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  • Finding Hope for a 2022 Bullpen


    Cody Pirkl

    It’s easy to feel hopeless about the Twins pitching staff and bullpen in particular after such an abysmal 2021. There may be help on the way, however. A trio of arms in St. Paul just might be worth holding out hope for 2022.

    Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Ed Bailey, Wichita Wind Surge

    Some possible solutions to the rotation were found with the return from the Nelson Cruz trade on Thursday. Still, the front office has their work cut out for them to improve the pitching staff as a whole. More trades are surely on the way and a fair share of the available payroll will likely be spent on arms. There are three relievers at AAA however who we may see by season’s end that could put a massive patch in the sinking ship that is this pitching staff. 

    Ian Hamilton

    Nick summarized just about every reason to have hope for Hamilton in one tweet. Hamilton was drafted in the 11th round in 2016 and quickly proved to be an exciting up and coming bullpen arm in the White Sox system. Unfortunately Hamilton’s career was thrown off course by two freak accidents. He struggled thereafter and eventually bounce around waiver claims before the Twins claimed him (and then successfully DFAd him) this spring.

    Hamilton has spent the entire season in St. Paul which is by no means an indicator of his effectiveness. Instead, it almost seems like the Twins are developing the 26-year-old as if he was a prospect as he weathers his first full season of professional baseball since 2018. This plan appears to have paid dividends, as Hamilton has posted a 34% K rate with a 0.58 HR/9 so far and has sorted out his early season walk issues. He should get a chance by season’s end to showcase his high 90s fastball at Target Field in an attempt to earn a place for 2022.

     

    Yennier Cano

    Signed in 2019 as an international free agent out of Cuba, Cano is a bit different than most prospects in the Twins top 30 as he’s 27 years old. Cano has moved a bit more slowly through the system than expected when he was signed, but he appears to be on the precipice of the Major Leagues after debuting at AA ball this year and getting called up to St. Paul a few weeks ago.

    Cano got hit around a bit in his AAA debut allowing three Earned Runs in 1 2/3 innings. He’s settled down since then, dropping his ERA to 4.50 with a 3.05 FIP. He’s struck out 28.4% of the hitters he’s faced. He has a pitch mix that profiles extremely well with a mid 90s fastball to go with a great slider and a splitter to equalize left-handed hitters. It’s honestly a bit surprising that Cano hasn’t received The Call already, but it’s easy to foresee him in Minneapolis very soon.

     

    Jovani Moran

    Moran was Cano’s partner in crime when it came to terrorizing opposing lineups out of the AA bullpen to start the year. Moran has long had the reputation of having nasty stuff but has struggled with control thus far in his career. After having 14% walk rates at both levels in 2019, it was encouraging even to see those numbers drop to 10% at AA to start the season.

    Moran is a left-handed pitcher with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, but his changeup is likely one of the best the Twins system has seen since Johan Santana as Lucas points out (tweet above). The pitch allows him not only to avoid big lefty/righty splits, but is also his go-to weapon for swings and misses. He seems to have the right idea, as he’s struck out 46% of AA hitters and 44.4% of AAA hitters thus far. His late arrival to AAA makes him a bit more questionable to debut with the Twins this season, but it’s certainly a possibility depending on how the trade deadline shakes out. 

    Skepticism is warranted after this season, but it’s been a long time since the Twins in particular have developed arms with such high octane, can’t miss stuff. While far from a sure thing, we should get a look at at least a few of them this year. At the very least it’s a bit of excitement in what will be an inconsequential finish to 2021. At best, we just might get a glimpse into a more effective stable of arms for 2022.

     

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    Bring up everyone that has a remote chance of being on the Twins in 2022 to see what they can do.  Put all the current players who are being substituted for that do not have any options left on the 60-day IL with some mysterious injury.  There are more than two months of baseball yet to be played.  Use it as an early spring training for next year.

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    Is there very much value in using ERA, FIP or home run rates to evaluate relievers at their small samples? It is even hard to use strike out and walk rate at Hamilton’s sample. Any walk rate change from early season to now can easily be explained by random variation due to two small samples. Low BABIPs, high LOB% and low HR rates can make a mediocre pitcher’s ERA look really good in reliever samples. I can’t find hope in the numbers because the sample is just too small.

    I would find hope if there were reports of a new or improved pitch as shown by pitch level data. It might be there. The Twins have it. More importantly they see him every day. We are pretty blind in the data we can see,

     

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    1 hour ago, jorgenswest said:

    Is there very much value in using ERA, FIP or home run rates to evaluate relievers at their small samples? It is even hard to use strike out and walk rate at Hamilton’s sample. Any walk rate change from early season to now can easily be explained by random variation due to two small samples. Low BABIPs, high LOB% and low HR rates can make a mediocre pitcher’s ERA look really good in reliever samples. I can’t find hope in the numbers because the sample is just too small.

    I would find hope if there were reports of a new or improved pitch as shown by pitch level data. It might be there. The Twins have it. More importantly they see him every day. We are pretty blind in the data we can see,

     

    Definitely good points, but flawed as they may be due to sample size they're the best tools that we currently have. I will say, the film largely backs up the numbers for these three. Relievers are always going to be more subject to variance than starters, so it's possible they all flame out if/when they make the majors, but frankly I'd be a little surprised.

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    Cano's stats at AAA aren't good yet, and even throwing out that first game you want to see numbers more dominant than he's showing because they will get worse when called up to the majors.  But it may be that he's pitching in a bit of bad luck, with a batting average on balls in play above .400 there.  He may still be someone to watch for a major-league chance late this year or early next.

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    4 hours ago, jorgenswest said:

    Is there very much value in using ERA, FIP or home run rates to evaluate relievers at their small samples? It is even hard to use strike out and walk rate at Hamilton’s sample. Any walk rate change from early season to now can easily be explained by random variation due to two small samples. Low BABIPs, high LOB% and low HR rates can make a mediocre pitcher’s ERA look really good in reliever samples. I can’t find hope in the numbers because the sample is just too small.

    I would find hope if there were reports of a new or improved pitch as shown by pitch level data. It might be there. The Twins have it. More importantly they see him every day. We are pretty blind in the data we can see,

     

    xFIP is probably one of the best metrics for a SSS out of MiLB. BABIP, LOB, and low HR rates are not relevant for xFIP. Even so, xFIP still has potential weaknesses. No stat is perfect.

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    2 hours ago, ashbury said:

    Cano's stats at AAA aren't good yet, and even throwing out that first game you want to see numbers more dominant than he's showing because they will get worse when called up to the majors.  But it may be that he's pitching in a bit of bad luck, with a batting average on balls in play above .400 there.  He may still be someone to watch for a major-league chance late this year or early next.

    It's also worth considering the baseballs themselves are different between the minors and majors and pitchers often have to make adjustments when the come to the big show. I'd think the Twins would want to see him in person this year given his age and fringy status.

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    My guess is that a couple starters get converted but they might stretch out to 2023.  Valimont / Varland come to mind and I hate to say it but Duran might end up in the BP.  From the chatter so far on newly acquired Drew Strotman sounds like he could end up in the BP.  Not sure what to think of Jax  Reminds me a little of Matt Wisler.  I am looking forward to seeing him the rest of the season.  Really hoping Pineda and Happ are moved by the deadline to make room for auditions.

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    I have no concerns about the Twins bullpen in 2022 so long as they extend Rogers and keep Duffey, which they should absolutely be doing. There are always a ton of cheap relief arms available in free agency and tons of options for relief arms in the minors.

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    1 hour ago, bean5302 said:

    I have no concerns about the Twins bullpen in 2022 so long as they extend Rogers and keep Duffey, which they should absolutely be doing. There are always a ton of cheap relief arms available in free agency and tons of options for relief arms in the minors.

    How well did that work in 2021? Duffey is getting by on smoke and mirrors if you look at his K%, BB%, HR/FB and BABIP. And a competitive teams needs 4 shutdown relievers, not 2. 

    It would be good to find someone they can more or less count on for next year. Maybe then they could send Alcala to St. Paul to get fixed and/or experience some success.

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    Cano gave up 3 runs on July 20, raising his AAA ERA from 3.21 to 4.50 and now 4.58 vs the 1.47 in AA. His xFIP has gone from 1.79 to 3.48. His K% has gone from 34.6% to 27.7% and his K-BB% has gone from 28.4% to 19.3%. This is not compelling evidence for a promotion to MLB, especially when you figure he doesn't have to be added next year and that there is going to be a 40-man roster crunch this off-season. 

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    Nick is right about the recent apparent improvement in Hamilton's control. In his last 8 appearances dating back to June 25, he has pitched 15.1 innings, striking out 22 and walking only 4 for a 40.7 K%, 7.4 BB%, and K-BB% = 33.3%. In 6 of those 8 appearances, he pitched 2 or more innings. Obviously cherry picking but then again it appears something has changed. Make him the next addition to the 40-man and 25-man roster. 

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    My 2 cents on this matter:   Subtractions/Additions to 40 man roster

    Drop from 40 man roster/ offseason or before

    1. Happ

    2. Colome

    3. Smeltzer

    4.  Thorpe

    5.  Law

    6. Burrows

    7.  Minaya

     

    Additions

    1-3.  All mentioned by Cody Pirkl in this article:  Hamilton, Moran and Cano

    4.  Joe Ryan

    5.  Josh Winder

    6.  Cole Sands--AA Wichita

    7.   Chris Vallimont-AA Wichita

    * I do realize that #'s 5-7 are currently SPs, but could see Vallimont moved into RP role.

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    2 hours ago, Lonestar said:

    How well did that work in 2021? Duffey is getting by on smoke and mirrors if you look at his K%, BB%, HR/FB and BABIP. And a competitive teams needs 4 shutdown relievers, not 2. 

    It would be good to find someone they can more or less count on for next year. Maybe then they could send Alcala to St. Paul to get fixed and/or experience some success.

    I'm not insinuating the Twins have a 2 man bullpen, I just that I think Rogers and Duffey are important to keep and are among the highest risks for the Twins to trade because of their cost.

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    10 hours ago, terrydactyls said:

    Bring up everyone that has a remote chance of being on the Twins in 2022 to see what they can do.  Put all the current players who are being substituted for that do not have any options left on the 60-day IL with some mysterious injury.  There are more than two months of baseball yet to be played.  Use it as an early spring training for next year.

    And wonder why the stands are empty.🧐

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    It's so hard. The Twins are looking at who will return to the roster in 2022. Who they need to see who they may/may not be keeping because of 40-man considerations, Rule 5, six year free agents. In some ways, we will see a cycle threw of some odd names.

     

    Hamilton will either get a looksee and will be jettisoned, or kept on the 40-man. The pain is for every name added, someone has to go.

     

    CASE IN POINT: We traded Cruz and Faucher for two pitchers. One takes the place of Cruz on the 40-man, but someone, ultimately we lost a position player. But in the end, we do have to add the other Ray acquire to the 40-man, which means a player has to go in his place.

     

    Okay: case-in-point that the Twins WILL have plenty of roster spots with free agent departures. But both Tampa players HAVE TO BE ADDED. Not sure if Moran or Cano needs to be added. Hamilton would have to be added to be kept. If they don't, he will surely walk. But he also needs to stay once added or he will also walk.

     

    Our current trouble is all the players on the IL, including our top two starting prospects in Duran and Balazovic. Throw in Smeltzer and Thorpe and Stashak. That's now five pitchers that the Twins would pretty much keep, but seeing little results. So, a couple may be gone just because.....

     

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    42 minutes ago, terrydactyls said:

    Do you really care about that?

    Yes, I want a team I want to see, not a lot of minor league players; if not, it is an insult to those attending.

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    5 minutes ago, RpR said:

    Yes, I want a team I want to see, not a lot of minor league players; if not, it is an insult to those attending.

    What if those minor leaguers are busting their asses, hustling on every play, and trying to win?  Isn't that better than watching the current team go through the motions?

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    1 hour ago, terrydactyls said:

    What if those minor leaguers are busting their asses, hustling on every play, and trying to win?  Isn't that better than watching the current team go through the motions?

    This assumes that the current players are not giving their best efforts. Kent Hrbek had a great quote many years ago about how many players are waiting to take your job and how hard every player worked to hold their position. Talent and results vary but most of the time the players are giving a strong effort. 

    My all-time favorite was how fans complained that Rod Carew never hustled as hard as Pete Rose. Carew would glide and get to a bag much quicker than Rose but he never looked sweaty or strained. Nobody ever outworked Rod Carew, nobody. 

    I appreciate baseball played skillfully at every level but we should remember that those at the MLB level have worked really hard to get and stay there, wins and losses aside.

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    3 hours ago, Rosterman said:

    Okay: case-in-point that the Twins WILL have plenty of roster spots with free agent departures. But both Tampa players HAVE TO BE ADDED...

     

    Or traded to somebody else. There's no guarantee the Twins keep those pitchers.

    I'd non-tender Thorpe and Smeltzer. If they stay available, maybe sign them to MiLB contracts as AAA roster filler with an chance to see MLB action due to injuries. The Twins can also non-tender Coulombe, Astudillo, Cave and Garlick to bring them back in MiLB contracts if desired. That's 6 spots easy. Add in guys like Colome, Law, Happ, Minaya, Simmons and Robles who are either free agents or not really worth paying in arbitration and you start finding a lot of spots opening up.

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    2 hours ago, terrydactyls said:

    What if those minor leaguers are busting their asses, hustling on every play, and trying to win?  Isn't that better than watching the current team go through the motions?

    That is what the Minor League is for.

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    13 hours ago, RpR said:

    And wonder why the stands are empty.🧐

    They are a well below 500 team so attendance is going to be down.  Do you want them to do what is necessary to make the team better for years to come or do you want them to put marginally more fans in seats.  

    I will say this ... you are consistent in focusing on the present without regard to the future.  Of course, this is your prerogative.  However, that approach is destined to perpetuate failure which is why MLB teams don't operate that way.  Even the biggest revenue teams have learned developing young talent is the most crucial component of building a winner and operate accordingly. 

    Many of us have also learned this lesson.  We don't want to continue to suck so we are willing to invest in the current team in order to improve our chances of building a team that can win for the next several years.  Some of us want a better team next year and for many years to come.  So, our preference is the team employee strategies that have the best chance of creating long-term success.  

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    This is a good and timely article Cody.  Whoever we trade, now or this winter, and whoever we get back, ALL of this has to be considered when trading, DFA'ing, and guys we pick up that we're taking a flyer on (Jose De Leon maybe??).  Position players vs pitchers...ALL of this in building a roster next year.  I'm all for bringing a bunch of guys up after the trade deadline to see how they do at the major league level.  The more information the Twins have on the guys they have NOW or acquire in the future will help guide those decisions.  I've not been wanting to trade Buxton or Berrios but we have to have a pretty good idea if they'll sign long term.  Right now, Buxton's "value" on MLB Trade values is only about 25.  Kepler's is 30.4.  That means Buxton's value is waaaay down.  I'm not trading him until winter, if at all.  Once he's back in the lineup I'm sure he'll build SOME of that value back.  But his value will continue to be depressed until he puts up a great season with 150 games played.  We've gotta keep him.  Berrios on the other hand is valued at 40.8.  You can get a LOT for that kind of value.  His posture seems to be FA and the biggest bucket of cash he can get.  If that's the case, I'm seriously looking to move him to a SP needy team that is desperate to make the playoffs and make NOISE in the playoffs.  That kind of team is the Padres and Dodgers.  I'm going to look at a potential trade in the "San Diego as a trade partner" article.  The 40 man roster will be a source of serious debate within the Twins organization this winter, and all of us will be right in the thick of it.  :)   

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    22 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    My guess is that a couple starters get converted but they might stretch out to 2023.  Valimont / Varland come to mind and I hate to say it but Duran might end up in the BP.  From the chatter so far on newly acquired Drew Strotman sounds like he could end up in the BP.  Not sure what to think of Jax  Reminds me a little of Matt Wisler.  I am looking forward to seeing him the rest of the season.  Really hoping Pineda and Happ are moved by the deadline to make room for auditions.

    Yeah I think this makes the most sense.  If they are adding those players to the 40 man they need to be able to use them.  With the two the Twins just added I think we have like 8 guys in line that could be starters fairly soon in Winder, Balazovich, Duran, Sands, Vallimont, Canterino, Strotman and Ryan.  That doesn't even include Thorpe. Smeltzer, Jax and Barnes who have pitched at the MLB level and are already on the 40 man trying to establish themselves.

    Something has to give you can't wait for all of them to be starters.  Vallimont and Duran seem like prime candidates to move to the pen and strengthen an area of weakness for the team.  Vallimont has a tendency to tire as the game goes on and currently his WHIP is not ideal for a starter.  Duran has had trouble staying healthy and while they could continue to try and make him a starter it is fairly well established he doesn't really have a great third pitch couple that with his health\arm issues and I would break him into MLB via the pen.  Once he establishes himself there they could try and stretch him out if needed but his Splinker could be the weapon we need to get clean innings.

    We just can't wait on all those arms to develop into starters and take up 40 man space IMO.  We need to be able to use them and with the pen being such a huge weakness guys with good K stuff in Duran and Vallimont could be big solutions to that problem.

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    Duran should start 2022 in the Twins MLB bullpen, which should both help the Twins and also manage his innings in a more natural way than him trying to be a starter after two seasons of minimal innings. Clear out the 40-man. Carrying guys like Thorpe and Smeltzer has already cost the Twins opportunities for guys like Tyler Wells. And as usual they will have to sign the right free agents this offseason.

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    13 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    They are a well below 500 team so attendance is going to be down.  Do you want them to do what is necessary to make the team better for years to come or do you want them to put marginally more fans in seats.  

    I will say this ... you are consistent in focusing on the present without regard to the future.  Of course, this is your prerogative.  However, that approach is destined to perpetuate failure which is why MLB teams don't operate that way.  Even the biggest revenue teams have learned developing young talent is the most crucial component of building a winner and operate accordingly. 

    Many of us have also learned this lesson.  We don't want to continue to suck so we are willing to invest in the current team in order to improve our chances of building a team that can win for the next several years.  Some of us want a better team next year and for many years to come.  So, our preference is the team employee strategies that have the best chance of creating long-term success.  

    If you were around in the seventies, do you want to go through another ten years of barely .500 ball; THAT is what bringing in all the Minor League maybes  vs. know how veterans did to the seventies.

    It was not Minor League wannabes that made 2019 good, it was 4 veterans that came in a gave the team an offensive boost, they are all gone now.   Rooker looked good today but Cave looked good three years ago, and then went pfft.

    So you want to wait till 2031 for a team that gets above .500 while playing Sandlot ball for ten years, your perrogative.

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