to help avoid an embarrassing season, "

      Jeffk, I believe Seth's point is that is what Ryan did, he picked up up a bunch of potential bargains and is hoping/expecting that one or more will come through to fortify the bullpen. The so called bargains available for "peanuts" were almost universally old, coming off of a down year or years, with declining secondary numbers.

      Some of those savvy old vets will likely have good years this coming year. But there is no way to predict which ones, and realistically, there is about as good a chance one of the younger guys Ryan picked up will bounce back to be just as effective. There is also a reasonable chance that one or more of the young guys from the Twins system will be ready at some point this year.

      There also is no particular reason to believe that any of the "bargain" vets wanted to sign with the Twins or would of been willing to sign for bargain prices.

      I don't buy the contention that the Twins can't contend this year, and I expect a quite a bit of change during the season in the bullpen. But, I don't expect the bullpen to be the reason the Twins don't contend this year, if that is what happens.
    1. Neil's Avatar
      Neil -
      This is one of my favorites articles I've read recently, Seth. Your optimism is refreshing, even if it might better be described as an absence of pessimism.

      It's actually a little bittersweet to look back at all the success stories Gardy and Andy to their credit over the past decade. It leaves me wondering, "Where have all the flowers gone?" as this brand of scrappy magic has been distinctly lacking.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Solid points Seth. I detailed the same thing last winter (http://overthebaggy.blogspot.com/201...llpen-has.html) after the loss of Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. The fact is, the Twins have been very good at cobbling together a bullpen in the past decade. I think the Twins have a outstanding core of talent evaluators who missed last yearbut there are plenty of arms in camp that someone should be able to emerge.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Yes, it is possible and perhaps even probable that one or two guys from this bunch can emerge as legitimate middle relief options. I'm fine with rounding out a bullpen through this avenue, but completely building a bullpen with it is dangerous. The only player in the entire bullpen mix who actually had a successful season in the majors last year was Glen Perkins, and even he lacks the prolonged track record to inspire total confidence. Relievers are always volatile and there are no sure things, but throwing a bunch of mediocrity against the wall and hoping for the best is exactly what led them to the worst bullpen in the league last year.

      I don't think there's anything wrong with suggesting that the Twins would be better served with at least one proven big-league relief arm that doesn't carry enormous question marks.

      Quote Originally Posted by roger View Post
      Is also tough when one disagrees and is immediately asked to no longer read/comment on certain individuals posts.
      I presume this is directed at me. To be clear, I did not ask you to stop reading or commenting on my posts, I simply suggested that you might be better off doing so considering that you seem so sensitive to any vaguely critical analysis. I got accused all the time last offseason of being overly negative -- then the team lost 99 games. Much of the time, what you perceive as negativity is just being realistic. If you find it so offensive, don't read it. That's all I'm saying.
    1. savvyspy's Avatar
      savvyspy -
      Normally I would agree that having 21 average to below average players to fill 3 spots seems like an effective way to build a bullpen until you actually realize that this article brought up a couple of times where its succeeded and neglected to mention the dozens upon dozens of times it doesn't work out. In the end the numbers will say that mediocre picting is mediocre pitching WAY more than it magically turns into good pitching.

      I would add that even if the Twins somehow manage to scape 3 decent guys out of the bunch, the "Top 4" mentioned (Capps, Perkins, Deunsing, and Swarzak) we already members of the worst bullpen in the majors last year. So basically the "plan" was to guarantee these 4 guys who weren't good last year (other than Perkins) get combined with a mixed bag of 3 additional guys from a pool of 21 average to below average pitchers to form an effective bullpen? That's not a proven way to build a winner. Its basically doing the same this that failed last time over and hoping for a different result.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      "Normally I would agree that having 21 average to below average players to fill 3 spots seems like an effective way to build a bullpen until you actually realize that this article brought up a couple of times where its succeeded and neglected to mention the dozens upon dozens of times it doesn't work out"

      Actually the Twins have used this method for more than 20 years to fill out their bullpen. Throughout the 90's one of the strengths of of those generally weak teams was a strong bullpen. Nearly every year the same method to fill out the bullpen was used. Ryan is not doing something that has failed in the past for him, he is using a many times used method, that has worked far more often than it has failed.
    1. tobynotjason's Avatar
      tobynotjason -
      Guerrier took a full year of repeating AAA for the second time as a starter (and showing improvement in his peripherals) before he was an asset to the MLB bullpen. He was acquired prior to his age 25 season - hardly past the point of no return.

      Reyes had been decent in 2004 before developing extreme control problems in 2005. He had a multi-year track record of good to very great K rates and good groundball rates. His control returned with the Twins and he was effective again.

      Young, failed MLB starters like Guardado and Hawkins and Romero - pitchers once perceived by scouts to have the stuff to succeed as starters, who were accordingly given significant playing time by their big league clubs as starters - regularly turn into effective bullpen arms. This is a truism.

      And Guardado pretty much just sucked for two full seasons after going to the bullpen, had a good season, then posted mediocre peripherals for a looong time. It was 2001 - 7 years after his second failed starting stint - before he became a reliable, effective guy.

      Breslow had fantastic K rates and was effective overall in both 2006 and 2007 at Pawtucket and with the Red Sox.

      Willis is one guy for whom there is no blueprint: his minor league journeyman time between 88 and 91 looks like just that: a guy who wasn't even AAAA. His peripherals with the Twins FAR outstrip anything he'd done the last two years in AAA. Presumably they saw something they thought they could fix and did so. Or he juiced or something. That one's a stumper.

      My question is: what do you see as the analogs to these guys among this year's crop, and how does the fact that some of the historical guys succeeded only after significant time had passed help assuage naysayers of the off-season bullpen handling? Understand, I have NO problem with the idea that Swarzak and Duensing might be effective relief pitchers. They both pretty much fit the "failed starter" mold, although Swarzak got his MLB reps more from need than perceived MLB starter stuff/MiLB track record.

      Likewise, I have no problem with the idea that Gutierrez or Waldrop or Guerra or Bromberg might be worthwhile out of the bullpen at some point. Waldrop is probably at make or break time. I'm just not seeing how your historical examples correlate with the list of names the Twins have brought in. Most of these guy just appear to just not be very good at major league baseball. Bulger is 33, which makes a Reyes analogy tenuous, but at least he still struck out guys last year in AAA.

      The reason these guys are cast-offs becomes apparent. You can see that many of them once had some promise, and I it's certainly possible somebody could figure something out or have it figured out for him by Randerson or whatever.

      But to conclude "The Twins are correct to have signed the arms they did and passed on the other proven stuff" just does not follow.
    1. TwinsMusings's Avatar
      TwinsMusings -
      Excellent article, Seth. As I have said on other threads, I'm one who supports your point of view because there is enough upside to the group mentioned to give it a month of spring training outings to see who develops and stands out before deciding if any trade is necessary.

      Nick, for what it is worth, I do not find your response to roger's comment helpful to the discussions. In fact, it comes off to me as defensive. You write well enough and do enough research to support your opinions that you don't need to be defensive.

      All of us who have come to this site are testing to see if it is a site we are going to visit and comment at regularly, and the general tone of posts and comments is one factor that will influence our decisions. I am here looking for well written, well reasoned opinions and ideas about Twins baseball whether they are supportive or critical of the Twins. This post by Seth is an outstanding example.

      Roger, I hope you continue to read and post on this site because I am interested in reading your thoughts and points of view.

      Thanks again to all of the TwinsCentric gang for putting together this site. I believe it has great promise for being exactly what many Twins fans and would-be bloggers are interested in.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      It seems like the Tampa Bay Rays are the quasi-Moneyball team du jour, and their success at cobbling together bullpens seems to be the blueprint many posters wish the Twins would follow. But even throwing a million bucks at someone like Wheeler can be seen as a "lottery ticket." There's a reason he changes teams every year.

      I think the Twins' strategy is laudable--mine for hidden treasures without spending much of anything. To characterize all 33 pitchers as mediocre to me is disingenuous--their are a variety of 1st round picks and formerly highly rated prospects in this bunch. Keep in mind this Twins' management is largely the same group that plucked Johan Santana, Liriano, and others from rival organizations. (Don't forget--Santana wasn't such a sure thing; they had to trade UP in the Rule V draft to get him.) So yes, I guess I'm a hopeless optimistic homer who is trying to get a job with the Twins front office.

      Again, whatever money is left unspent in the budget can be spent later in the year to bolster the relief corp--on pitchers who have already proven they are worth it. One example: Brian Fuentes in a 2010 trade-good. Brian Fuentes as a free agent signing in 2011--bad.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      I am still testing the waters as well, and I suppose I will just get used to it--change is inevitable. I only ever bookmarked Seth's site, because it was my favorite, but I almost daily would link to Parker, John, and Nick. It was a quasi-Twins Daily anyway, and I liked that the formatting was different; in a way reflecting their various viewpoints.

      But I'm well aware that I've been reading unbelievable FREE content from all four writers for several years, and I fully support their move. It's not really the mixing of the writers that is a problem, but, as Nick may have been alluding to--the mixing or the readers/commenters. Every reader of Twindaily probably has a favorite writer of the four, and we just need to figure out a way to get along a respect each other's differing points of view, which is the whole point anyway.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      A common argument is that the Twins are taking the "cheap" route by bringing in all these "retreads". There is a glut of these has-beens, right? Well, logic would tell you to hold off until the prices go dowm, especially if your cheap SOB's like the Twins. So, explain to me why the Twins were early in signing guys, not late. To fill their allottment with the absolute cheapest guys?

      I really think that's what some of you believe. How about this for an alternative explanation? They did their homework and signed some guys they actually think have a chance.
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