Before the 2019 season, the Twins hired Wes Johnson, which seemed like an unconventional move at the time. Few teams were looking to the college ranks for pitching coaches, and the Twins found success under Johnson’s tutelage. Since the start of the 2019 season, Minnesota pitchers rank 10th in baseball in fWAR (46.8), and that includes a disappointing 2021 campaign for many Twins pitchers. Coaching is challenging to gauge, but these three pitchers were successful during Johnson’s time in Minnesota.
Entering the 2019 season, Tyler Duffey looked like he may flicker out at the big-league level after four disappointing seasons. From 2015-2018, he pitched 287 innings with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. His first two seasons were spent struggling in the rotation, but he didn’t find immediate success in the bullpen. Johnson’s arrival on the coaching staff signaled a clear turning point for Duffey as he was considered one of baseball’s best relievers for multiple seasons.
Since 2019, Duffey has posted a 139 ERA+ with 201 strikeouts in 174 1/3 innings. Even as Duffey struggled this season, the coaching staff helped him to make adjustments and bring back his sinker that he hadn’t used regularly since 2018. Duffey may never be a dominant reliever again, but Johnson was able to get strong seasons from the reliever.
When the Twins signed Archer, injury concerns were part of his big-league track record. He hadn’t made double-digit starts since the 2019 season and hadn’t compiled an ERA+ over 100 since the 2017 season. Fans have been frustrated with Archer not pitching deeper into games, but the Twins coaching staff had a plan to keep him healthy, and the results speak for themselves. In 14 starts, he has a career-high 122 ERA+, and he leads the team in games started.
Over the weekend, Archer threw five shutout innings and had nothing but praise for Johnson. “Wes is one of my biggest advocates,” Archer told reporters. “We do a lot of work, mental and physical, in between starts.” Now, Archer will need to find another coach to help him prepare for games.
When the Twins acquired Joe Ryan, he was considered a good pitching prospect, but few imagined he would be this successful at the big-league level. Ryan dominated in the minor leagues, but many felt his pitching repertoire wouldn’t translate to the big leagues. He relied heavily on his fastball, a plus pitch, but questions surrounded his off-speed offerings. Johnson worked with Ryan to tighten up some of his secondary pitches, and the team has reaped the benefits of that work.
Ryan has made 16 starts and posted a 115 ERA+ while striking out close to one batter per inning. His numbers might look even better, but he has struggled a little since returning from having COVID. Obviously, Ryan did a lot of development in the Rays organization, but Johnson helped Ryan to find success during his rookie season.
What other pitchers do you feel improve the most when working with Wes Johnson? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.