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Let’s Take a Ride on the 2019 Twins Bullpen Coaster


Matthew Taylor

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The Minnesota Twins bullpen of 2019 was a roller coaster ride that would rival even the most thrilling attraction at Valley Fair. In this article, we’ll be taking a ride on the 2019 Twins "bullpen coaster" as I go through all the various peaks and valleys that the relief group experienced in 2019.

 

Prior to the start of the season, expectations for the Twins bullpen were certainly a mixed bag following a disappointing 2018 which saw the Twins relievers finish 22nd in the majors with a 4.45 ERA. After Twins fans pleaded with Falvey and Levine all offseason to acquire relief arms, the 33-year old journeyman, Blake Parker, was the only reliever that the front office duo signed. While the Twins knew they had a budding star in Taylor Rogers, it appeared that the Twins would otherwise be leaning heavily on a bunch of unproven question marks the likes of Parker, Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Adalberto Mejia and Fernando Romero. Names like Tyler Duffey and Zack Littell were starting the season in the minor leagues and Cody Stashak was a complete unknown. Fangraphs, however, was more bullish than most on the Twins bullpen, ranking the unit 11th in the majors in their pre-season power rankings.

 

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Peak #1: Hot start

 

Just like the rest of the Twins ballclub, the bullpen exceeded any and all expectations to kick off the 2019 season. The bullpen coaster reached its first peak of the year, though, on May 26 when the Twins shut out the Chicago White Sox, 7-0. On this day, the Twins bullpen recorded 3.2 scoreless innings from Magill, May, Rogers and Duffey to push the Twins to 20 games over .500 with a 36-16 record. Through this point in the season the Twins were seventh in the American League in ERA at 4.07 and fifth in the American league in FIP at 3.89. This great performance was thanks in large part to the four relievers who pitched in the May 26 shut out who had to this point posted ERAs of 1.54 (Magill), 3.79/3.79 (May), 1.31 (Rogers) and 2.63 (Duffey).

 

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Valley #1: The Yankee Debacle

 

The Bullpen stayed hot through the month of June, but as the calendar flipped from June to July our bullpen coaster began it’s steep decline. In a period of 17 games from July 1 - July 23 the Twins relievers posted an ERA/FIP of 5.32/4.31 with a -1.61 WPA during that time. During this same stretch, three Twins relievers were DFA’d due to poor performance - the previously mentioned Matt Magill, Adalberto Mejia, and Mike Morin. The culmination of poor bullpen performance, and the first valley on our bullpen coaster, was the 14-12 heartbreaking loss to the Yankees on July 23. In a game that featured 16 runs, 35 hits, and 6 bombas, the stats that will stick with Twins fans from this game are the two blown saves and nine earned runs from the bullpen. Blake Parker surrendered four runs to turn a 9-5 lead to a 10-9 deficit. Then, after a heroic Sano bomba, Taylor Rogers surrendered two runs to turn a 11-10 lead to a 12-11 deficit. Finally, after Polanco tied the game to force extra innings, Kohl Stewart surrendered two runs to turn a 12-12 tie game to a demoralizing 14-12 loss. Following the game, the Twins DFA’d their fourth reliever in 11 days by letting Blake Parker go and all of a sudden the Twins bullpen found themselves at rock bottom.

 

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Peak #2: The Trade Deadline

 

The silver lining to the July decline and the Yankee debacle was that it forced the front office to realize that acquiring relief arms at the deadline was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The voices clamoring for bullpen help were getting louder, and lo and behold the front office acted. First by acquiring the 36-year old, right handed reliever, Sergio Romo. In Romo the Twins acquired a proven winner with a nasty slider that killed right handed hitters. The general feeling, though, was that the Romo acquisition wasn’t enough and we needed more arms. Then, in the 11th hour of the trade deadline, news broke that the Twins acquired veteran reliever, Sam Dyson, and things were looking up for this bullpen. Dyson was arguably the best arm that was moved at the deadline and filled the missing setup man role for the Bomba Squad. Falvey and Levine got us the help we needed, we were primed for a resurgent second half of the season, and the bullpen coaster reached its final peak. Or so we thought...

 

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Valley #2: Damaged Goods

 

While the Romo acquisition was looking like a slam dunk for the Twins, the Dyson experiment was not quite looking the same. In his first appearance with the Twins on August 3rd, Dyson didn’t record a single out, allowed 3 runs, and posted a -0.46 WPA. The following day, after a second straight shaky performance, Dyson was placed on the injured list with bicep tendonitis in what turned out to be a chronic issue that he had been experiencing since before coming to Minnesota (AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE?!). At this point Twins fans across Minnesota feared that Dyson was damaged goods, and finally on September 26 their fears were realized when Dyson was shut down for good. What was the final piece to the Twins bullpen turned out to be a net-negative and Minnesota was once again stuck in a valley, needing guys from within the organization to hold on for dear life as they fought for the AL Central crown.

 

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Peak #3: Late Season Resurgence

 

The Twins needed the current crop of arms in the organization to step up in Dyson’s absence, and step up they did. The group that got it done for the Twins in August and September was a mix of guys who contributed throughout the year (Duffey, Rogers and May) along with a group of kids who played far above their age and expectations (Littell, Stashak and Graterol). The bullpen coaster peaked, though, on September 14 when the Twins played a bullpen game to complete a double header sweep of the Indians and all but seal up the AL Central. After 3.2 mediocre innings from Lewis Thorpe, the Twins blanked the Indians for the final 5.1 innings thanks to scoreless outings from Stashak, Graterol and May. Overall, in August and September the Twins bullpen posted a 3.51 FIP, best in the American League. The unit that Twins fans thought would cost them the division ended up winning them the division in a bullpen game. Pretty cool.

 

 

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Valley #3: October Disappointment

 

Heading into the Playoffs, the Twins had a plethora of question marks. They had just two viable starting pitchers, Arraez’s ankle was a question mark, Kepler hadn’t played in weeks, the list goes on and on. What Twins fans were confident in, though, was our group of bullpen arms. The same group that carried the team through August and September seemed primed to carry them through October. The narrative flipped quickly, though, when Baldelli brought in Zack Littell to start the fifth inning of game one. Littell clearly was not up to the moment as he faced three batters, while allowing two runs. The next inning, Baldelli brought in Cody Stashak who allowed home runs to LeMahieu and Gardner to seal a game one loss. Game two of the ALDS was even worse for the Twins bullpen thanks mostly in part to Tyler Duffey serving up a grand slam to Gregorius, all but ending the game (and series) before it even started. All in all, the Twins bullpen posted a 7.56 ERA in 25 innings and, unfortunately, the bullpen coaster ended the 2019 campaign in a valley.

 

You can say a lot of different things about the 2019 season for the Minnesota Twins bullpen, but you can’t say that it was boring. As you can see, the season was truly a roller coaster ride unlike any that I can remember. Although we ended 2019 in a valley, I look forward to the 2020 group climbing up the chain and reaching new peaks.

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