Projected Bullpen: Taylor Rogers, Alex Colomé, Tyler Duffey, Hansel Robles, Caleb Thielbar, Jorge Alcalá, Cody Stashak, Lewis Thorpe
Depth: Shaun Anderson, Ian Hamilton, Brandon Waddell, Ian Gibaut
The top of Minnesota's bullpen is well stocked with proven high-caliber arms. Taylor Rogers (3rd), Tyler Duffey (13th) and newcomer Hansel Robles (19th) all rank among the top 20 major-league relief pitchers in fWAR since 2019. Alex Colomé isn't rated quite as highly by that metric (42nd), but is a more conventionally appealing back-end arm: 15th in ERA, fourth in saves (with a 91% conversion rate), and seventh in Win Probability Added.
The team's second tier of relievers also offers plenty of prowess. Jorge Alcalá posted a 2.63 ERA and 10.1 K/9 rate as a rookie in 2020, flashing the potential to join the tier above. Cody Stashak has a 3.15 ERA and 42-to-4 K/BB ratio in 40 major-league innings. Caleb Thielbar put up a 2.25 ERA and 9.9 K/9 rate last year in his triumphant resurgence at age 33.
On the fringe of the reliever mix are a number of interesting waiver adds and fixer-upper projects. Names like Shaun Anderson, Brandon Waddell, Ian Gibaut, Derek Law, Luke Farrell, Juan Minaya and Ian Hamilton give Minnesota considerable depth – all pitchers with some big-league experience and intriguing traits pinpointed by the front office.
Given the success we've seen the Twins have with guys like Matt Wisler and Ryne Harper, none of those names can be discounted as potential impact relievers in the coming year. And that's before you get to the prospect pipeline, which packs some serious punch.
The Twins have a deep well of relief pitchers, rich with impressive track records, closing experience, and appealing strengths. They'll have a lot of options to get them through a long season, in which much will likely be asked of the bullpen.
It's easy to have faith in the people running this ship to keep it sailing smoothly.
By parting with Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard, and Wisler during the offseason, the Twins lost 95 of their 231 bullpen innings from 2020. That's about 40% of the unit's total output, and a much higher share of the high-leverage work.
With the help of those key contributors, Minnesota ranked fourth in the American League in bullpen ERA and second in fWAR. Now the relief corps will be looking to build upon that success through major turnover.
It's hard to make a case on the surface that the Twins' incoming talent comes anywhere close to matching what exited; those four combined last year for a 2.85 ERA while averaging 11.6 K/9. May, in particular, was a flamethrowing strikeout machine whose dominant edge will be tough to replace.
Backfilling May's overpowering presence, along with the functional reliability of Clippard and Wisler (who ranked first and second among MN relievers in innings pitched), will be a tall task. While the Twins have a large quantity of talented arms for the task, there are legit question marks surrounding most of them.
Rogers is coming off a tough year, in which hitters seemingly caught on to his previously baffling repertoire. Robles is trying to rebound from an unmitigated disaster that got him non-tendered by the Angels. Colomé was ditched by the White Sox and generated little demand in free agency, despite the gaudy numbers.
It's hard to look at any of these pitchers with the same confidence as Rogers, May and Romo a year ago.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Great bullpens are requisite for transcendent teams, especially in the modern game. Year after year, when you look at MLB's leading teams in bullpen fWAR, you find clubs that made the playoffs and often made deep runs. (Last year, the Dodgers and Rays ranked first and second, respectively.)
The Twins ranked third, for a second consecutive year, and they've achieved all this success by following their own model. They identify impact relievers (often below-the-radar types), develop customized plans, and execute. They've done it time and time again, and for that reason they've earned a good amount of faith.
But leaps of faith are definitely required to see this bullpen maintaining the elite level of performance that's now become the norm. They lost a lot of quality during the offseason, and are gambling heavily on their secret sauce in this 2021 bullpen recipe.
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