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Article: Twins Explosive Bullpen Had A Long Fuse

j.r. graham ryan orourke paul molitor glen perkins trevor may
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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 10:57 PM

The only things more embarrassing than the Minnesota Twins bullpen in Tuesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Yankees were the decisions that led to that bullpen. The bullpen only had two bad innings, an ugly disastrous detonation. But the fuse - the decisions that led to that explosion - show a pattern of both obliviousness and incorrect judgment that suggests that this problem isn’t going away soon.The Twins were forced to rely on Ryan O’Rourke and J.R. Graham in critical innings last night. O’Rourke is a rookie and lefty specialist. Graham is a Rule 5 draft pick who is primarily on the roster because if the Twins don’t keep him on the roster, they have to offer him back to the Braves. Those two were the bridge to the later innings because manager Paul Molitor was short-handed, partly because of the number of pitchers he had to use Monday night.

But Monday’s game is only a fraction of the reason Molitor was short-handed. The bigger reason is that the bullpen has been both overused and short-handed since last Thursday when Twins management was confronted by Phil Hughes' back injury. To replace him for Friday’s start, they had a choice. Behind Door #1, they could call up JO Berrios, their top pitching prospect who was already scheduled to pitch Friday night in AAA-Rochester. Behind Door #2 was Trevor May, who has been their best reliever since the All-Star break. He had been a starting pitcher earlier this year and could throw 50 or so pitches, but then he would be unavailable to pitch in in the bullpen for several days. They chose Door #2.

So May was not available the day before his start, when the Rangers scored the game-winning run off of Casey Fien in the eighth inning, an inning which May would have normally pitched. He was only able to pitch three innings in Friday’s game, meaning four other relievers had to throw 85 pitches to finish that game. And he was not available Saturday, Sunday or Monday either, forcing the Twins to use Kevin Jepsen and Glen Perkins in back-to-back-to-back games, which means they were not available on Tuesday night.

So to review, the Twins decided to short their bullpen for five nights of their best reliever, so he could pitch the first three innings of one game during that stretch. They did this rather than call up a top-20 prospect with a 3.18 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched who also happened to have his start be that same night. A start, by the way, in which he threw a no-hitter for the first six innings. (And then got shelled in the seventh inning. But still.) The Twins just didn’t prioritize the bullpen.

The questionable decisions didn’t end with the 8-4 loss, however. After the game, it was announced that Twins closer Glen Perkins would be flying back to the Twin Cities for an MRI and possibly a cortisone shot to relieve some neck pain with which he has been pitching. Perkins has turned from Mariano Rivera into Matt Capps since the All-Star break, leading to many wondering if he was healthy. Turns out, he wasn’t. And the Twins seemed to have known this. (And if they didn’t, they should have.)

Which make the decision to only trade for one decent but not fantastic reliever at the deadline even more questionable. Jepsen has been a solid addition to the bullpen so far, but he’s never going to be a dominant closer. The reality is that it’s nearly impossible to paper over the rather large hole that removing Perkins would create, but if a team knows he’s hurt, isn’t getting at least a couple of arms – or one fairly dominant one – a priority? Again, the bullpen was not a priority.

The questions go back further than July. Why was Tim Stauffer brought back from rehab so early (or at all)? Why was Aaron Thompson around into July when, over his last 23(!) games, he posted an ERA of 8.44 and struck out just three batters? Why haven’t the Twins been more aggressive in swapping out under-performing veterans like Brian Duensing, Brad Boyer and Casey Fien earlier this year? Why, if the bullpen is a priority, are they still trying to hide a Rule 5 draft pick out there?

One answer to a lot of these questions could be that the Twins don’t have a lot of other options in the organization. But that just raises other questions which suggest that the dubious decisions go back further than just this year. For instance, the last several years, the Twins have loaded up on relievers in the draft, claiming they were going to develop their power arms into major league pitchers. At this point, the organization should be littered with them.So where are they?

Even if the Twins didn’t focus on relievers in the draft, there is one other truth that might be the most damning: losing teams are always able to develop good bullpens. Losing teams have more flexibility on the 40-man roster to pick up intriguing arms. They have an earlier pick on the waiver wire. They have more opportunity to offer minor league free agents. Dozens of rules and market forces result in losing teams almost always having good bullpens. It’s the rest of the stuff – like scoring and starting pitching - that’s hard. Given four losing seasons, the Twins shouldn’t have been looking for bullpen help at the trade deadline. They should’ve been able to shop it.

Tuesday night was just a couple of innings, but it’s a problem that has been building for years. Maybe even scarier, it’s a problem that management doesn’t seem to recognize it has, or doesn’t seem interested in addressing. This fuse has been burning for some time.

Boom.

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#2 jaimedude2

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 11:11 PM

Well stated article, Starting Berrios on Friday could have prevented a lot of what has happened this week and has enhanced and heightened this season bullpen problem. They the GM and Manager will blame injury's, bad luck, but the truth is they were simply far to slow reacting to an obvious problem, negligent in effecting change, or in complete denial that the bullpen problem even existed. Relying on Boyer, Duensing, Thompson, to much, the Santana suspension, Nolasco injury's have contributed to the issues, that said the GM has done little with the exception of the one trade at the deadline to fix or address the problem. Stashing the rule five guy on a team and playing with a 22 to 23 person roster all year has hurt this teams ability to finish games and finish them off. That will ultimately lead to a frustrating end to the 2015 season. GM Ryan has let the team and the fans down, a lot of these close losses could have been wins if he would have put the organizations best talent and optimized roster on the field


#3 Seth Stohs

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Posted 18 August 2015 - 11:23 PM

When the Twins announced that May would pitch Friday and Duffey would pitch Saturday, there were two thoughts by Twins fans:

 

1.) Excitement because they wanted May to be stretched out so he could pitch more innings.

2.) Upset because Duffey was getting another start instead of Berrios.

 

In hindsight, after Duffey was terrific, they decided he'd get more starts and May would go back to the bullpen. At that point, it became a clear mistake to have May start on Friday. As you wrote, it hurt them on Thursday, and Monday and Tuesday, at least to some degree.

 

 

Why, if the bullpen is a priority, are they still trying to hide a Rule 5 draft pick out there?

 

I don't think those two things (bullpen being a priority and having a Rule 5 guy) are the same. It would be silly at this stage to return Graham (who has been pretty OK all things considered, role, never pitching above AA, etc.) to the Braves. 

 

How this year's bullpen was built was very similar to how previous years' bullpens were constructed. Go with the guys who have had success before, mix in a couple of minor league free agents and a couple of internal options. It definitely has not worked this year like it has in past years. 

 

Finally, the hard-throwing guys that they drafted that I thought could surface this year have not been good. Burdi has been better of late (exception tonight). Jones and Reed struggled too. JT Chargois is pitching for the first time in two years, so he shouldn't be pushed too much, and yet he's pitched (well) at two levels. I still expect Burdi, Reed and Jones, along with Chargois, to be big-time bullpen arms in the future. 

 

Thompson and Boyer were really good for 5-6 weeks during their hot stretch. Perkins was perfect, which wasn't sustainable. Also, the starting pitchers were consistently going 7 innings which helped the bullpen. That's the biggest issue. 

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#4 mumoo13

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 12:19 AM

Another mistake was choosing Graham instead of May to face ARod. Up by 3 with ARod up and the bases loaded in the 7th is the ideal time to bring out your best right-handed reliever instead of saving him until the 9th inning.

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#5 Platoon

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 05:13 AM

Seths point about the BP being constructed more or less the same as always, is pretty much spot on. The Twins have been very late to the dance in recognizing velocity as an intregal part of RP. Or maybe to put it in another light, they might recognize it, but Ryan just cannot live with the likely walk rate that comes with that velocity. It is not easy to change the pitch to contact spots on a 60 plus year old leopard! He may say all the right things about emulating the KC BP, but it's a completely different matter to develop high velocity pitching, than natural strike throwers. Sometimes you just have to accept a walk and a SO as the equivalent of a fly ball to the warning track!
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#6 pierre75275

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 05:54 AM

When I saw Graham warming in the bullpen I turned off the game. I knew he was up for Arod and didn't care to watch him go yard. I doubt any body in the park really thought a extremely homer prone pitcherfacing a prolific homer prone hitter with the game on the line was going to end any different then it did
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#7 twinssouth

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:03 AM

Great article Seth, really well thought out and totally agree Hard to add anything more, especially after enduring the last 2 nights implosions. I think the Twins need to offer free Valium for all fans once the bullpen "1st man up bullpen parade" starts. The stashing of the JR Graham rule 5 pick has been my biggest beef. They grab a rule 5 almost every year which shows a complete lack of faith in their minor league pitchers by not promoting from within. Then, he gets added to the 25, pitching in low leverage situations, taking a roster spot away from a deserving minor leaguer. You can't tell me that a Tonkin or Achter or whoever, wouldn't be just as successful when knowing they will be on the roster for the whole year, pitching in meaningless situations.
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#8 twinssouth

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:07 AM

Want to add, up until last night where he faced ARod, Graham was used in low leverage, so his past performances were, where Twins were getting blown out or had big leads, thus my term for meaningless situations.

#9 Blackjack

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:33 AM

Hind site is 20-20.No doubt it would have been nice to have May the last few days.

 

I think the Twins expected at least one or two of the young relief pitchers in the minors to be better and up here by now.Problem is, who in the minors IS worth calling up now??

 

Stashing a rule 5 guy on the roster is ok on a rebuilding team but now being in the wild card hunt, its hurting them. Only time and Graham's long term future will tell whether its the right thing to do.At this point they may as well stick with him.

 

The Twins learned after Ron Davis that a good closer is important, its very demoralizing for a team to lose close games all the time and since then they've normally had a good closer. Now they're learning that a lousy bullpen can be demoralizing too.

 

As with any good team it still boils down to starting pitching and right now they're not getting enough innnings out of their starters. 

 

Going to be a long road trip!!! Better hope Santana pitches a good game today!!


#10 Shane Wahl

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:35 AM

That the Twins have this many pitchers on staff and yet they still do not have enough for individual games is astounding.

 

I still cannot understand how Terry Ryan has no accountability, ever. It's pretty shocking how this team has tossed away this season after being in a playoff spot at the beginning of this month.

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#11 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:37 AM

Well stated article, John. As I've said before, I've never been as angry with a Twins front office as I am with the 2015 front office.

 

They've had almost countless opportunities to correct course with the bullpen, yet they continually fail and let down a newly expectant fanbase.

 

I hope they're embarrassed about all of this because they should be embarrassed.

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#12 tobi0040

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 06:50 AM

The May decision was baffling.But the pen falling apart was entirely predictable from the off-season.

 

No team will ever contend with the innings allocated as follows:

 

Tim Stauffer 15 IP. 6.60 ERA

JR. Graham 57 IP.5.05 ERA (most innings in pen)

Thompson    32 IP.5.01 ERA

O'Rourke        14 IP.5.00 ERA

Duensing      34 IP.4.67 ERA

Fein               43 IP. 3.71 ERA

Boyer             48 IP.Sub 3.00 ERA, awful peripherals.

 

We are 3 games out of the WC race.We would be 3+ ahead with a decent pen.All we had to do was sign a guy like Jepsen in the offseason vs trade for him, then allocate the Stauffer and Duensing $4.9 M to one pitcher actually worth that much money.Two pitchers actually worth $2.5M would have been okay too

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#13 clank2000

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 07:15 AM

Umm, in the photo above, is O'Rourke even looking at the plate?

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#14 clank2000

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 07:20 AM

Graham should have been jettisoned from this roster as soon as it was apparent they had aspirations of contending.

 

Knowing this FO, they'll get rid of him now, which is of course counterintuitive to most people, but flawlessly logical to them.

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#15 spycake

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 07:26 AM

John, how were they "forced" to use O'Rourke and Graham when they did last night? May was on 3 days rest, as many days rest as Duffey had on Saturday.

I haven't been able to confirm, but was Molitor saving May for a later inning? If so, that is massive bullpen mismanagement...
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#16 USAFChief

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 07:33 AM

It's not "hindsi

When the Twins announced that May would pitch Friday and Duffey would pitch Saturday, there were two thoughts by Twins fans:

1.) Excitement because they wanted May to be stretched out so he could pitch more innings.
2.) Upset because Duffey was getting another start instead of Berrios.

In hindsight, after Duffey was terrific, they decided he'd get more starts and May would go back to the bullpen. At that point, it became a clear mistake to have May start on Friday. As you wrote, it hurt them on Thursday, and Monday and Tuesday, at least to some degree.

There were more than "two thoughts."

Some of us questioned the decision making, predicted these exact results, and offered up Berrios on Friday night as a much better option. We questioned these things prior to the weekend.

Please don't refer to these questions now as "hindsight."
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#17 nicksaviking

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 08:03 AM

I would like to add another issue.While it has barely come into play lately due to all the poor starts, the 100 pitch rule still seems to be in effect.The bullpen needed a rest and Pelfrey had been pitching pretty well all things considered.Why the hell was he pulled after 5 1/3 just so O'Rourke could pitch to the bottom of the Yankee order?

 

I say just start bringing up the hard throwers, who cares how they've been pitching in AA or AAA.See if you can catch lightning in a bottle as there is a lot more margin for error when you throw hard and can miss bats.Besides, the results could not be any worse than what they are currently getting.Are Meyer, Burdi and Chargois likely to get torched? Yes.Are Achter, Duensing and Fein likely to get torched? Still yes.

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#18 Loosey

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 08:06 AM

 

Some of us questioned the decision making, predicted these exact results, and offered up Berrios on Friday night as a much better option. We questioned these things prior to the weekend.

Please don't refer to these questions now as "hindsight."

THIS!The fact that a bunch of "bloggers" who watch baseball as fans had the foresight to see what would most likely happen by shortening up the Bullpen by playing a bullpen game on Friday, while management either:

 

A) Didn't see that (even with starters struggling)

B) Did see it but was willing to risk it (terrible idea)

C) Doesn't think it was that big of a deal (shows teams inability to adapt)

 

This shows this team is going to be very disappointing to watch in the coming years if there isn't a very big change at the top.Terry Ryan doesn't know how to adapt and react on the fly.He had opportunities all year long to address what was a pretty well known fact was the teams biggest weakness. 

 

Terry Ryan needs to be held accountable for the mismanagement of the roster this season.This team isn't great, but the American League as a whole is down this year and they had a chance to be a playoff team by simply making wise decisions at times of need.However they sat on their hands or made moves too late or made the wrong moves entirely and effectively blew what was once a promising season.

 

 

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#19 brvama

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 08:09 AM

Coming into this season the bullpen was not a major concern of mine. Had issues but looked serviceable. And while I've generally given the FO slack, this one they've failed IMO. But I also have to question Molitors decisions here and agree with Spycake. Maybe they knew Perk was hurt so May became the closer BUT the game was most important at Arods at bat. Some of Mollies decision seem suspect lately and surely he must share some blame.

#20 Vanimal46

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Posted 19 August 2015 - 08:14 AM

 

 

How this year's bullpen was built was very similar to how previous years' bullpens were constructed. Go with the guys who have had success before, mix in a couple of minor league free agents and a couple of internal options. It definitely has not worked this year like it has in past years. 

 

 

 

Any thoughts as to why this hasn't worked like in years past? The Twins had sustainable success from unheralded prospects like Juan Rincon, JC Romero, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, etc. And lately just can't seem to find the magic formula like they could before. 




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