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  • Questioning the Twins Bullpen Usage


    Cody Christie

    The Twins are nearly a third of the way through their 60-game sprint to the playoffs. Barring a massive implosion, Minnesota should finish in the top-8 teams and this puts them into a three-game toss-up series where a lot of things could happen. In a shortened season, there are going to be plenty of things to question and one of the biggest question marks so far has been the team’s bullpen usage.

    Image courtesy of © Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    So far in his two seasons as manager, Rocco Baldelli has shown a preference for giving players time off and allowing pitchers to throw in situations that best fit their role. He adjusted his bullpen usage last season because the team’s relief core was struggling through parts of the first half. In fact, that was one of the team’s biggest needs at the trade deadline last season (See the team’s trade for Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo).

     

    Luckily for the Twins players like Tyler Duffey and Trevor May have emerged and the team went out and signed a veteran arm like Tyler Clippard while resigning Romo. This leaves the Twins with one of the baseball’s best bullpens, but their second-year manager could approach the team’s bullpen usage in a different way than he has through the team’s first third of the season.

     

    There are two different ways to rank the bullpen when it comes to effectiveness and how the manager views the hierarchy. Taylor Rogers is clearly at the back end of any bullpen configuration for the Twins. From there, things get a little dicey. Baldelli is inclined to use Romo as the team’s alternate closer, but it can be argued that he is the team’s fifth best relief option.

     

    The players that should be ahead of Romo in the bullpen pecking order are Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and Tyler Clippard. Duffey has turned himself into one of the most dominant right-handed relief pitchers in the American League. He might be even better than Taylor Rogers, the team’s closer, and that’s quite the honor.

     

    May tends to allow some home runs and Clippard is on the backend of his career. So, how could the Twins do a better job of using these pitchers?

     

    Minnesota’s offense hasn’t been performing at the same level as the 2019 team and it would be hard to live up to the same level as the record-setting “Bomba Squad.” Still, the trend so far this season has been to turn to less established relief arms when the team is trailing in a game. The names mentioned above are saved for if/when the team takes the lead and other players like Cody Stashak, Matt Wisler and Caleb Theilbar are trusted to keep the team in the game.

    https://twitter.com/AaronGleeman/status/1292951071556374530?s=20

    Twins manager Rocco Baldelli seems to be in the frame of mind that using his best pitchers in deficit games is will have negative results. This seems like a logical response for a manager if the season is 162-games. Unfortunately, the team isn’t in the midst of a season that long. Even the best teams this season will only win around 35 games.

     

    This is going to force managers with good bullpens, like Baldelli, to use his good relief arms when the team is trailing. Unless a starting pitcher is pulled after three innings, there is little chance to use Rogers, Duffey, May, Clippard and Romo all in the same game.

     

    If the Twins go on a winning streak, this type of bullpen usage could help the team. The team could have a better chance to win by spreading the team’s five best relief pitchers over the course of multiple games. There has also been a plethora of pitching injuries so far this year so allowing pitchers to rest could help the team to stay healthy down the stretch.

     

    Out of bullpen arms, Clippard and Wisler have the most innings and that includes Clippard making multiple starts as an opener. Romo, Duffey, Stashak and May have all pitched more than Rogers. In fact, Rogers has barely pitched more than rookie Jorge Alcala.

     

    In the grand scheme of a shortened schedule, bullpen usage might not matter until the games count in the playoffs. It is still perplexing to consider the way Baldelli has approached his relief options so far in 2020.

     

    Are you concerned with the team’s bullpen usage so far this season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

     

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    I agree with Mike regarding the value vs cost of bullpen games. Just replace the starters who are out with starters from the taxi squad. Give Duran a look or two.

    The short season does enter into the calculus as the post season isn't far off and the Twins need to position themselves as best they can. A bullpen with less wear and tear could be a huge plus in a deep post season run..

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    I think Rocco explained the strategy well. There's a lot of merit to it. My only quibble is if the offense gets back to being a "no deficit is insurmountable" one again - then it makes sense to bring in a good arm when only a couple of runs down, if the bullpen isn't verging on exhaustion. Last night's game was a hopeful sign in that regard, although once again all the scoring occurred early so there isn't evidence of being a late-innings juggernaut.

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    I agree with Rocco's usage, even though it's backfired once it twice from being a close game to not so close a game. And Ash is correct that if the offense starts to perform to more expected standards, that may shift some of Rocco's thinking and usage.

     

    But 2 quick points/comments:

     

    1] The Twins 6-9th best arms are better than most any team can throw out to the mound.

     

    2] Used to drive me crazy Molitor would burn through our best arms to "keep it close" and then have nothing left for winable games.

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    Yeah, I tend to agree with it, especially as it's played out. As Rocco said, those guys will get plenty of opportunities to protect leads. The next two games, Rogers was used and a couple of the other top four guys were used. in a lead. 

     

    And, as Doc said, the Twins second tier relievers are pretty good too. 

     

    Also, while it is still only a 60-game season, teams just can't treat it as if every game is life and death. That is exactly how to burn them out. 

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    2] Used to drive me crazy Molitor would burn through our best arms to "keep it close" and then have nothing left for winable games.

    Interesting. During the first part of the unexpectedly good 2017 campaign, I had the distinct impression that Molly had a two-tiered approach. The starters in the "good" category (Ervin Santana for example) were followed by reliable relievers (notably Rogers, Pressly). "Bad" starters (Hector Santiago) seemed likelier to be followed by less-well regarded pitchers. It was just my impression, that his strategy was to win the winnable games, and take his chances with the remainder (you never know when the offense might bust out with a good game), and it worked out so well that they jumped off to a good start through May. I didn't do a systematic study, and perhaps I was imagining things. And even if true, I don't think it's sustainable to cherry-pick the games beforehand like that. But when you're trying to turn around a losing franchise, it's something to try, just to give a shot of confidence.

     

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    A couple things:

     

    1) Bullpen games gotta go. I don't understand how it is justifiable with a really good team. Take your chances with a spot starter from St. Paul or go with Smeltzer. To me, it seems to really mess with the next couple days. I get that they had an off day today, but they have like three straight weeks of games coming up. 

     

    2) Is Duffey better than Rogers? I say the results so far point to yes. I don't know if it matters what the "title" is in terms of closer, but I do tend to feel a little more confident when Duffey is in the game as opposed to Rogers the past couple weeks.

     

    3) Theilbar and Gearrin are hopefully being replaced by Littell and Hill in the next week.

     

    When's the last time the Twins have had such a deep six with Rogers, Duffey, May, Romo, Clippard, and Stashak? I can't think of a better sextet. Go Twins!  

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    When Hill comes back, I think you jettison Smeltzer (If you believe that Thorpe is better), you don't need 2 mops.  You also have Bailey and Odorizzi so have enough starters, Alacia needs to be used and see if he also can become a part of the solution.  WIth all this pitching go with the hot hands and do not use Rodgers on 2 days  in a row(just does not work).  If need be Duffey and Romo can handle those spots.  

    Twins hitting will make some games not stressful and can use lesser bullpen arms.  

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    When Hill comes back, I think you jettison Smeltzer (If you believe that Thorpe is better), you don't need 2 mops.  You also have Bailey and Odorizzi so have enough starters, Alacia needs to be used and see if he also can become a part of the solution.  WIth all this pitching go with the hot hands and do not use Rodgers on 2 days  in a row(just does not work).  If need be Duffey and Romo can handle those spots.  

    Twins hitting will make some games not stressful and can use lesser bullpen arms.  

    Don't use any of them 2 days in a row! A good article last year on TD showed that it doesn't work for any of them.

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    I think Rocco articulated well a strategy that makes sense, particularly when you are a strong team and there are eight playoff spots. With their offense, they’re probably going to be tied or have the lead after six innings in at least 33-35 of those games. Get the win in 90 percent of those, and you’ve got 30+ wins in the bag. And with their deep pen, even the Nos. 5 and 6 guys are usually going to keep them close enough for the bats to come back and get a half-dozen wins amount the remaining games. That’s 36 wins and a pretty high seed. 

     

    I don’t mind the bullpen games, and with Hill being so close to back, they likely aren’t going to need more than one more (assuming health). Look for it Monday or Tuesday, with Maeda pitching the other. Hill will be back by the following weekend when that spot comes around again, if not before. Beyond that, Pineda is back in a couple weeks, and Bailey is assumed to still be in the mix.

     

    An issue with sending down a reliever to bring up Duran or another starter from St. Paul is that you’ve now lost that reliever for the next 10 days (barring an IL move, which admittedly they are very willing to use).

     

    And speaking of the offense, if they’d exploded for 12 runs on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, we wouldn’t be worked up about it having been a bullpen game. 

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    I think Rocco explained the strategy well. There's a lot of merit to it. My only quibble is if the offense gets back to being a "no deficit is insurmountable" one again - then it makes sense to bring in a good arm when only a couple of runs down, if the bullpen isn't verging on exhaustion. Last night's game was a hopeful sign in that regard, although once again all the scoring occurred early so there isn't evidence of being a late-innings juggernaut.

    100% agree.

     

    The problem with never using your good bullpen guys in a "deficit" game is that you're not giving your offense a chance to come back.

     

    To make matters worse, the Twins pitchers that do pitch in "deficit" games tend to make deficits much larger.

     

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