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  • One Reliever the Twins Gave Up On Too Soon


    Cody Christie

    Minnesota’s relief core has struggled through much of 2021. It doesn’t help to see a former Twins pitcher finding success after the team gave up on him and got nothing in return.

    Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports

    Relievers can be one of the trickiest groups for teams to evaluate. One relief pitcher can look great, and another can look terrible with such small sample sizes attached to their performances. Minnesota saw multiple relievers leave last winter and not all of them have found success with their new teams. However, one pitcher might be proving the Twins gave up on him a little too early.

    Zack Littell joined the Twins in 2017 as part of an interesting trade deadline. Minnesota acquired Jaime Garcia from the Braves and then after making one start, he was dealt to the Yankees. Littell was part of the return from New York, and he was amid a tremendous minor league campaign where he posted a 2.12 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP.

    Littell’s time in Minnesota was filled with ups and downs. After finding some success in the upper minors, Littell seemed to be part of Minnesota’s future bullpen with the numbers he compiled in 2019. As a 23-year-old, he posted a 2.68 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP with a 32 to 9 strikeout to walk ratio. He was striking out less than a batter per inning, but his ERA+ and FIP pointed to him being an above average relief option. He was also one of the team’s most reliable relief arms down the stretch.

    Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Littell in 2020. He made six appearances with the Twins and allowed five home runs. He made multiple trips to the injured list as his elbow was bothering him. This probably made it easier for Minnesota to designate him for assignment and remove him from the 40-man roster without another team making a claim. This still left the team in a little bit of a dilemma as he would need to be added back to the 40-man this winter or become a minor league free agent. He became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants.

    In a division with the Dodgers and Padres, the Giants weren’t supposed to be in contention, but they entered play on Monday with a one game division lead. Littell has been part of the surprise club as he has posted a 1.47 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP across 20 appearances. The team even turned to him to make a start for the club. His strikeouts per nine are higher than his career average and he’s doing a better job of keeping the ball in the park. Last year’s elbow issues seem to be behind him.

    There are likely multiple reasons that Minnesota let Littell go whether they were worried about his elbow or low strikeout numbers. However, his success is tough to swallow when the Twins have struggled to get consistent production out of the bullpen in 2021.

    Do you think the Twins gave up on Littell too early? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    18 games is really not much to judge on. Numbers look the same as career average in a lot of respects when he was with the Twins except for 2. His ERA is lower and BABIP is .217. Not to be a downer, but normalization is not kind

    After a player has been with a couple of organizations it seems to me pretty ridiculous to criticize the Twins for letting them go once they finally have success. I suppose some pitchers that got away with career WAR of 0 means nothing is better than Coloma, but in the long run, nothing is bullpen filler, not a career bad year.

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    Relievers can be good for one year or two and not so good the next year. But Littell was young and could have been protected. The sample size for 2020 was small. Also, the article never mentioned his pitch speed and bats missed which are important. Right now he, and the Giants, are playing over their heads. While it would be nice for both to continue, let's see where they are in mid-August. Hey, the Yankees gave up on Tauchman and he is flourishing with the Giants while the Yanks are starving for a left handed bat.

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    12 hours ago, Mark G said:

    To me, it is simple.  They gave up on him because their analytics told them to.  The boy wonders of the 21st century do what their computers tell them to, and there will be times they get burned because of it.  And not only on who they give up on, but who they sign as well.  And not just pitching........oh, don't get me started.  :)

    You're not wrong in that their analytics told them he's not likely to be a player with long-term success. And frankly, the analytics suggest that he's riding a lucky streak right now, which happens to relievers all the time since they don't have tons of innings. But Littell was also a guy who has been passed on by every team when he got pulled from the 40 man. The Twins were interested in bringing him back on a minor league deal; he just chose to go elsewhere as a minor-league free agent: no one gave him a major league deal, not even the Giants.

    The Giants took a flyer on him on a minor league make-good deal with no risk. He pitched well enough to make the roster and has played well, but I doubt they're gonna offer him any kind of multi-year extension. We'll see where he is at the end of the year too...

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    1 hour ago, Major League Ready said:

    Agree completely.  Who should they trade that would yield high quality prospects?  The only players I see netting that kind of return are Berrios / Buxton / Polanco / Arraez.  Maybe Kepler if he plays better the rest of the year.  

    You don't break up an entire core of the team just because of one bad year/start. I could see trading Kepler and maybe Polanco out of this group but none of the others. 

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    12 minutes ago, twinfan said:

    You don't break up an entire core of the team just because of one bad year/start. I could see trading Kepler and maybe Polanco out of this group but none of the others. 

    What did Chicago do?  Tampa traded Snell and lost Morton to free agency and yet they have the best record in baseball.  They have always been willing to part with players approaching free agency while they still have value.  You are welcome to your opinion but IMO you don't trade these players if your only focus is next year.  You trade them if you get the kind of return that makes you better for several years.

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    1 hour ago, Major League Ready said:

    Agree completely.  Who should they trade that would yield high quality prospects?  The only players I see netting that kind of return are Berrios / Buxton / Polanco / Arraez.  Maybe Kepler if he plays better the rest of the year.  

    That is the sticky wicket it doesn't look like Cruz or Pineda will bring back much more than a top 10 to 20 player in another system so unlikely a player with "star" potential.  It would have to be one of the players you mention which is always scary because the team getting major league talent has a much better idea of what they are getting than the team getting the prospect because you just never know if their talent\potential will translate to MLB.

    It is always sad to be the team trading away good talent to receive potential talent but there is a point where you just have to take that leap of faith IMO.  I think now is the time because this team is starting to remind me of the mediocre White Sox we used to beat up on before they started a massive rebuild.  They went for high quality star type players and they seem to be doing OK.  We don't have the talent they had to trade but I think now is the time to jump start the next wave because if they wait for draft comp on Berrios and Buxton it won't line up as well with the young players they have coming up right now.  Adding players closer to ready if they turn out could boost the team up but if the players they choose don't turn out then we really are stuck. 

    The deals to get our better players will have to be overpays and at positions we need moving forward.  Maybe that means a three team trade but whatever it takes it would need to make sense for our team moving forward.  There are a fair number of rentals out there and teams generally gravitate toward players that meet their needs for the lowest price.  Most of the high revenue teams seem near the cap so money could be a factor this year as well.  Someone is going to have to really like someone on our team to get a deal done and I am not sure we have anything other than maybe Berrios who would be overly appealing as an overpay.  Here's hoping this FO can work a little magic at the deadline but I wouldn't bank on it.

     

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    15 hours ago, Mark G said:

    To me, it is simple.  They gave up on him because their analytics told them to.  The boy wonders of the 21st century do what their computers tell them to, and there will be times they get burned because of it.  And not only on who they give up on, but who they sign as well.  And not just pitching........oh, don't get me started.  :)

    Yes.  Kind of sad.  Analytics are a tool, not the entire factory.

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    6 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    What did Chicago do?  Tampa traded Snell and lost Morton to free agency and yet they have the best record in baseball.  They have always been willing to part with players approaching free agency while they still have value.  You are welcome to your opinion but IMO you don't trade these players if your only focus is next year.  You trade them if you get the kind of return that makes you better for several years.

    I'm not necessarily against making some moves but saying "do what TB would do," when this organization isn't in the same ballpark operationally isn't a surefire path to success. You need to have elite talent evaluation and development to reshuffle the deck and stay competitive. If not, you're the Pirates of the early 2000s. 

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    8 minutes ago, KirbyDome89 said:

    I'm not necessarily against making some moves but saying "do what TB would do," when this organization isn't in the same ballpark operationally isn't a surefire path to success. You need to have elite talent evaluation and development to reshuffle the deck and stay competitive. If not, you're the Pirates of the early 2000s. 

    Yes.  It seems like the Twins had the most success when they tried to be the Twins*, not when they tried to be the As or the Rays.

    *Except when "Being the Twins" meant "spend nothing."

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    9 hours ago, Major League Ready said:

    Agree completely.  Who should they trade that would yield high quality prospects?  The only players I see netting that kind of return are Berrios / Buxton / Polanco / Arraez.  Maybe Kepler if he plays better the rest of the year.  

    I started to think more about moving Kepler like you mentioned and depending on what they could get in return that might make some sense.  I like Kepler because he plays very good defense in right field and he can fill in at centerfield.  His slugging % is really good as well but then there is Larnach.  Larnach needs a place to play and he can play in right. He is not the at the same level defensively as Kepler but he likely will end up being better offensively.  Kirilloff can handle left and when they want a right handed bat out there they can use Garlick or Rooker if he ever gets a grip on the strike zone.  If they Keep Gordon as a Utility guy instead of Astudillo then they would still have an emergency centerfielder as well.  I would think Keplers versatility, power and  fairly low cost salary would appeal to some clubs but I haven't researched which ones.  It would help get rid of redundancy in the outfield, save on salary and hopefully net a star prospect in return.  Also would help clear a 40 man spot.  Twins might not want to do that but it seems at least viable to me.

    At any rate I think they should look at all their players closely and decide if a deal makes sense or not.  Especially with how many player they might need to protect this coming year unless they want to live through another Baddoo scenario.

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    On 6/14/2021 at 11:20 AM, chpettit19 said:

    Obviously Ortiz leads Twins fans to make these complaints quite often. 

    And with good reason. Even put into context, the DFA of David Ortiz is often regarded as the single worst player personnel decision in the history of MLB.

    The only move that is even comparable is Babe Ruth being traded by the Red Sox to the Yankees, but as is often pointed out, the Red Sox ownership was at least handsomely compensated for giving up on that player.

    The Twins literally get nothing but historical notoriety for being horrible at player evaluation. It doesn't just get brought up by the Twins fanbase, but is the gold standard brought up by talking heads and analysts anytime a team gives up on a player that goes on to have success elsewhere.

    It's hard for that wound to heal when it is constantly picked at by both ourselves and others.

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    On 6/15/2021 at 10:38 PM, spycake said:

    FWIW, Littell got the opener start for SF tonight and gave up 4 hits and 2 walks to Arizona without retiring a batter. Charged with 4 runs, and the next reliever stranded both inherited runners.

    I have established an account at FriscoGiantsDaily.com to register my views on the Total System Failure that their front office has presided over.

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