Not only was Addison Reed's first year with Minnesota a disappointment, but his uncertain status going forward creates planning headaches in 2019. The only thing guaranteed with Reed for next year is his hefty salary. Can the Twins find a way to derive value from it?Between 2016 and 2017, no major-league pitcher made more appearances than Reed, who piled up 157 appearances for the Mets and Red Sox. The Twins signed him to a two-year, $16.75 million contract with hopes he'd become a stalwart in their bullpen.
Paul Molitor tried to use him as such, deploying the right-hander 40 times through the team's first 84 games, but this time around Reed's arm wasn't up to the task. In his 41st outing, just ahead of the All-Star break, he coughed up three runs in the ninth inning of a loss to the Royals, adding to an extended run of poor performance, and was placed on the disabled list with right triceps tendinitis.
The time off didn't cure what ailed him. As you can see in the chart below (via Brooks Baseball), Reed's velocity was at dire levels in the final months of the 2018 season:
In 2019, Reed will be back, with his $8.5 million salary making him one of the team's highest-paid players. The hope, of course, is that he'll recapture his previous ability and fill the role originally envisioned for him. But can we realistically expect that?
Well, the bad news is that reduced velocity and hittable stuff appeared to be Reed's new realities by the end of his 2018 campaign. While he was healthy enough to pitch late in the season, Molitor used him rarely, and never in close games. Reed often failed to even touch 90 on the gun with his once-potent fastball. In his first 10 appearances off the DL, he induced one or zero swinging strikes in nine of them. Distressing signs from a guy who hasn't yet turned 30.
The Twins have to hope this was, more or less, a lengthy bout with dead arm. To my knowledge, Reed hasn't undergone any kind of corrective procedure, so he'll surely spend his offseason resting and strengthening. Sometimes, that does the trick. I can't think of any examples offhand but it does happen. (Maybe readers can think up some names out in the comments?)
This isn't the kind of front office that'll fail to turn over any stones in assessing a problem, especially one as impactful to their 2019 planning as Reed and his contract, so I'm not inclined to believe there's any major ligament issue being overlooked, though it does bear noting that tricep injuries are often precursors to Tommy John surgery.
The Twins revamped their medical staff last offseason and recently brought in a new strength and conditioning team, so we've gotta have confidence that they are making solid, well-informed decisions on this front. I would imagine that Reed has a very specific program in place for the coming winter.
It's also promising that he'll have two new important voices surrounding him. Pitching coach Wes Johnson has long been known as a "velocity guru," who emphasizes lower-body involvement and takes full advantage of available technology to help his pitchers improve. Sounds like exactly the kind of instructor Reed could use.
The Twins also have a fresh assistant pitching coach in Jeremy Hefner, who was already in the organization but will now be present in the bullpen to assist Reed more directly. Hefner is reputedly highly-regarded for his ability to break down video, and may form an empathetic connection with Reed, only three years his junior. Hefner is no stranger to elbow problems, having undergone two Tommy John surgeries before retiring a few years ago. I liken it to the dynamic between Rocco Baldelli and Byron Buxton; there's a unique perspective and resonance to be gained from having walked in a player's shoes in the not-too-distant past.
Even if the Twins aren't able to juice up Reed's throwing speed again, Hefner may help guide Reed toward effectiveness with a lesser arsenal. This excerpt from a Mike Berardino 2017 profile on Hefner feels relevant now:
The fact Hefner was able to hang around as long as he did with an 89-91 mph fastball seems to have smoothed the transition and helped a Twins staff that largely lacks swing-and-miss weapons.
“Location is always paramount,” Hefner says. “Ultimately, this thing is about execution. That’s why this stuff speaks to me so well because I had to execute to be successful. If I was still playing and I had this information, it would free me up to not try to be nasty and just go execute.”The nice thing about Reed is that he has excellent control; his 5.1% BB rate since 2016 ranks eighth-best among MLB relievers. While his stuff played down in the second half of this season, he still stayed in the zone, walking only two of 62 batters faced in August and September. He seems like a viable candidate to succeed on execution over stuff.
Under ideal circumstances, Reed will show up to camp in the spring with a fastball showing renewed life. It's important to remember how valuable he can be at full strength and effectiveness. In 2016 he ranked sixth among MLB relievers in WAR. Add that guy to the mix with Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and a couple of other offseason additions, and you've got the makings of a bullpen that can square off with the game's best.
Sadly, it's tough to count on that happening. So the question is: how can the Twins get the most out of whatever version of Reed they get in 2019? At the very least, I feel good about the people now in charge of answering it.
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