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  • Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher

    We wrap up the Position Analysis series with a look at the relief corps, which could best be described as "unstable." There's little question that the Twins will proceed with seven relievers and a short bench, as is their standard; to fill those seven spots, they brought a veritable army of flawed pitchers to compete in Ft. Myers.

    With a week left to go, it appears that the Twins have settled on which arms they will carry north. As is always the case in spring training, this is subject to change Ė particularly with the uncertain situations surrounding Scott Baker and Jason Marquis Ė but here's a look at the seven relievers I believe the Twins will break camp with.

    Matt Capps
    2011 Stats: 65.2 IP, 4.25 ERA, 15/ 24 SV, 34/13 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP

    Capps spent most of last season battling a forearm strain. Pitching through the pain, he never complained, took the mound when he was asked and showed accountability when he failed to get the job done. He deserves credit for that. He also got hammered by hitters routinely, blew nine of 24 save chances and was booed off the mound at Target Field multiple times.

    Capps has been an effective hard-throwing relief pitcher with outstanding control for most of his career and he's still only 28. If he's fully healthy he should be perfectly adequate in the closer role. Last year's arm problems were never addressed surgically, so there exists a real possibility that the injury could come barking once again.

    Glen Perkins
    2011 Stats: 61.2 IP, 2.48 ERA, 65/21 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP

    The only member of this bullpen who looks like a remotely sure thing is Perkins, coming off a breakthrough season. In his transition to a setup role, Perk was flat-out unhittable over the first four months of 2011 but saw his performance deteriorate in August and September. Most likely, this was due to his high usage; he appeared in 65 games last year when his previous professional high was 39.

    Assuming the southpaw's arm is in good shape, he's a solid bet to proceed as one of the league's better late-inning relievers. His fastball gained significant velocity with the switch to the bullpen, setting up a slider that is one of the league's deadliest weapons.

    Brian Duensing
    2011 Stats: 161.2 IP, 5.23 ERA, 115/52 K/BB, 1.52 WHIP

    Last spring, I bemoaned Ron Gardenhire's decision to hand Duensing a spot in the rotation, reasoning that his success as a starter in 2010 was unsustainable and that facing righty-stacked starting lineups would eventually do him in. Sure enough, the lefty had a tough year in the rotation, finishing with a 5.23 ERA and 1.52 WHIP.

    Through the struggles, Duensing continued to mow down left-handed hitters, holding them to a .217/.242/.280 hitting line with one home run in 187 PA. Considering his major weakness against righties, it makes a world of sense to move him back into a role where he can be situationally matched up against same-sided batters. Played to his strengths, Duensing figures to have plenty of success.

    Anthony Swarzak
    2011 Stats: 102 IP, 4.32 ERA, 55/26 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP

    Swarzak has been a useful swing man in the past, but there are plenty of reasons to be leery of his outlook. During his time in the big leagues last year, he struck out 12.5 percent of the batters he faced; only five qualifying pitchers in the majors had a worse rate. His 19-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 as a reliever inspired little confidence. Hopefully a full-time switch to the bullpen will help play up his stuff, because it's hard to see his low 90s fastball and mediocre secondary offerings serving much value in anything other than a mop-up role.

    Jared Burton
    2011 Stats: 4.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3/3 K/BB, 1.93 WHIP

    Burton is probably the most intriguing guy in the bullpen mix. He's pitched a total of eight innings in the majors over the past two seasons, but prior to that he'd been a quality late-inning reliever for the Reds, and he's 30 years old. Injury issues derailed the right-hander in recent years, but he's been healthy in camp and his results on the mound have been excellent. He's the club's best hope for a reliable right-handed setup man to complement Perkins.

    Matt Maloney
    2011 Stats: 18.2 IP, 9.16 ERA, 13/4 K/BB, 2.14 WHIP

    The Twins claimed Maloney during the offseason because they saw something in him despite an unremarkable 2011 season spent mostly starting in the Reds' system. Their belief in his potential as a reliever appears justified based on a 16-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 1/3 spring innings, but that's overshadowed by a lengthy record of mediocrity. Fortunately, as a third lefty option out of the bullpen and long reliever, he shouldn't need to see too many high-leverage spots.

    Jeff Gray
    2011 Stats: 48.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 23/21K/BB, 1.51 WHIP

    The buzz for Maloney is understandable, to some degree, but I'm baffled by the Twins' fascination with Gray. Apparently in line to make the roster by virtue of being out of options, he's a 30-year-old right-hander with a 50-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 2/3 big-league innings, a 6.6 K/9 rate in the minors and two strikeouts against four walks in 8 1/3 spring innings. Gray is a hard thrower, with a fastball that registers in the mid-90s, but the velocity hasn't translated into remotely dominant numbers, and he's been around for a while.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      The bullpen, again this year, will be the weakest part of the team -- and that's really saying something. Yikes.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      I doubt the bullpen will be worse only because the 2011 pen set the bar very low.

      Can someone explain why TR gave up a 1st round pick to sign a closer on a likely 70 win team???? Oh yeah, its because Capps is a NICE GUY! What a way to run a franchise.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I'm actually looking for Swarzak to step up into the righty-setup role. While he sits in the low 90's as a starter or when asked to throw multiple innings, he can ramp it up some in short stints. Much like Perkins last year, if they just pen him in as a reliever and leave him there, we should see better "stuff". Whether that translates to better #'s, who knows, but I like his chances as good as anyone else's here if he's not asked to start games.
    1. Hater's Avatar
      Hater -
      You may get the last laugh Nelson regarding the bullpen, so we will have to hear about how the Twins should have paid a couple million out to a bunch of washed up guys that will improve the team a total of .5 wins over the course of the year... BUT, Gray, Maloney, Burton & Co have looked good so far. There was a lot of hate from the BLOG O SPHERE about the pickups. When it comes to the bullpen people react too much for something that matters so little in MLB.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      It wouldn't completely surprise me if the Twins' bully ranked in the top third in the AL in team ERA this season. That's how fickle things can be. And think of the surplus of arms in Rochester, all of them only slightly "worse" candidates: Gutierrez, Guerra, Burnett, Waldrop, Slama, Fien, Manship, Robertson, Oliveros...

      I hope they are sellers (for prospects only) at the trade deadline. Frankly, I'd "dangle" the whole 40-man roster to see if someone will overpay for something...
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by birdwatcher View Post
      It wouldn't completely surprise me if the Twins' bully ranked in the top third in the AL in team ERA this season. That's how fickle things can be. And think of the surplus of arms in Rochester, all of them only slightly "worse" candidates: Gutierrez, Guerra, Burnett, Waldrop, Slama, Fien, Manship, Robertson, Oliveros...

      I hope they are sellers (for prospects only) at the trade deadline. Frankly, I'd "dangle" the whole 40-man roster to see if someone will overpay for something...
      +1 dangle. I'd cover Capps with leeches and troll him past every GM in baseball.

      It's probably asking too much, but it would be nice if Ryan would remember that the "proven closer" label is one of the most meaningless in baseball, and yet something that some organization is willing to overpay for, in terms of money or talent, or both.
    1. Highabove's Avatar
      Highabove -
      There were a wide variety of available pitchers in a saturated market. Is Francisco Cordero washed up?
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      I think relief pitching and defense were the 2 biggest reasons for last season's disaster.

      Unfortunately, I don't we did enough in those areas to make us a threat.

      I actually think the rotation will be fine, and I think we'll be able to score runs.

      But with pitchers on strict pitch counts these days, so many games are won and lost in middle relief. There seems to be a lot of anxiety over Capps saving games, but I'm more worried about the ability of the 6th/7th/8th inning guys to get the ball to Capps with the lead in tact.

      And if the defense is giving the opposition extra outs every game like they were last year, it's going to make things that much more difficult.
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      Bullpens are always the hardest to predict since relief pitchers seem to put up the most inconsistent performances from year to year. However, even the most die-hard Twins fan has to be a little concerned that the group the Twins are running out there this year has a lot of similarity to the guys they ran out last year and that was simply a disaster. We have 1 player (Perkins) out of 7 that you can have some level of confidence in performing well based upon past performance. Just 1!!. We all hope Capps pitches better, but even at his best, he's simply average. The rest of these guys are all a crap shoot. Things may not turn out as poorly as last year, but there is certainly a chance of sorts that it does. If so, we have no one to blame but Ryan. Quite simply put - I don't think there is another team in the AL that would willing sway bullpens with the Twins at this point. If you think there is name it and give me a comparison of why you think the Twins are better. The only one that I could think of is perhaps the Orioles. I hope these guys all find themselves this year and are successful, but I have serious doubts that even 1/2 them will do that.
    1. tjgrob's Avatar
      tjgrob -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      I doubt the bullpen will be worse only because the 2011 pen set the bar very low.

      Can someone explain why TR gave up a 1st round pick to sign a closer on a likely 70 win team???? Oh yeah, its because Capps is a NICE GUY! What a way to run a franchise.
      This is the first comment I've seen by "Twinswon1991" on this entire blog that is remotely positive, and it's still not 100% constructive - if you are so negative on the Twins, without anything positive/constructive to add please keep your comments to yourself.

      Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your ability to call out B.S., that is needed from time to time, but try to sprinkle in some positive posts as well!
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