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Article: Searching For Relief

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#1 John Bonnes

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 06:50 AM

I know better. I know my ire surrounding Twins manager’s Paul Molitor’s bullpen usage is not really directed at Paul Molitor. It is directed at the baseball gods, for the baseball gods have given us these arms, arms that seem promising in spurts, but which have turned the sixth and seventh innings into a natural gas leak.

The Twins are at least one arm short in the bullpen and the result has been a couple of close losses and a couple of comeback wins. But opposing teams know the Twins Achilles heel, and somehow, amazingly, it isn’t the starting pitching. It’s the middle innings, after the starters get to that third trip through the order but before Molitor douses the remaining embers with Trevor Hildenberger and Matt Belisle.(Incidentally, if you’re looking for a scenario in which the Twins blow this Wild Card lead – and Minnesotans are trained to do so - the easiest is that Trevor Hildenberger’s heavy usage results in him reverting to merely mortal. He’s never made more than 41 appearances in a season. Last year it was 38. This year he’s at 53 and climbing and also in uncharted territory for innings pitched, too. Sleep tight.)

So I’m looking at the bullpen’s performances lately and looking for some hope.
Let’s classify what I found.

LEFTIES LIMITED TO MIX AND MATCH
Molitor has signaled for lefthander Taylor Rogers a lot; his nine appearances in September now leads the bullpen. It would be nice if that was because he was returning to form. After all, he was outstanding early, leading to a lot of (over?)usage; his 65 appearances leads the team. Whatever the reason, he was no longer a reliable option from mid-July through August 23rd, posting a 7.43 ERA, while his walk rate spiked upward.

But Molitor is now using him mostly in the role in which Rogers entered the season; he’s facing left-handers and not much else. He hasn’t pitched a full inning in almost two weeks. Similarly, Buddy Boshers is going through a small streak of effectiveness, and Molitor is utilizing him in the same way. He’s the third most used reliever this month, but has only thrown four innings.

The truth is that other than Rogers’ remarkable start, neither has shown the ability to get right-handed hitting out in the minors or majors. They’re both useful, but neither seems likely to grow into a bullpen cornerstone.

WAITING TO STEP UP
A trio of right-handers in the bullpen, on the other hand, seem to have some upside, but seem to be stuck a couple steps short of excellence.

Ryan Pressly was supposed to be a bullpen favorite by now. Hell, he was supposed to be so in April. In spring training there were reports of increased velocity for the 28-year-old, and that’s been true; per FanGraphs.com, his 96.2 mph velocity is the highest in his career. But his first few months were dismal, primarily because he just kept giving up home runs.

His second half has been a lot better. His home run rate is halved, and he has a 2.48 ERA (and a .931 WHIP) since the all-star break. But over his five previous outings, he walked five guys (in 6.1 innings) and gave up 3 hits (and a run) in an inning last night. He still looks like he’s the best positioned to be the pitcher the Twins need in the playoffs, but he’s got to start having success in higher leverage situations. One more positive note: he also has “only” been used 52 times, which is 27 less than the Twins relied on him last year.

A high level glance at a stat sheet suggests that Alan Busenitz is the obvious choice to take the next step. From a results standpoint, his ERA (1.65) and WHIP (.988) jump out. So does his 95.9 mph fastball.

But great relievers need to be able to strike out batter. His 6.6 K/9 ratio is low for a reliever, and watching him it seem obvious that his second pitch, a curveball, isn’t doing enough to set up his fastball for clean swings and misses. Until he develops a better strikeout pitch combination, he looks like a true middle reliever, dependable in spurts but not overly reliable.

That has also been the role this year for Tyler Duffey. The 26-year-old seems to have bounced back from his troubles last year, which were, oddly enough, mostly caused by right-handed batters. This year as a fulltime reliever, his fastball velocity is up a tick and so is his strikeout rate. His 4.61 ERA is worse than it should be given his other numbers. He’s been a perfectly acceptable reliever, especially given it is his first year in that role. But if he’s going to become dependable it’s going to be the way Brandon Kintzler and Belisle have become dependable, by pitching smart and professionally to leverage the maximum from his ability. That’s certainly not likely over the next two weeks.

BLAST FROM THE PAST
I’ll throw one more name in there, not because he’s a realistic candidate, but because he was perceived to be a candidate over the last two years, and has the velocity (94.2 mph average fastball) and strikeout rate (9.3 for his career) to be in this conversation. Did you know that Michael Tonkin is back on the roster? He is, and he’s been in three games, albeit blowouts, and they’ve gone relatively well, in that he hasn’t given up a home run yet.

That’s Tonkin’s biggest problem. It was his problem last year, and it was the problem the year before, and he took that art from to a whole new level this April and May, giving up four home runs in his 11 innings, a truly impressive feat.
Then he went to Rochester and gave up only one dinger in the 31 games (and 41.2 IP) in which he appeared. That might give some hope, except he did the same thing in AAA in 2015 (2 HR in 41 IP). And also in 2014 (2 HR in 45 IP). I guess I can’t blame Molitor for keeping Tonkin at arm’s length until he shows a little better track record in the majors, but I also have to wonder if Tonkin just doesn’t need a change of scenery.

As one walks through the options, you can understand why Molitor seems to have so little trust in that group, a fact he demonstrated by having nearly all of them pitch less than an inning in a close game versus the Yankees last night. Whether some of them should have developed further over the year is an open question. How the new management team answers it will likely be a big story this offseason – but that is hopefully more than two weeks away. And should be, if this team can just find some relief.

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#2 mikelink45

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 07:21 AM

This is a frustrating list.Hildenberger has been too extended.I know we have to, but there is always a downside for young pitchers getting too much use, whether an implosion in the season or a carry over to the next.Rogers is a case in point.  

 

Pressley is my biggest frustration.Like Alex Meyer and Tonkin, he has the speed, but cannot sustain success and I have no confidence in him.  

 

I like Busenitz and I wonder if Curtiss can overcome his initial poor performance and turn things around yet this year.  

 

Then there is the question for September open rosters - why Turley and not another reliever?

 

Sorry to say it is not just the young guys, I still do not like Belisle as a closer. 


#3 Mike Sixel

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 08:19 AM

It isn't the baseball gods. It's the front office. 

 

While Molitor can't be blamed for who he has, there have been curious decisions along the way, imo. But at this point, I'm not sure he's doing much wrong, other than not pulling starters fast enough. Of course, that means more innings for Gee and Tonkin and others....so not sure what the answer is, really.

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I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#4 spycake

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 08:27 AM

Should we have added a reliever on July 31st?  Washington was able to get a guy that day for a lower-level prospect, and he's been pretty effective since.  :)

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#5 Doctor Wu

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 08:41 AM

Bullpens can be such unpredictable creations. The Twins got snake-bit this year with the rash of injuries to the young arms/prospects, plus the long-shot notion that Perkins and Hughes could return with effectiveness. I know most people don't want to hear the mantra "be patient" but I think we have to be in this case. I like what we have waiting in the wings.


#6 Doomtints

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 08:55 AM

If you're worried about the bullpen, do not look at how many pitchers they burned through yesterday in a losing effort.


#7 howieramone2

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:04 AM

 

Bullpens can be such unpredictable creations. The Twins got snake-bit this year with the rash of injuries to the young arms/prospects, plus the long-shot notion that Perkins and Hughes could return with effectiveness. I know most people don't want to hear the mantra "be patient" but I think we have to be in this case. I like what we have waiting in the wings.

No one was waiting for Perkins, and Hughes has the one problematic contract. I wasn't crazy on the idea the new regime was going to spend at least half the season evaluating what we have, but it makes a lot more sense now. Not that we are not going to be looking to make some deals this off season, but for the first time since we started the rebuild in 2012, we have respectable pitching depth going forward.

 

BA had a rather extensive article circa 2009 or 2010 which concluded it takes a mid-market team a minimum of 6 years for a complete rebuild. Our favorite team is right on schedule.

Edited by howieramone2, 20 September 2017 - 09:15 AM.

Read my lips. Santana has shown absolutely no signs of decline.


#8 wsnydes

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:05 AM

 

It isn't the baseball gods. It's the front office. 

 

While Molitor can't be blamed for who he has, there have been curious decisions along the way, imo. But at this point, I'm not sure he's doing much wrong, other than not pulling starters fast enough. Of course, that means more innings for Gee and Tonkin and others....so not sure what the answer is, really.

I think it is still fair to criticize Molitor on some of the usage of the bullpen and timing and perhaps the number of pitching changes, but the bulk of the blame does go to the FO for not doing more to improve the pen to start with.  Molitor has certainly been handcuffed by the lack of quality arms and I think he's done a better job of managing it in the second half, but he's not without blame either.

Edited by wsnydes, 20 September 2017 - 09:10 AM.

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#9 jctwins

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:25 AM

This bullpen makes me appreciate how good the 2010 bullpen crew was, at times in spite of Jesse Crain.

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#10 Blackjack

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:28 AM

They need to pitch Tonkin more, find out whether he has turned the corner or whether he should be cut loose this winter.


#11 yarnivek1972

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:29 AM

The real problem is the Twins putting too much trust in extremely inexperienced relievers. Because they have performed where the veterans failed.

But, like all inexperienced players, there are going to be bumps in the road.

The bottom line is that the Twins needed Pressly, Breslow, Tonkin and even Belisle and Boshers to be better than they have been. Some of that is on them, because they have not performed to their recent career norms. Some of that is on Molitor for using them in situations in which they are likely to fail (like using Boshers vs RHB). And some of that is on Falvine for not having better pitchers available. Yes, some of the vets are performing below expectations, but not really by that much. If Falvine was expecting them to be substantially better, then they are rightfully challenged on their ability to evaluate pitchers.
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#12 Rosterman

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:45 AM

It is such a strange thing to address. The Twins, obviously, are in the playoff hunt. We have never this seson seen such a regular lineup with guys basically sitting in the shadows of the bench, like they aren't on the team.

 

Same with the bullpen.

 

You have two problems. You are coming up on guys pitching waaaay too much than necessary, from both their minor and major appearances. Bringing up arms from the minors is NOT bringing up fresh arms. You are bringing up guys who have pitched more often than not on a regular basis and can be tiring.

 

The arms in the majors face the same. Some should've been totally jettisoned by this time (Pressly, Boshers, Tonkin are examples).

 

The only PLUS is that you have a multitude of arms and can bring them out to face 1, 2 or 3 batters ONLY. Use a lot of guys in a game with minimal work, as seen last night. Can you do this back-to-back-to-back? Doubtful.

 

What hurts more is the starting depth. Yes, you want your starters to go long. You want to have PLUS starters who can get you into the 7th. Yes, if you are ahead, as it seems in any game Gibson pitches, your best starter is pulled because why waste his arm with a big league. So you need potential starters. You need the ability to go with a six man rotation, if necessary (if NOT in the playoff hunt, would be easier to do). You need more guys like Gee and Slegers to co-pitch a game and hopefully not stink, at times, as well as giving you a good look at future possibilities.

 

While other teams (Indians, Astros, Red Soxand even the Yankees) can start to position themselves for the playoffs, the Twins pitching staff is having to show up and pitch like every game counts (and it does) and the offense has to be productive, too.

 

You like to think that throughout the season you have a roster full of the best players who you can actually use in a game. Even calling guys up in September, you want to believe you can trust them in 3-2 games. But there seems to be a lot of names that Molly ignores. Of course Perkins and Curtiss are getting shortshifted and there are others he doesn't really trust. Grante and Goodrum and bench chum it seems (as is Vargas, at times).

 

Tought call. These guys are going to be exhausted if the Twins win the Wild Card, the one-off, and have to go towards playoff heaven.

 

 

 

 

Joel Thingvall
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rosterman at www.twinscards.com


#13 spycake

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:50 AM

 

They need to pitch Tonkin more, find out whether he has turned the corner or whether he should be cut loose this winter.

No thanks! Not in a pennant race, unless someone gets hurt. Tonkin has had enough chances, and he was effectively "cut loose" a few months ago when he was put on waivers (and went unclaimed).  There's virtually nothing he could do in the next 2 weeks to convince me he's worth effectively guaranteeing a 25-man spot for next spring, 6 months in advance.  We can make him a minor league offer just like anyone else, in case he really enjoys the Rochester area.

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#14 yarnivek1972

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 09:57 AM

 

No thanks! Not in a pennant race, unless someone gets hurt. Tonkin has had enough chances, and he was effectively "cut loose" a few months ago when he was put on waivers (and went unclaimed).  There's virtually nothing he could do in the next 2 weeks to convince me he's worth effectively guaranteeing a 25-man spot for next spring, 6 months in advance.  We can make him a minor league offer just like anyone else, in case he really enjoys the Rochester area.

He's even had a few chances since coming back and has not really done that well - in low leverage outings. Nothing really has changed.  Good stuff.  Lacks command.  Much like Pressly, et al.

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#15 gocgo

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 02:41 PM

 

They need to pitch Tonkin more, find out whether he has turned the corner or whether he should be cut loose this winter.

I would argue that we already know that.  Throws hard with no movement and gets hit just as hard.  Unless you can throw 100+, you aren't blowing it by a MLB hitter.  Unless he realizes that and learns how to pitch instead of how to throw, he's not going to succeed in the majors.

Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.


#16 Thrylos

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 02:47 PM

Here is the question that the Twins need to answer:

 

How many of the players in the Twins' pen today could be in the Indians', Astros', Red Sox', and Yankees' post-season bullpens?

 

If they cannot name names (and I doubt that they can, other than mop up,) that pen needs to be rebuilt next off-season big time, and start cutting ties...

Edited by Thrylos, 20 September 2017 - 02:47 PM.

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#17 yarnivek1972

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 02:53 PM

Here is the question that the Twins need to answer:

How many of the players in the Twins' pen today could be in the Indians', Astros', Red Sox', and Yankees' post-season bullpens?

If they cannot name names (and I doubt that they can, other than mop up,) that pen needs to be rebuilt next off-season big time, and start cutting ties...


Rogers would be for sure. Hildenberger probably would be. His lack of experience would hurt his chances on other contenders.

#18 Thrylos

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 03:20 PM

 

Rogers would be for sure. Hildenberger probably would be. His lack of experience would hurt his chances on other contenders.

 

Ok.Give me the one (or 2) players that the Indians, Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees would cut or sit for Rogers and/or Hildenberger.

 

I just cannot find anyone.

 

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#19 Mr. Brooks

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 03:27 PM

Yeah Rogers doesn't belong in a really good bullpen, unless it's a mop up guy. If you squint really hard, he's maybe average at best. Which sounds good at first, but the few teams with elite bullpens don't give meaningful innings to average at best guys.

#20 yarnivek1972

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 03:39 PM

Ok. Give me the one (or 2) players that the Indians, Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees would cut or sit for Rogers and/or Hildenberger.

I just cannot find anyone.


Rogers would likely be a loogy on most elite teams' bullpens. I can't say who he would replace on another team because I'm not familiar enough with their relievers.