The Twins lead the American League in reliever strikeout rate, at 27.8%. Their bullpen arms rack up punchouts more often than the Indians (26.9%), A’s (25.6%) and White Sox (25.2%) – collectively, their stiffest competition in the quest for the obscure but no doubt Very Real title of the A.L.’s Best Strikeout Bullpen (on a rate basis). It’s a long title but trust me it’s coveted.
Ten different Twins pitchers have called themselves relievers and pitched more than 10 innings so far this season – six of those guys have struck out at least 30% of the hitters that they’ve been asked retire. Lower that threshold for innings and Cody Stashak jumps on the board, too.
This dawned on me while I was researching a column about the Twins ahead of the trade deadline this year. I was trying to make a point about Archie Bradley and his theoretical value to a Twins team that almost certainly would make the postseason – and just as certainly will have some questions to answer once it gets there. (Note: Andrew made the point here for Twins Daily.)
Bradley has a good but not great strikeout rate. He’s punched a ticket for 25% of the hitters that he's faced this year, and did it for 26.7% of them over the previous three seasons combined. I was trying to make the comparison to the Twins bullpen, and without over-fitting by using stats profiles, I do think it’s helpful to communicate more than the math: “Tyler Duffey has a 33.9% strikeout rate.” It’s a little easier to picture, for some, when you read or hear “Tyler Duffey this season is striking out hitters a little bit more often than Kenley Jansen and Ryan Pressly, for example.”
The topic came up in a recent interview with Dan Hayes for a podcast, in which the esteemed Athletic beat writer claimed that the Twins had 10 reliable relievers that they could go to, and I said As If, and he started listing them. Hayes has a point. If each reliever is going good, the Twins' pitching staff is deep.
Here’s the current strikeout rate by Twins relievers, for reference:
Trevor May, 38.4% (16.2 innings)
Cody Stashak, 34.4% (8 innings)
Tyler Duffey, 33.9% (16.2 innings)
Jorge Alcala, 30.7% (19 innings)
Caleb Thielbar, 30.4% (13.1 innings)
Taylor Rogers, 30.2% (14.1 innings)
Sergio Romo, 30.0% (15.1 innings)
Matt Wisler, 27.7% (12 innings)
Tyler Clippard, 27.1% (15.1 innings)
And that’s cool when you’re considering that the postseason seeding hangs in the balance in the very near future, because depth of pitching staff is a good way to string together wins and win series over a six month nine-week season. I always find it interesting, though, to compare with recent World Series winners, and what they basically tell us is you should count on six relievers.
Six relievers and some creative use of your starters, like the Nats did with Patrick Corbin last season in their improbable run to the World Series title. The year before, the Red Sox used seven bullpen arms, although in fairness they also deployed starters Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodruiguez in relief on special occasions.
The runner-up Dodgers that year used eight relievers; runner-up Houston last season used eight relievers, and also had Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, so let’s consider that numbers as the upper bound for this exercise. Again, 10 relievers that you can trust is nice to have in the regular season and can lead to a luxury ‘pen situation for the manager and pitching coaches, but it’s also instructive to narrow our focus with an eye toward October.
This actually stitches together two conversations that could use some further exploration. I debated this week about the first four starters you’d use in a postseason series. Really, you might only get to pick three. And with six starters going to stake their claim to those spots for the Twins over the next three weeks, what do you do with the runners up?
Which starters would be best suited to pitch out of the bullpen? Kenta Maeda is the most convenient answer because of his experience but I think you’d want him starting Game 1 if you had to pick today.
And further down that decision tree, if you’re going to pitch somebody out of the bullpen from the group of Maeda, Michael Pineda, José Berríos, Randy Dobnak, Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi, which relievers are you sacrificing for that move?
The Bullpen Trust Tree is ever evolving, and I’m fascinated to see what it looks like by the end of this calendar month.
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