On the day of this article being written, the Twins were rained out in Anaheim of all places and so my thirst for Twins content remained strong (evidently the field’s thirst for water was not, but that’s a joke for a different time). And so what else can I do except scroll through the usual suspects of baseball stat sites in order to find some weird and wacky stuff to write about. What did I find? Well, a lot of crazy stuff for sure, Joey Gallo’s BABIP for one, Ryan Pressly’s walk rate (or lack thereof) for another (but that’s a touchy subject), and the Twins bullpen rank among all major league teams which is *checks notes*, *double takes*... 8th in MLB in fWAR?
Yes, as this article is being typed out in the late hours of the night at my university’s library, the much maligned Twins bullpen sits at 8th in all of MLB in fWAR. I assume this may come as a surprise to many and hell, even I’m a little shocked that they’re that high even knowing these stats that Dustin Morse tweeted out a few days ago:
Some eyebrow raising stuff for sure, maybe the narratives don’t actually match up with the stats? Although, Trevor May’s ERA jumped up to 4.00 since this was tweeted which is somewhat indicative of the kind of sample size we are still working with, but the numbers remain interesting nonetheless. How can the one part of the team that most everyone seems to lament actually be a strength when compared to the rest of MLB as a whole? Well first, people like to complain, but we knew this. But beyond that, the bullpen is doing many things well.
Rest! An important thing for pitchers and college students alike has been crucial for the bullpen so far as they have thrown just the 4th fewest amount of innings in baseball. Unsurprisingly, the Twins starting pitching staff has thrown the 4th most innings in baseball thanks to their 3.5* aces. So the lack of need for the bullpen to extend themselves has not just kept them rested but has also allowed the best arms to not be run into the ground and thusly has helped keep the relievers at their best. This is important now but will also set them apart from other teams later in the year as other teams start to see their guys break down due to overuse while everything (hopefully) stays lovely and peachy in Minnesota.
*Kyle Gibson’s peripherals notwithstanding
Like a cup over an unwelcome spider, the Twins bullpen has actually been very good at containing the game. While that isn’t exactly the most ringing of endorsements regarding the effectiveness of the unit, not allowing the game to blow up is really all they need to do currently as the offense and starting pitching continue to roll. Fangraphs has a useful stat called Meltdowns that can be read about here, (basically it’s based on Win Probability Added) and the Twins bullpen as a whole has the 6th least amount of meltdowns in baseball, meaning that the have limited the negative effect they could have on the Twins chance of winning a given game and their total clutch factor is the 6th highest in baseball.
So, given all of these nerd stats, why does it feel like they aren’t that good? Well the Twins have just the 16th best bullpen ERA despite being 7th in FIP and at the end of the day, preventing runs is the point of the game (remember that FIP only includes strikeouts, walks, homeruns, and innings pitched). Plus, the Twins only have 4 guys currently in their bullpen who hold a FIP under 3.50 (3 if you ignore Austin Adams and his hilarious -0.92 FIP), meaning that you could really only designate Taylor Rogers, Ryne Harper, and Matt Magill as the “statistically trustworthy” relievers (Blake Parker’s FIP is almost 3 points higher than his ERA if you are wondering where he is there).
They also currently hold the 3rd highest bullpen BABIP in baseball despite having the 11th lowest hard hit % and by far the highest infield fly % so it can actually be expected for them to see some more luck go their way regarding balls put into play (especially Taylor Rogers, a .396 BABIP for him is entirely too high to sustain), so their level of runs given up so far this year isn’t fully reflective of how well they have actually done as a group in other statistics.
The biggest issue regarding the bullpen and the reason why I believe most fans are uncertain about them is that the relievers are, for the most part, unproven. Rogers and Parker have cemented themselves as quote unquote “dudes”, but beyond that, who is the next most trusted guy? Ryne “real men have curves” Harper and his 20 ⅓ career innings? Trevor May and his 5.00 BB/9 on the year? Matt Magill who is just getting his footing after missing most of spring training? Until each reliever gets more innings so that they can show precisely how much Rocco Baldelli can them, it will be an interesting adventure, especially if the game is tight and the starter did not pitch deep into the ballgame.
Another concern is that the bullpen somewhat lacks the punch out firepower that every great bullpen seemingly has, they fall in with a respectable 9.53 K/9 that ranks 12th in MLB but this comes with the 6th worst bullpen swinging strike % in baseball which means they are fooling less people than a bad guy in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Individually, they only have 4 relievers in their bullpen with a K/9 above 9 (3 if you ignore Austin Adams) and only 1 reliever currently has a swinging strike % above 12% (Tyler Duffey, who also leads in K/9, huh) so again, the firepower is lacking. But as a whole? These guys have actually been pretty good, so lay off them for now.