Most Improved. It is a difficult award to vote on, and this year that was certainly the case. What does it mean? Well, it could be a guy that had a bad first half of the season and really turned it on and showed great improvement as the season went along. Often, it is a player coming off of a disappointing or injury-plagued season who takes a step forward with a strong season.
Matt Wisler is not new to the big leagues. 2020 was his sixth season, and the Minnesota Twins are his fifth organization. He was originally drafted and signed by the Padres out of high school in 2011. He became a top prospect. He was a key piece in the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, Jr. to San Diego from Atlanta. He was a Top 100 prospect before the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Wisler debuted with the Braves in 2015 and spent two seasons as a starter. He was moved to the bullpen in 2017 and traded to the Reds during the 2018 season. He split 2019 between the Padres and the Mariners. Combined, he was 3-4 with a 5.61 ERA in 51 1/3 over 44 games.
At the end of the 2019 season, the Mariners placed him on waivers and the Twins claimed him. Wisler was arbitration-eligible, but he agreed to a guaranteed contract before numbers needed to be exchanged.
Clearly the Twins front office, scouts, analytics group, and/or pitching coaches and coordinators saw something from Wisler. Most likely, they saw his spin rate and that he had started using his slider much more frequently.
In 2018, Wisler threw 49.7% fastballs and 46.9% sliders.
In 2019, Wisler threw 29.2% fastballs and 70.5% sliders.
Turns out, that was just the start.
In 2020, Wisler threw just 16.6% fastballs and 83.4% sliders.
Here is a quick look at which MLB relievers threw the most sliders in 2020 (with the help of Statcast):
Wisler pointed out in September. “The one thing why I think my slider is so effective, talking to catchers, it doesn’t move the same. One pitch it will go straight down and the other one goes more side to side. I have a lot of different movements on my pitch. I don’t do anything different that I can feel.”
Wisler began the season by pitching in low-leverage situations. With early success, he soon was working in closer games. In mid-August, he had a stretch of three straight games in which he was used as the Opener. His next appearance, he struck out two batters in a perfect ninth to close out a 3-2 win over the White Sox. The only other Save of his career came in 2015 when he was still a starter. His next appearance was back in the role of Opener.
He was being used in higher-leverage situations. He was pitching much more frequently. In a game against the Cubs, he worked two scoreless innings and struck out six batters.
Regardless the role he was utilized, Matt Wisler dropped sliders and got the job done!
You can see who else received votes below, but there was no shortage of players who showed some improvement in 2020.
The Twins had one of baseball’s best bullpens. No surprise. Beyond Wisler, several bullpen arms took a step forward. Tyler Duffey finished fourth on this list while Jorge Alcala, Trevor May and Cody Stashak also received votes.
Like Wisler, Kenta Maeda came to the Twins from another organization and put up the best season, short as it was, of his career. He made some minor adjustments and went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
Arguably the Best Story of the 2020 Twins season could be the return of Caleb Thielbar. The lefty from Randolph returned to the organization after not pitching in the big leagues since 2015. In that time, he spent two more seasons with the St. Paul Saints. He was ready to be done and was hired as a pitching coach at Augustana. The Twins called and said they thought he was a big-league pitcher. He came to spring training and did well. He was invited to Summer Camp. He spent the first trip of the season on the Twins practice squad, and soon after he was promoted back to the big leagues. He responded very well, posting a 2.25 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 20 innings.
Others who deservingly received votes: Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Michael Pineda.
How would your ballot look?
Here are the results from the Twins Daily Twitter poll:
Here’s a look at the ballots from our 23 voters.
Seth Stohs: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Tyler Duffey, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Nick Nelson: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Tyler Duffey, 3) Trevor May
John Bonnes: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Jorge Alcala, 3) Matt Wisler
Tom Froemming: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Andrew Gebo: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Caleb Thielbar, 3) Kenta Maeda
AJ Condon: 1) Kenta Maeda, Tyler Duffey, Byron Buxton
Cody Christie: 1) Matt Wisler, 2.) Kenta Maeda, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Cody Pirkl: 1) Caleb Thielbar, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Matt Wisler
Cooper Carlson: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Jeremy Nygaard: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Tyler Duffey, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Lucas Seehafer: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Byron Buxton
Matt Braun: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Matt Lenz: 1) Byron Buxton, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Matthew Taylor: 1) Kenta Maeda, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Tyler Duffey
Matthew Trueblood: 1) Jorge Alcala, 2) Eddie Rosario
Nash Walker: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Kenta Maeda, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Nate Palmer: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Caleb Thielbar, 3) Cody Stashak
Patrick Wozniak: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Eddie Rosario, 3) Michael Pineda
Derek Wetmore: 1) Byron Buxton
Steve Lein: 1) Tyler Duffey, 2) Trevor May, 3) Jorge Alcala
Renabanena: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Byron Buxton, 3) Kenta Maeda
Ted Schwerzler: 1) Matt Wisler, 2) Caleb Thielbar
Thiéres Rabelo: 1) Eddie Rosario, 2) Matt Wisler, 3) Caleb Thielbar
Matt Wisler: 47
Kenta Maeda: 28
Caleb Thielbar: 18
Tyler Duffey: 12
Byron Buxton: 10
Eddie Rosario: 7
Jorge Alcala: 6
Trevor May: 3
Cody Stashak: 1
Michael Pineda: 1
Previous Twins Most Improved Player Award Winners
2015: Aaron Hicks
2016: Brian Dozier
2017: Byron Buxton
2018: Kyle Gibson
2019: Mitch Garver
OTHER 2020 AWARD WINNERS
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Jeffers
Most Improved: Matt Wisler
Pitcher of the Year: Coming Tomorrow
Most Valuable Player: Coming Soon!