The Twins bullpen was mostly great in 2019 as they finished with the third best WAR in baseball, per Fangraphs. They had the best second half reliever WAR and watched Tyler Duffey and Trevor May become legitimate weapons along with the great Taylor Rogers.
Starting pitching will be the main focus this offseason, and rightly so. Trade deadline acquisition Sergio Romo is the only impending free agent from the bullpen. One of the other names circling at the deadline was left-hander Jake Diekman. A 32-year-old journeyman, Diekman started his career with the Phillies but found his most success in Arlington. Diekman posted a 3.18 ERA in four seasons with the Rangers, striking out 10.1 per nine and allowing just nine home runs in 124 1/3 innings.
The Rangers moved on from Diekman before the deadline in 2018, trading him to Arizona for minor league pitcher Wei-Chieh Huang. Diekman finished the year horribly with the D-Backs, allowing 12 runs in 14 1/3 innings. Diekman entered free agency as a buy-low option and the Royals inked him to a 1-year, $2.75 million contract with a mutual option for 2020.
Diekman responded to the show-me contract by going 0-6 with a 4.75 ERA in 41 2/3 innings with Kansas City. Some of that is due to the dumpster fire that is the Royals defense as his FIP was a stronger 3.36. The Royals elected to move him to Oakland before the 2019 deadline for two minor league prospects.
Diekman allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings with the A's, walking 16 and striking out 21. Oakland elected not to pick up his option, per Melissa Lockard of the Athletic:
Now Diekman enters free agency once again as a buy-low option. Diekman made changes in 2019 that should entice the Twins to fill their left-handed reliever void. For one, he ditched his sinker and relied heavily on an elite slider, throwing it 46.1% of the time in 2019:
As can be seen on the graph, Diekman relied on the slider and four-seam fastball. His average fastball velocity is 95.8 MPH, a number that should be salivating for Minnesota. The two-pitch combo helped generate 12.2 strikeouts per nine, Diekman's most since 2014. His slider generated a 45% whiff rate with an expected .176/.257/.246 (.503) line from opposing hitters. The Twins are accustomed to pitchers with devastating sliders and they seem to target them:
Walks are clearly Diekman's biggest problem, as he has allowed a whopping 5.0 BB/9 in his career. Minnesota's pitching coach Wes Johnson cut 121 walks from the Twins in 2018, catapulting them from the 7th worst to 6th best in allowing free passes.
Considering his recent struggles and age, Diekman figures to get a one or maybe two year deal at best. The Twins have the luxury of taking this risk, and a $4-5 million investment in Diekman makes all the sense in the world. If anyone can tap into the seemingly lost potential, it is the Twins. Go get him Falvine!
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