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  • Twins Bullpen Power Rankings


    Cody Christie

    Bullpens can be fickle from one year to the next. Take the case of Zack Littell. Last season, he was one of Minnesota’s most trustworthy arms as he was entering the game in the late innings in some tough spots. One year later, the Twins were able to pass him through waivers and take him off the 40-man roster. With less than a week remaining, how should the Twins bullpen rank heading into October?

    Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

    October is going to look different this season with no off days in scheduled in each of the first three rounds. There is some time off between each round, but bullpens are going to be even more important in this tight schedule. These power rankings aren’t about who should be used in a specific spot because the manager can be creative in the playoffs. The rankings below are about who is pitching well and who has the best stuff to succeed in October.

     

    10. Sean Poppen (4.70 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 10 K, 7 2/3 IP)

    Poppen has seen limited time for the Twins this year and it seems unlikely that he would be called on in October. His lone role might be to eat some innings if there was a blowout. He also hasn’t pitched in a game in nearly two weeks. Twins fans don’t want to see him on the mound in the playoffs, because that likely means something went wrong in the game.

     

    9. Caleb Thielbar (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 20 K, 16 IP)

    Thielbar has been a feel-good story for the Twins this season as his pitching performance certainly has matched a player that hasn’t pitching in the big leagues since 2015. If you take out his first appearance, he has a 0.66 ERA while holding batters to a .149/.259/.149 (.408) slash-line. Also, he has been asked to get more than three outs four of his fourteen games, which is likely something he wouldn’t be asked to do in the postseason. On other teams, he’d rank much higher.

     

    8. Cody Stashak (3.09 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 15 K, 11 2/3 IP)

    Stashak has been really good and him being this low shows the depth of the Twins bullpen. He’s only allowed runs in two of his nine appearances and he has multiple strikeouts in over half of his outings. His one bad appearance was an inning where he allowed three runs to Kansas City. Rocco Baldelli has shown faith in using him in the late innings of close games. With few off days in each series, Stashak might be needed for some big outs.

     

    7. Jorge Alcala (2.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27 K, 21 2/3 IP)

    Alcala might have helped Twins fans to forget about Brusdar Graterol since he is basically filling the same role on the team. He’s also been better than Graterol this season. His fastball will certainly play in October and he’s used his slider nearly as often. His Baseball Savant page is also the thing of dreams as he ranks as ranks higher than the 80th percentile in all but one category. He could be the team’s closer of the future and October could be his month to shine on the big stage.

     

    6. Matt Wisler (1.11 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 34 K, 24 1/3 IP)

    Wilser has been the Twins diamond in the rough this year. Claimed off waivers, the Twins have helped him to morph into one of the American League’s best relief pitchers. According to Baseball Reference, he is tied with Jose Berrios for the fourth highest WAR on the team behind Byron Buxton, Kenta Maeda, and Nelson Cruz. He’s been used as an opener, earned a save, and has five holds to his name. His versatility could be useful with how effective he continues to be.

     

    5. Tyler Clippard (2.78 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 22 K, 22 2/3 IP)

    Minnesota saw plenty of Clippard last year in Cleveland and he’s been nearly as good so far this year. He could actually move down this list with some recent poor performances. In three of his last four appearances, runs have been scored against him, so his worst stretch of the season might be coming at the wrong time. Baldelli will likely continue to turn to him because he is a 14-year veteran with 14 playoff appearances during his career.

     

    4. Sergio Romo (2.89 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 22 K, 18 2/3 IP)

    Since the Twins acquired him last year, Romo has been getting plenty of late inning opportunities out of the Twins bullpen. Taylor Rogers has struggled at times this year and this has led the Twins to continue to use Romo in late inning situations. Fans saw this as recently as Sunday night in Chicago with Rogers getting the eighth and Romo getting the ninth. Things got a little shaky in that game, but he has a long playoff track record and he’s going to be trusted to get outs in the eighth and ninth inning.

     

    3. Taylor Rogers (4.58 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 22 K, 17 2/3 IP)

    Rogers and his struggles have been well documented throughout this season. In such a small sample size, luck might be accounting for some of his poor performance. His BABIP is one of the highest among all relief pitchers and his 4.58 ERA comes with a 2.84 FIP. Some of his issues this year might also be tied to the use of his breaking pitches. As Nick wrote about last week, his curve spin rate has flattened out and this could be one reason for more solid contact against him. Whether it’s luck or a poor breaking ball, the Twins need Rogers to be in peak form by the start of next week.

     

    2. Trevor May (4.35 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 34 K, 20 2/3 IP)

    Back on September 6, May blew up in a loss to Detroit as he allowed three runs on four hits and saw his ERA rise to 5.74. In his last five appearances, he has been nearly unhittable with opponents limited to two hits, both singles. He has struck out eight in five innings and nearly 60% of his WPA for the season has come during this recent stretch. Even though his season hasn’t been perfect, he’s been Minnesota’s hottest reliever to end the season.

     

    1. Tyler Duffey (1.69 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 28 K, 21 1/3 IP)

    Duffey is the Twins best relief pitcher and it might not be close. If an opponent’s heart of the line-up is coming up in a key spot, Duffey gets the call in the bullpen. These types of situations will only be more amplified in the upcoming postseason. So far this season, he has pitched in any inning from the fourth to the eighth, because Baldelli trusts him in any situation. He isn’t the Twins closer, because he is better than any of the closing options for the Twins.

     

    How would you rank the Twins bullpen? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

     

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    I would have the order a bit different, for example Rogers a bit farther down with the way he has been pitching recently.

     

    Overall though, when I look at the list I really marvel at the fact that out of these ten relievers, Poppen is the only one I wouldn't trust at all in a close game. That's pretty impressive depth and hopefully bodes well for the playoffs.

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    After Duffy, at least to start, I'm rolling with the vets Romo and Clippard who have been there before. The pressure of the postseason is real, and we saw last year guys like Duffy, Littell, Stashak, Dobnak etc. implode in their first taste of October. It will be really interesting to see if it happens how Rocco would set up innings 5-9 up 1 run.

     

    I'm also not worried about Clippard giving a few runs. One was a bomb to MVP candidate Tim Anderson, one was unearned, and two were his runners inherited by Romo with 2 outs that both came around to score. In that stretch of 3.1 innings, he only issued 1 walk and gave up 3 hard hit balls, so that was just a little bad luck. 

     

    Also: does anyone know if the 3 batter minimum still applies in the playoffs? I haven't been able to find the clear answer to that anywhere. Obviously some other rule changes like the runner on 2nd in extras won't apply, but does this? If it doesn't, it would help out Rogers and Thielbar tremendously.

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    Ranking May #2 - with 5HR/20IP is a joke.  He's an all or nothing pitcher.  He can't be trusted against a top hitting club like the Yanks.  Duffy is better, but has been shaky against the Yanks(just look at last year's playoffs).

     

    Agree yjay Romo/Rogers/Clippard should be downgraded and replaced by Wisler/Stashak/and Alcala.  Yes, experience is important, but current season performance more telling.  I'd hate to be in Baldy's shoes - he's damned if his choices backfire!!

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    I loved looking at the K rates of all those guys overall.  For years the Twins did not have good K rates overall and the pen is where you really need good K rates and low whips.  You come in with runners on you need to get some Ks sometimes, or at least not give up runners on base.  This year there is much less mid inning changes, and from what I recall Twins have been one of lowest generally of this, but other day they did a few to get big outs with runners on.  

     

    I have commented on Rodgers in the other articles, he is the best lefty we have, and should still be used in high leverage situations where lefties will be up, but he should not be, nor do I feel anyone these days, should be plug and play "closer"  Play out the situations.  If 8th, like the other night, has lefties coming, bring in Rodgers, then bring in Romo or whoever for the 9th.  Why bring in a righty, unless you want Caleb, to face lefties to then bring in Rodgers to face righties, unless there is some revers splits in there.  

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    In regards to Littell I wonder if no one claimed him off of waivers due to an injury that the public is not aware of. Seems strange to me.

    Could be, but also I think we may have been overrating Littell a bit. He's still young with an option remaining, but remember he was an iffy enough starting prospect to be dealt for 2 months of Jaime Garcia. And even in his successful bullpen stint with the Twins in 2019, he only had a 7.8 K/9 and 3.62 FIP.

     

    He's not a bad pitcher to have around, but in this age of 1 million relievers, every team likely has similar quality bullpen projects and/or access to similar ones every offseason -- they may not have to spend a 40-man spot on another one right now.

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    I like Alcala, but only when we are behind. He keeps it close, while the pressure is off the other team to score runs.

    Good point. This is somewhat chicken-and-egg, but definitely you try out the young guy in carefully selected situations first. So we just don't know yet.

     

    Baseball-reference.com keeps a stat called leverage index. It's an attempt to apply an analytic structure to a very fuzzy concept. This year's stats are here:

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2020-pitching.shtml#all_players_win_probability_pitching

     

    If you sort on the aLI column, you'll see the confidence Rocco has placed in the arms at his disposal. Rogers has been first over the course of the abbreviated season, but of course we can guess that this might be under reevaluation among the braintrust. Romo's second. Duffey, May next. Clippard a little farther down.

     

    Alcala is well down the ranking, by this particular measure. Only guy lower seems to be Stashak, in terms of being treated with kid gloves.

     

    It's fine to construct one's own ranking - and the b-r.com ranking is a blend over the entire time so it may not reflect Rocco's current thinking or plan. But IMO it's fair to expect the veterans to play the key roles, and also Duffey/May, based on the patterns established. The others could be one-out guys, or mop-up.

     

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    Alcala is well down the ranking, by this particular measure. Only guy lower seems to be Stashak, in terms of being treated with kid gloves.

     

     

    This one actually surprised me a little, though maybe I haven't been actually watching enough games to notice when Stashak is getting his heaviest workload.

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    Baseball-reference.com keeps a stat called leverage index. It's an attempt to apply an analytic structure to a very fuzzy concept. This year's stats are here:

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2020-pitching.shtml#all_players_win_probability_pitching

     

    If you sort on the aLI column, you'll see the confidence Rocco has placed in the arms at his disposal.

    Good post!

     

    I'll add that you probably want to use "gmLI" (game-entering leverage index) to judge reliever usage -- that's the leverage when they enter the game. "aLI" (average leverage index) is the average leverage index over all of the PAs they pitch -- so a pitcher who struggles could make his own aLI increase, while a pitcher who succeeds can make his own aLI decrease.

     

    In the case of the 2020 Twins, though, both figures seem to give the same rough order, with Alcala/Stashak at the bottom.

     

    Looks like B-Ref doesn't include gmLI in the reliever only table, but you'll find it in the overall Pitcher Value table (and starters will just have a blank value in that column):

     

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2020.shtml#players_value_pitching::15

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    Good post!

     

    I'll add that you probably want to use "gmLI" (game-entering leverage index) to judge reliever usage -- that's the leverage when they enter the game. "aLI" (average leverage index) is the average leverage index over all of the PAs they pitch -- so a pitcher who struggles could make his own aLI increase, while a pitcher who succeeds can make his own aLI decrease.

     

    In the case of the 2020 Twins, though, both figures seem to give the same rough order, with Alcala at the bottom.

     

    Looks like B-Ref doesn't include gmLI in the reliever only table, but you'll find it in the overall Pitcher Value table (and starters will just have a blank value in that column):

     

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MIN/2020.shtml#players_value_pitching::15

    Thanks for the useful enhancement.

     

    Another thing to like: the pitchers at the very bottom of such rankings have a tendency to magically no longer be on the active roster, or are up and down to St Paul (Littell, Gearrin, Coulombe, Thorpe, Smelzer, Poppen). Provides a little additional validation about how the team's evaluators are thinking. It doesn't tell you about in-game success - it tells you about the role.

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    This one actually surprised me a little, though maybe I haven't been actually watching enough games to notice when Stashak is getting his heaviest workload.

    An easy way to check is looking at the "Entered" column (second-to-last column) on the B-Ref pitcher game logs. Here's Stashak:

     

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.fcgi?id=stashco01&t=p&year=2020#pitching_gamelogs::none

     

    Entered
    8b --- 0 out a5
    7t --- 0 out a4
    8t --- 0 out a3
    7b --- 0 out a1
    4b 1-- 0 out tie
    2b --- 0 out a1
    8t --- 0 out a3
    7t --- 2 out a3
    4b --- 2 out a2

     

    It's not mop-up usage, but he's only entered once with a runner on base or in a tie game (and that was the same game, and only in the 4th inning). 6 times he's entered in the 7th inning or later, and only once did he have less than a 3 run lead.

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    Interesting Stashak has been coming in with the lead almost exclusively, though.

     

    Here's Alcala's game log -- he's more often coming in with a deficit:

     

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.fcgi?id=alcaljo01&t=p&year=2020#pitching_gamelogs::none

     

    Entered
    5t --- 0 out d3
    9b --- 0 out a5
    5b --- 0 out d4
    5t --- 0 out d2
    11t -2- 0 out tie
    4b 12- 0 out d3
    6b --- 0 out a1
    5b 1-- 2 out d2
    7t --- 0 out a7
    8t --- 0 out d1
    6b --- 0 out d2
    8b -23 1 out d2
    7b --- 0 out d3

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    It's not mop-up usage, but he's only entered once with a runner on base or in a tie game (and that was the same game, and only in the 4th inning). 6 times he's entered in the 7th inning or later, and only once did he have less than a 3 run lead.

     

    Though it should be said that FTMP Twins pitchers are probably leading the league in not leaving in the middle of innings, or at worst in the top three. They've done pretty well at getting in and getting out and then passing along to the next guy for the next inning.

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    Though it should be said that FTMP Twins pitchers are probably leading the league in not leaving in the middle of innings, or at worst in the top three. They've done pretty well at getting in and getting out and then passing along to the next guy for the next inning.

    True -- Twins relievers have seen the second fewest inherited runners. (Cleveland has the fewest.) Although I'm not sure that's a bigger factor than the score and inning, in determining Stashak's leverage.

     

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2020-reliever-pitching.shtml#teams_reliever_pitching::12

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