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Front Page: Twelve's a Crowd: Handicapping the Playoff Pitching Staff

cody stashak zack littell brusdar graterol
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 06:28 PM

If you'd told me two months ago that the Twins would be so brimming with quality bullpen talent by the end of September, they'd be looking at leaving out deserving candidates from the postseason roster... well, I'd have given you a real funny look.

But, here we are. Even with deadline centerpiece Sam Dyson fizzling out entirely, the Twins have the second-highest bullpen WAR in baseball since they acquired him. With the relief corps figuring to play a pivotal role in this year's postseason run, let's examine some of the difficult decisions being weighed.In projecting the playoff bullpen, we need to set a few parameters. We'll presume that the Twins carry 12 pitchers, which is generally the most you'll see given the reduced need for starting depth. Even the Brewers, who last year bullpened their way through the playoffs, carried only 12 pitchers.

So, we can safely assume that six of those pitchers will be Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and Sergio Romo. Next, there is a batch of borderline locks: Randy Dobnak, Martin Perez, Devin Smeltzer. The length these guys provide is essential, especially with Minnesota possibly planning on multiple bullpen games in a series. One might quibble with Perez's presence in that second group, but I think his effectiveness against lefties (.592 OPS) solidifies his bid, given the lack of specialist alternatives.

That leaves us with, at most, three open spots for the taking. And that's if the Twins elect to carry a shorthanded bench in favor of additional pen flexibility. Here are the candidates, listed from most-to-least viable as I see it:

1. Cody Stashak, RHP

Stashak has ever-so-quietly put together a dominant showing in his major-league debut, posting a 23-to-1 K/BB ratio through his first 22 innings with an elite swing-and-miss rate. Control and stuff: two traits you absolutely want in your bullpen against imposing lineups filled with sluggers. The only question is how Stashak, a former 13th-round draft pick who opened this season in Double-A, will handle the pressure of such a stage. There's been zero indication to this point that he'll be rattled much.

2. Zack Littell, RHP

In his second appearance of the season, Littell wore one against the Rays, giving up eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in mop-up duty. Since then, Littell has a 0.94 ERA over 25 appearances. He vacillates between a 94 MPH fastball and 87 MPH cutter in equal measure, and the formula's been very effective for him. Littell has recorded five or six outs in three of his past four appearances, so he's primed to handle a couple innings. That's very handy for the Twins in their situation. You could make a fair case that Littell should be No. 1 on this list, or even in the lock category.

3. Brusdar Graterol, RHP

The 21-year-old's initial exposure to the majors has had its ups and downs, but the invigorating high points reaffirm his potential impact. Graterol is the kind of weapon you like to have at your disposal in tight contests, bringing triple-digit heat that's tough to square up when he locates it. Obviously there's an added level of risk and uncertainty at play here, but I think the Twins will wisely accept that in tandem with his upside.

4. Lewis Thorpe, LHP

Now we're getting into the "outside looking in" group. Thorpe is an interesting case, because he offers length the Twins might value in front-to-back bullpen games. But he has a 6.15 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. There have been moments where Thorpe's looked really good, and his competitive moxy would fit right in with the intensity of October, but it's hard to imagine the Twins calling on him for multiple innings in a playoff game. He hasn't been good against lefties so match-ups don't really factor.

5. Kyle Gibson, RHP

The Twins have given Gibson every chance. His last three appearances cascaded into catastrophe, systematically eroding the notion that he can help in any kind of postseason role. First, Gibson came back from an IL respite and got bashed for six runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Then, he made a relief appearance and promptly gave up a costly home run. Most recently, he was an erratic mess against Kansas City, failing to complete two innings. Over his past five appearances, opponents are hitting .413 against Gibson. The physically-hampered righty continues to miss bats even in this diminished state, which is the only solace I'll take in the (likely?) event that the team carries him out of sheer loyalty.

6. Fernando Romero, RHP

At the beginning of the season, it would've been easy to envision Romero at the head of this conversation. But that was a long time ago, and the 24-year-old has since had a rough go of things. Constantly wrestling with his command, Romero has seen his upper-90s fastball fail to garner the desired results, in both Triple-A and the majors. There's still a glimmer of intrigue in that raw arsenal, but he's been too shaky to merit any trust.

7. Ryne Harper, RHP

It's a raw deal for Harper. He was a vital bullpen fixture in the first half. He's a great story. I'd love to see him playing a role in the postseason. I just don't think the Twins can justify carving out a spot for him. Harper's heavy reliance on a big slow curveball, supplemented by a sub-mediocre fastball, was solved by big-league hitters after about three months, resulting in a 5.51 ERA and .318 opponents' average since the break. The idea of serving those pitches up against a bloodthirsty Yankees or Astros lineup is... discomforting.

8. Trevor Hildenberger, RHP

Given his history, Hildenberger might've nudged his way back into the postseason picture -- despite his immense struggles over the past year-plus -- had he managed to string together a few shutdown performances here in September. But that hasn't happened. The righty looks awful. In three appearances since returning to the Twins, he's allowed six runs on six hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings, with two swinging strikes on 59 pitches. He's not usable.

9. Kohl Stewart, RHP

Stewart's last three appearances for the Twins have come against likely postseason teams: OAK, NYY, ATL, WAS. Here's how that went: 7 IP, 13 H, 10 ER (12.86 ERA), 6 K, 3 BB, 2 HR. He serves no purpose outside of mopping up meaningless innings and that's just not a guy you need around in a five-game playoff series.

10. Jorge Alcala, RHP

The fact that he has made one appearance since being called up 10 days ago, as the sixth pitcher in a game that slipped out of hand late, tells you all you need to know about where he stands in this bullpen hierarchy. Alcala is merely an extra emergency arm to have around for September, and it's become clear he was never auditioning for anything more.

Based on these rankings and the supposition of a 12-man staff, here's how I see the ALDS bullpen shaking out: Berrios, Odorizzi, Rogers, May, Duffey, Romo, Dobnak, Perez, Smeltzer, Stashak, Littell, Graterol.

What do you think? Would you rearrange these rankings? How many pitchers do you foresee them carrying? Have any creative thoughts on strategy and deployment? Sound off in the comments.

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#2 PDX Twin

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 06:48 PM

This seems about right to me. Tough on Gibson, who has been with the club through all the losing and played a significant role at times this season, but it's hard to see what we get from him in present form.

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It's great to get out of the cellar ... as long as you bring something with you.

#3 Brandon


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:01 PM

I wonder if the Twins take 13 pitchers and make the third game a straight bullpen game see if Dobnak can get 4-5 good innings and go with the pen the rest of the way.  

#4 ashbury


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:10 PM

I could quibble some, on the rationale getting down to the list of final-add candidates (my own handicapping puts Perez as the last arm added). But when looking at Stashak/Littell/Graterol I concur completely that they belong and the rest do not. I don't even consider Gibson, as I think he's just too depleted.


And I concur with 12 arms and therefore 13 bats, as there is not a single pitcher on this "outside looking in" list I want to face to even one batter in games that matter, whereas my final add among the bats has a way or two to beat the other team in the right circumstance (and I don't have a 14th bat who I'd consider bumping the pitching staff down to 11 for one series).


The 40-man really is this depleted. It's not a question of leaving off deserving candidates. We're scraping bottom to find 25 who are even worthy.

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#5 South Dakota Tom

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:20 PM

Depends on where you start the discussion.  If you start with "I want Dobnak, Stashak, Thorpe, and Smeltzer in the lineup" it becomes, I don't know, easier.  Add Rogers, May, Duffey, Romo, and Littell, you have 9.Add Berrios and Odo, you have 11.Last guy? I say Brusdar.(yes, I know this leaves Gibson and Perez off the roster).


13 position players are pretty set - 2 catchers, the 6 infielders you mention, the 4 outfielders, and Cruz.Either Astudillo is off, or Adrianza, and I choose to leave Astudillo off (that one is toughest - I love the contact play).

Going back to the first paragraph, though, I think that combination gives us the best chance at flexibility, lots of guys who can pitch more than one inning, and I agree with a separate poster who suggested starting the bullpen game in game two, using Berrios in 1 and 5 (if necessary, or your game 1 starter in the ALCS), bullpen in 2 and 4, and Odo in game 3. 


Just weird enough to work.

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#6 mikelink45


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:31 PM

My god - I see Perez name and my heart starts to flutter - a terrible thing for a 74 year old.NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO is all I have to say for Martin.  

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#7 jorgenswest


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:33 PM

I think Littell is a lock. He has been used against more difficult batters and has been better than the league against those opposing batters.
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#8 jz7233


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:40 PM

Adrianza over Astudillo (fielding), Wade over Schoop (speed), Perez has to be used as a lefty specialist only! Littell, Stashak and Graterol should certainly be on the roster.

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#9 blindeke



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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:40 PM

If I see Perez pitching in the playoffs, I'll be putting a bag over my head.

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#10 Nick Nelson

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 07:47 PM


If I see Perez pitching in the playoffs, I'll be putting a bag over my head.

LHB vs Taylor Rogers: .277/.338/.338
LHB vs Devin Smeltzer: .316/.395/.474
LHB vs Martin Perez: .233/.292/.301

That alone makes the case for his usefulness. He's their best weapon against Gregorius or Brantley or Alvarez. But, I'd be mortified if he started a game. 

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#11 jimbo92107


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 08:08 PM

Completely agree with your list, and thank you for putting the best three left over as 1, 2, 3 in order. 


1. Cody Stashak, RHP

Stashak has remarkably good form, a repeatable delivery, effective stuff. With form that good, confidence comes easy. 


2. Zack Littell, RHP

Like Stashak, Littell has excellent form, and in his relief role his stuff plays especially well. Littell has some bulldog in him. Future starter.


3. Brusdar Graterol, RHP

There is a possibility that Graterol gets destroyed if he loses his nerve. With just a few innings at the mlb level, we just don't know if he can take playoff pressure. On the other hand, he can blow hitters right out of the box, and I have less hesitation to give him the ball (with bases clean) than later options. Grats will give up some hits, but his game can absorb scattered hits with lotsa K's. 


4. Lewis Thorpe, LHP

Buy: Thorpe's future as a starter.

Sell: Thorpe's present as a reliever.

Thorpe needs another off-season of coaching to get his mechanics worked out. Right now he's breaking Bert's first rule: Stay back on the rubber. Thorpe launches himself at the plate too soon, which makes everything else go out of whack. The only reason he gets near the strike zone is because he's an athlete. If he gets the mechanics down, he won't need to compensate for his lack of rhythm. 


5. Kyle Gibson, RHP

Gibson is below the bottom of this list. I consider him physically unable to perform the duties of major league pitcher. 


6. Fernando Romero, RHP

Romero has the same problem Thorpe has: He launches himself too soon off the rubber. Added to that, Romero also sinks down, rather than staying tall. Another off-season training with Wes Johnson may cure that. If so, he's back to being a starter. 


7. Ryne Harper, RHP

I actually have Harper as the first alternate behind Graterol. His stuff is legitimately whiffable, even after the league "figured him out." I think he was dealing with arm problems, and he's better now. Problem is, Graterol throws vapor rockets. 


8. Trevor Hildenberger, RHP

Would be my second alternate, but he has not yet showed his prior effectiveness. 


9. Kohl Stewart, RHP

Stewart may continue to develop gradually, but I no longer consider him a valuable prospect, not with other guys passing him up like a bicycle on the highway. 


10. Jorge Alcala, RHP

Alcala is the most raw of all these guys. No way would I trust him in a playoff game. I'd go get Balasovic first. Or some guy from AAA.


Actually, most of the promising arms are in AA...Ober, Sands, Durhan. I'd grab those guys before most from the bottom of this list. 

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#12 yarnivek1972



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Posted 23 September 2019 - 08:30 PM

If Perez makes the postseason roster, it won’t be to provide length. It will be as a loogy.
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#13 David HK

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 08:37 PM


If Perez makes the postseason roster, it won’t be to provide length. It will be as a loogy.

I concur, Dr.


Although, I had to suppress a middle-school chuckle comparing him to a loogy... 


(Which seems apt at this point).

#14 nicksaviking


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 09:07 PM

Houston and New York are about as right-handed as you can get, I don’t think I’d save a LOOGY spot for Perez.
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#15 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 09:09 PM

Houston and New York are about as right-handed as you can get, I don’t think I’d save a LOOGY spot for Perez.

Good point. Then you wonder if Rogers will be used to get the final outs, as he usually is.
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#16 ashbury


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 09:33 PM

Houston and New York are about as right-handed as you can get, I don’t think I’d save a LOOGY spot for Perez.

I know, but then my next choice (before reading this article) for the final spot is Thorpe, and he brings even less to the table. All the righties in the remainder bin are going to serve up meatballs to batters from either side of the plate, I am afraid.

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#17 LA VIkes Fan

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Posted 23 September 2019 - 10:02 PM

Littell is a no-brainer. Arguably our most effective reliever after Rogers and Duffy. No question he's on the post season roster. Really only 2 open spots. Stashak has earned one. I think it comes down to Gibson or Thorpe, assuming a 12 man staff. I'll think they'll both get starts this week. Thorpe goes if he's reasonably effective. Gibson only if he has a dominant outing. Sadly, I think Gibson does not make the postseason roster. I feel bad saying that because of his contributions last year and earlier this s year but his illness has just made him completely ineffective.
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#18 KirbyDome89


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 10:08 PM

I wouldn't feel particularly good about anybody on the 1-10 list entering a playoff game. Half of the locks or near locks are hard to feel confident about. 


If they're going to carry Graterol and Thorpe then your 12th man as a LOOGY is a wasted roster spot. If they're planning on bullpen games they need somebody who can give them more than 1 out against a LHB. Perez looks awful; even as a LOOGY I don't want to see him.

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#19 insagt1


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Posted 23 September 2019 - 10:11 PM

one week to go to earn spots. I think I might favor Thorpe over Perez...only because lately Perez can't even pitch 2 or 3 effective innings. I don't think Thorpe could do worse.

If Twins carry 13 bats, it will be interesting to see who is healthy enough to fill out the roster.

#20 rdehring


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Posted 24 September 2019 - 05:32 AM

I would not be surprised if they go with 13 pitchers, especially if Adrianza is not 100% by next week.


There is a chance that Thorpe could be the key to winning one of those bullpen games.Yes, he needs more experience and work to become the solid starter I see him becomming. 


But we have seen a very good Thorpe several times over the past couple months.With the likelihood that the team will be using only two traditional starters, I see Thorpe potentially playing a key role in cobbling those other two games together.


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