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Article: Can the Twins Be Competitive With Their Current Bullpen?

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#1 Thieres Rabelo

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:00 PM

The MLB offseason is far from over. It’s possible the Twins could sign Adam Ottavino or Cody Allen in the coming days, I’d be glad if that happened, but for the purpose of this article let’s just assume the club is willing to head to spring training only with the current available arms. Is this group of relievers good enough to take Minnesota’s bullpen to the next level?Simply the arrival of new pitching coach Wes Johnson, who led the Arkansas Razorbacks to a 3.58 ERA in two seasons with the program, and the return of catcher Jason Castro to the team are surely going to make a huge difference for the Twins. Here are some other factors that could result in the bullpen becoming a solid unit in 2019.

Players who can bounce back

After an awful 2018 overall, there are at least two pitchers who could be expected to bounce back this year considering their track records. Both of them had quality numbers not long ago, but are coming off rather bad seasons in 2018. Addison Reed, who is in the last year of his two-year, $16.75 million contract, could be the greatest lift for this staff. He had a disappointing season last year, but even then he’s shown signs of the good pitcher he had been before.

During his first 31 games of the season, Reed posted a 3.03 ERA with 8.6 K/9. But then, in the remaining 24 games he appeared on the mound, he had a 6.56 ERA. He had a 4.50 ERA on the year, his worst since 2012.

There isn’t much statistical evidence that shows he would improve much in 2019. FanGraphs projects that he will have a worse ERA of 4.90 and fWAR of -0,1 (which would be an improvement in comparison with the -0,2 he had in 2018). But I think it’s safe to say that a pitcher with a career ERA of 3.53, who had had three consecutive solid seasons before last year, is not meant to have another terrible year.

Reed's velocity has dropped considerably from 2017 (92.8 vFA) to 2018 (91.3 vFA), but possibly that’s due to the fact that he dealt with a triceps injury in late June, which had him go to the DL for most of July. When he came back, he posted a 3.60 ERA in the last 14 games of the year.

Trevor Hildenberger is another player poised to have a good 2019. Most Twins fans are still patient with him because he had a stellar start of his career in 2017 and maintained that performance (or maybe improved it) during the first half of 2018.

In the first 42 games of last year, Hildy posted a 2.80 ERA, held opponents to a .201 batting average and posted a 9.2 K/9. But just like Reed, his performance plummeted down after mid-July. In the remainder of the season, he had a 9.64 ERA, giving him a 5.42 ERA on the year. Unlike Reed, he is projected to improve a lot this year. FanGraphs estimates that in 2019 his ERA will improve to 4.04 and his fWAR will rise from 0.0 to 0.2. Those numbers aren’t great, but projections aren’t perfectly accurate. If the previous months of his career are an indicator, that rough finish to 2018 was nothing but an accident.

Both Reed and Hildenberger were missed a lot in the second half of last year, but I think they aren’t done at all. If they manage to recover, the Twins bullpen will see a great improvement. But a lot also depends on the next category of players.

Maintaining their performance

Four of the Twins’ current relievers had very solid 2018 seasons: Taylor Rogers, Blake Parker, Trevor May and Matt Magill. If they manage to keep the same kind of numbers this year, Minnesota will be able to achieve consistency from its bullpen. Rogers is the stud of the relief group, having had an amazing season. He posted a team-best 2.63 ERA, 2.33 FIP and 1.9 fWAR. Such numbers are in consonance with his previous two seasons in the majors and his entire minor league career. Nothing ralistically indicates that he is about to have a bad season this upcoming year.

Parker joins the Twins on a very cheap, basically no-risk contract. He signed with Minnesota for one year, with a salary of $3.2 million. If he manages to maintain the same level from the last couple of seasons, the Twins got themselves a pretty good deal. He arrives in Minnesota after two absolutely solid years with the Angels. In both he’s reached at least 66 1/3 innings, posting a 2.90 ERA and 3.55 FIP, with 10.5 K/9. Parker’s 2017 was stellar, whereas his 2018 was “just good”. But even that “just good” would work for the Twins. He turns 34 in June and since he has prior closing experience, he is possibly the main candidate to take over ninth inning duties.

The 29-year-old Magill had his breakout with the Twins last year, having started his stint with the club in late April. He went on to appear in 40 games, striking out 56 batters in 56 2/3 innings. During his first 15 games in the majors, he managed to keep a below 2.00 ERA. In 17 of his 40 games he pitched more than an inning, making him one of the most dependable men out of the bullpen in 2018. It’s uncertain if he will remain with the club after Parker’s signing, but he certainly did a decent job last year.

After spending 2017 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, May came back strong to the Twins. Even appearing in only 24 games in the year, he managed to get 0.5 fWAR, while also striking out 12.8 per nine. His velocity seemed virtually unchanged (94.4 vFA) in his return. It was a smaller sample, but 2018 was by far his best year in the majors. If he manages to repeat that this year, May could be another cornerstone from that bullpen.

Converting starters into relievers

Assuming the six aforementioned cases work out the way they could, the Twins would have one or two spots to fill. That’s exactly where most fans would like to see a big free agent signing. But, if they decide to work with one of their in-house options, what would be the best way to go? They could hand over the job to one of the young pitchers currently in the 40-man roster, such as Andrew Vasquez, Lewis Thorpe, Gabriel Moya or John Curtiss. But there might be another safer and more effective way.

Two young starters could become relievers and provide a strong help out of the pen. Zack Littell hasn’t had very long to show his stuff in the majors, having pitched only eight games for the Twins last year. But one thing was clear: He’s done a much better out of the bullpen than as a starter/opener. In 13 1/3 innings out of the pen, he’s had a 4.05 ERA. He could get another shot in 2019 if the Twins decide to use a 13-man pitching staff. His ERA is projected to improve from 6.20 last year, to 4.62 this year.

On the other hand, if the club decides to use 12 arms, then the most appealing option would be converting Fernando Romero to reliever. The young Dominican had an amazing first stint in the majors. He had 11 starts for the Twins and has finished the first year with a modest 4.69 ERA, but that’s mainly due to a couple of really bad starts.

In his first five starts, Romero posted 1.88 ERA while striking out 9.2 per nine. It’s uncertain how well he would do pitching out of the bullpen in the majors, given the fact that he’s done that very little during his minor league career. But, when he did, he was superb. He’s pitched only 18 1/3 innings as a reliever in the minors, but posted a 0.49 ERA. That’s definitely worth experimenting in the Majors.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Can the Twins be competitive with the bullpen as it’s currently constructed?

This is Thiéres Rabelo's debut article at Twins Daily. You can follow him on Twitter @TwinsBrasil.

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#2 Seth Stohs

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:07 PM

Im a big believer in the potential of John Curtiss... Needs some consistent work. I know he's still got another option or so, ,but he needs an extended run. 

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#3 Vanimal46

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:17 PM

What's your definition of competitive? I think this team is set up to win anywhere from 77-85 games, depending on luck and health. Another reliever or 2 will go a long way toward being competitive for the playoffs.
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#4 South Dakota Tom

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:27 PM

Can they be? Sure. We could get bounce-back years from Reed and Hildy, great performances from Rogers, May, Blake Parker, (not sold myself on Magill), and fill in the remaining two or three spots with some combination of Moya, Vasquez, Stewart, Gonsalves, Romero, Littell, Duffy (just when you think you can count a guy out, his curveball could become the wipeout pitch it once was), Jake Reed, Curtiss.Mejia could be a 5th starter or a reliever. That's a lot of guys for very few positions.

 

I have argued previously that it is impossible to look outside the organization for 1-2 arms (Ottavino and Allen, in your example), and then give effective opportunity to the above list. Even with injuries and releases of the truly unproductive, the roster does not expand to give meaningful chances to 5-10 other arms. Signing two veterans to guaranteed contracts at modestly-high AAVs pretty much ensures that you cannot. In addition, those signings prohibit the type of roster manipulation, demotions and promotions of the un-tenured with options, even to attempt such a tryout or rotating door expansion of what is possible.

 

Right now, I think Reed, Hildy, Parker, Rogers and May are fairly certain to start the year on the 25-man; assuming Mejia is 5th starter (and he's out of options), that leaves 3 spots open. I could justify adding one arm from the outside, but if we do more than that on major-league deals, we will probably not improve the unit to the degree where the addition outweighs the audition. We have to find out who we have and where we're headed with that glut of candidates already on the 40-man (or risk watching the best candidates float away in a season of anonymity). That strategy, I would argue, takes more guts and has a greater potential, than almost any multi-year reliever deal out there, regardless of dollars.

 

As evidence, though I don't have the evidence in front of me, look at the guys who broke through last year to become valuable BP pieces around the league. Almost all of them came from within an organization and auditioned and became valuable while still 22-23 years old, not because they were acquired from outside.

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#5 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:36 PM

I agree with Vanimal. This team looks like its 4-8 games improved over last year's team after the off season moves so far. That gets us to 82-85 wins assuming no major injuries to core players. Add in an "improved" Sano and Buxton and we could be a 85-88 win team. They don't improve and we get a key injury to two to someone like Berrios Polanco, Rosario and/or Gibson and we're a 75-78 win team.Getting to a 90-95 win team requires at least one and probably two upgrades in addition to good health. One upgrade needs to be another BP piece. I think it has to be Romero if we can't get an Allen or Brach type (I'm assuming Ottavino and Kimbrel are non-starters).

 

In sum, is the Bullpen better? Yes. Is it good enough to compete for a Division? Maaaaaybe. Is it good enough to compete for a WS berth? Not really even close yet.  

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#6 South Dakota Tom

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:46 PM

And since I have 10 minutes before I need to pick up my daughter from school, I'll add one more thought. It is my position that the Twins would be better off now, in 2019, if they had NOT added Reed, Duke, and Rodney in the 2017-2018 offseason (not complaining about the logic of it, and coupled with the other acquisitions, the notion of solidifying the pen). Just that we'd know more now and I don't want to have to post this again in another year because we traveled the same road.

 

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#7 Ben Noble

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 02:46 PM

Great debut article, welcome!
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#8 Tom Froemming

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:09 PM

Bullpens are so weird. 

 

The San Diego Padres ranked 29th in reliever fWAR at 0.8 in 2017, then jumped all the way up to second in 2018 with 8.7 fWAR. How did they do it? Well, they traded away two of their best bullpen guys on July 19. 

 

Wait ... what!?!?!?

 

No marquee additions, no changes to the pitching or bullpen coach and they traded away Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Yet their bullpen ERA went from 4.49 to 3.53 and the FIP went from 4.69 to 3.31. How did that happen? Well, a lot of the kind of stuff that's mentioned in this article.

 

Obviously, that's probably not the best business model to emulate, but bullpens are weird. 

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#9 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 03:25 PM

While I believe Reed is capable of bouncing back, I honestly think Hildy is toast. Before I was impressed by how well he changed arm angles and speeds, now I’m very concerned that his gimmick is going to cost us even more games in 2019.
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#10 mikelink45

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 04:22 PM

Let's look at the Starters.When starters go well bullpens go well.Get Romero in the rotation, build those arms and their innings and we do not have to go through so many relievers.If we are bullpenning like the some in the league do we have enough arms that can go 90 to 100 innings in the pen?Can we avoid the problem everyone blamed on Molitor and have enough options so we can have three to four good arms every night and not burn them out or have to use inferior talent.The bullpen ideas have not been matched with good bullpen strategies.Among all the young arms I have no idea who is any good and in the FA market I do not know if the "good arms" were burned last year and thus will fail like Reed this next year.  

 

 

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#11 Thrylos

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:21 PM

 

Bullpens are so weird. 

 

The San Diego Padres ranked 29th in reliever fWAR at 0.8 in 2017, then jumped all the way up to second in 2018 with 8.7 fWAR. How did they do it? Well, they traded away two of their best bullpen guys on July 19. 

 

Wait ... what!?!?!?

 

WAR is a horrible metric to use if one wants to measure reliever success. 

 

WPA is about as good as it gets ;)

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#12 jorgenswest

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:26 PM

WAR is a horrible metric to use if one wants to measure reliever success.

WPA is about as good as it gets ;)


Unfortunately neither is helpful in projecting the future performance of a reliever.
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#13 ewen21

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:28 PM

 

Bullpens are so weird. 

 

The San Diego Padres ranked 29th in reliever fWAR at 0.8 in 2017, then jumped all the way up to second in 2018 with 8.7 fWAR. How did they do it? Well, they traded away two of their best bullpen guys on July 19. 

 

Wait ... what!?!?!?

 

No marquee additions, no changes to the pitching or bullpen coach and they traded away Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Yet their bullpen ERA went from 4.49 to 3.53 and the FIP went from 4.69 to 3.31. How did that happen? Well, a lot of the kind of stuff that's mentioned in this article.

 

Obviously, that's probably not the best business model to emulate, but bullpens are weird. 

Amen.This is why I don't flip out over the bullpen now.In '02 who in the world know LaTroy Hawkins, JC Romero and Tony Fiore would make our bullpen a solid unit?

 

ANSWER:No one

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#14 puckstopper1

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:37 PM

Thanks for posting this Thiéres and welcome to the fun!

 

I tend to agree with some of the posters who blamed Molitor's mis-use of the bullpen for some of the struggles a few guys had the second half of the season (Reed and Hildy).

 

We will have to wait and see how Rocko does in this area.I also feel it is good to have options, and the above list does give us a bit of that.I also agree that the addition of one more decent bullpen arm will go along ways to making this team competitive to make the playoffs, but not relevant to do anything if they get these.

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#15 mikelink45

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 05:44 PM

I realize I made too complicated a posting.Here is my revision.NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 


#16 Tom Froemming

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 06:22 PM

 

WAR is a horrible metric to use if one wants to measure reliever success. 

 

WPA is about as good as it gets ;)

Disagree. Along with a number of things WPA doesn't account for, fWAR does factor in leverage index. 

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#17 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 07:10 PM

 

And since I have 10 minutes before I need to pick up my daughter from school, I'll add one more thought. It is my position that the Twins would be better off now, in 2019, if they had NOT added Reed, Duke, and Rodney in the 2017-2018 offseason (not complaining about the logic of it, and coupled with the other acquisitions, the notion of solidifying the pen). Just that we'd know more now and I don't want to have to post this again in another year because we traveled the same road.

I couldn't agree more.

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#18 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 07:18 PM

Can they be competitive? Sure. Will they be competitive? Maybe, but it will require a pretty big helping of luck.

And I don’t like relying on luck.

One more good bullpen arm and this pen is adequate with an upside of good. Go get that arm.
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#19 Channing1964

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 08:00 PM

is it just me or is it kind of silly to add a bunch of power bats then refuse to upgrade 1-2 bullpen spots, at least one starter or a left handed bat that can be insurance if Sano flakes out again? We can leave it alone and be a .500 team, or address the obvious and win 90-95. Simple.
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#20 jorgenswest

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Posted 11 January 2019 - 08:10 PM

is it just me or is it kind of silly to add a bunch of power bats then refuse to upgrade 1-2 bullpen spots, at least one starter or a left handed bat that can be insurance if Sano flakes out again? We can leave it alone and be a .500 team, or address the obvious and win 90-95. Simple.


It is still the off season. I think they will add at least one significant reliever.

I would have passed on Cron and sought a left handed bat. I am not sure adding a left handed bat without options now helps. My Sano insurance would be Astudillo. In fact Astudillo would be my starting catcher until he proves otherwise but I don’t think the Twins will go that direction.
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