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  • How Confident Are We in the Twins Relievers?


    Andrew Mahlke

    With 31 hours until their first game, the Twins traded away their closer, Taylor Rogers. With the season starting very soon, the Twins now have a few big question marks in their bullpen. Who will they rely on to get big outs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings? What roles will each reliever play in the bullpen? How confident are we in each arm? Here are confidence rankings in the Twins bullpen.

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    Minnesota has made a plethora of moves in the offseason in hopes of going from worst to first in the AL Central. The most recent of these moves was trading away Taylor Rogers and Brent Rooker to the San Diego Padres for right-handed pitchers Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagán. The Twins added some starting pitching depth with Paddack but downgraded their bullpen when they went from one of the better closers in the game in Rogers to a reliever looking to get back to his 2019 self, Pagán. With the Twins figuring to start the year with a six-man rotation, they will have ten bullpen arms. Here are my confidence rankings of the ten.

    10. Jhon Romero
    Romero was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals on March 21, and he will serve primarily to eat innings in Minnesota. Romero throws in the mid-90s with a ton of vertical break on his fastball, so he may need to develop a plus-offspeed pitch, but he is a promising reliever for the Twins. Romero made five appearances for the Nationals in 2021, giving up two earned runs and striking out three batters in four innings of work. He will need to earn the trust of the Twins and the Twins fan base before they can gain confidence in him pitching in big spots.

    9. Danny Coulombe
    A pleasant surprise in 2021, the left-handed Coulombe threw 34.1 innings for the Twins with a 3.67 ERA and a 3.75 FIP. The 32-year-old journeyman is an offspeed pitcher, throwing 66 percent of his pitches as either sliders or curveballs in 2021. Coulombe was also very good at controlling free passes, as he only walked five percent of opposing batters. In 2022, I see the Twins using Coulombe against left-handed batters, as he and Caleb Thielbar are now the only left-handers in their bullpen. Coulombe still needs to prove that he can sustain this level of success, but he could quickly jump up these rankings.

    8. Josh Winder
    Along with teammate Jhoan Duran, Winder displayed some of the best stuff in big league spring training out of all pitchers in 2022. Injuries shortened Winder's 2021 season, but he still managed to go 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA between AA and AAA. He had a sub-1 WHIP, and the hard-throwing righty limits walks and strikes guys out, leading me to believe that he will have no problem transferring his game to the big league level. Winder will be a long reliever, and he will probably make some spot starts in 2022.

    7. Jharel Cotton
    A pitcher nobody is talking about, Jharel Cotton could be the most underrated pitcher in the Twins bullpen. Cotton has the most vertical break on his fastball out of any pitcher in MLB and a highly effective changeup to pair with it. He had a 3.52 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 30 innings for the Texas Rangers in 2021. Cotton will be used in primarily lower leverage situations to start, and his workload could see an uptick with good performance.

    6. Caleb Thielbar
    Despite not having an overwhelming fastball, Caleb Thielbar has done one thing very well over the past two seasons with the Twins. And that is preventing runs. Thielbar only averages 91 miles per hour on his fastball, but it pairs well with his loopy 72 mile per hour curveball. Since 2020, Thielbar has had a 3.00 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 84 innings. Although he was used in low leverage situations in 2020, with the subtraction of Taylor Rogers, the Twins will turn to Thielbar to get crucial outs against left-handed hitters, who batted .214 against him in 2021.

    5. Joe Smith
    An under-the-radar signing for the Twins this offseason, the Twins signed former Astro Joe Smith to a one-year deal. Despite his unorthodox delivery, the 38-year-old has always had major league-level success. His 4.99 ERA in 2021 was misleading, as poor batted-ball luck inflated his ERA. His xERA was 3.55, and he has a 3.08 career ERA. Smith should slot nicely into a middle relief role, especially against righties, against whom he has allowed a .607 OPS in his career.

    4. Jhoan Duran
    As pitchers are throwing harder than ever before, the Twins' only fireballer on the staff in 2021 was Jorge Alcalá. Until now. Jhoan Duran made the Twins opening day roster, and when he debuts, he will be electric. The centerpiece of the Eduardo Escobar trade in 2018, Duran sits in the upper 90s with his fastball, topping at 101 miles per hour in spring training. Duran had the highest STUFF+ ratings in spring training despite a small sample size. For years to come, Duran's nasty stuff could lead to him being a weapon at the back of the Twins bullpen.

    3. Emilio Pagán
    One of the more intriguing pitchers on Minnesota's roster, Pagán will look to return to his Tampa Bay form. In 2019, Pagán was one of the best relievers in baseball as he struck out 96 batters in 70 innings with the Rays. He also had a 2.31 ERA and recorded 20 saves. He struck out 36 percent of batters and only walked 4.9 percent. When he got to San Diego, he took a step back. In 2021, he went 4-3 with a 4.83 ERA in 63 innings. He gave up 16 home runs in those 63 innings, and he ranked in the seventh percentile of all pitchers in xSLG. Pagán, like the next pitcher on this list, will look to get back to his former self. Pagán will most likely start the year as the Twins' closer.

    2. Tyler Duffey
    After being one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019 and 2020, Duffey took a significant step back in 2021 and will need to rediscover his success for the Twins to have a shutdown bullpen in 2022. In 2019-20, Duffey was in the 93rd percentile of pitchers in strikeout percentage and the 92nd percentile in xERA. He also had a 2.26 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 83.2 innings. In 2021, Duffey was in the 54th percentile in strikeout percentage and the 66th percentile in xERA. He had a 3.18 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 62 innings. While Duffey was by no means terrible in 2021, he was a different pitcher than he was in 2019 and 2020. Duffey will be a significant part of the Twins bullpen in 2022, especially if he can regain his old form.

    1. Jorge Alcalá
    Alcalá has always been a high octane arm who has shown flashes of dominance, and he offered three signs he was on the verge of breaking out in 2021. Alcalá has a 3.48 ERA in 85 career innings, and his stuff plays very well, as he is in the 96th percentile of all MLB pitchers in fastball velocity and chase rate. This combination could be due to him using his fastball less and his changeup more.


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    He was also in the 86th percentile of pitchers in walk percentage in 2021. This combination of good stuff and low walk rates could lead to Alcalá being a force in the back of the Twins bullpen in 2022. With Taylor Rogers gone, I look for Alcalá to take over the closer role in 2022.

    Who are your top three relievers for the Twins in 2022? What would you change about these rankings? Are there any guys currently in the minors who you think will majorly impact the bullpen? Let me know in the comments and start a discussion.

    Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!

     

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    12 minutes ago, LewFordLives said:

    Not having a real closer killed this team last year, and it looks like history is repeating itself.

    A whole bunch of **** killed this team last year

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    Even in 2019 Pagán’s FIP was not as good as Duffey’s. Duffey has been a much better reliever over the last three years by any measure. Why would that change this year? Pagán hasn’t been a good reliever for two years and been a replacement level pitcher. The Padres did well to get anything for him after he gave them -1.64 WPA and -0.4 WAR.

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    I still do not care about naming one guy "Closer". Teams focusing on that are trying to thread some needle that can't be threaded.

    I do want a bullpen populated by shut down guys.  If you want to call one of them your closer and go to him every time he's rested and maybe sometimes when he's not, bully for you, but you could do it other ways when you have the horses.  If all you have is one horse, you're going to lose the Kentucky Relay Derby when one of your burros takes its turn.

    It's not reasonable to expect every single member of an 8-man pen to be good enough to close, to say nothing of the 10-headed monster we'll carry until May 1.  But I do think it's a reasonable ask - for a team with World Series aspirations - to have 4 or 5 shutdown arms - guys you would feel confident sending out to close out a win in the ninth.  Some teams have that.

    So we don't have the horses ===> we don't currently have World Series aspirations.  Probably that was true before trading Rogers.  It will remain true until 4 or 5 guys step up. 

    Data point - in 2 games, the Twins bullpen has begun 9 innings of work (not counting Thielbar's fireman work in today's fifth inning).  Of these 9, a grand total of 1 inning was clean - no baserunners, accomplished by Coulombe in one of his two innings Friday.  We can be thrilled about Duran striking out the side after having put two baserunners on yesterday, if we want - but Fernando Rodney used to do that sometimes too.

    A non-contender can put up with tightrope acts over and over, while waiting for a prospect to put it all together, because eventually those baserunners will get driven in, probably for crooked numbers that won't wreck their season anyway.  A contender.... can not.

    Duffey today isn't what convinced me that, in the early going at least, we've got evidence of weakness.  It's those other 7 innings.

    It's only 2 games.  But no, I wasn't confident before and I'm not confident now.

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    Right now the bullpen lacks a closer, or more specifically, a pitcher who has a closer's personality--confident/cocky, chomping at the bit to get into the game, bulldog personality, mound presence, and the ability to find a way to close out the game (and preferably some experience in the late innings).   Everyday Eddie is an example of someone who didn't have lights out stuff, but who battled with every ounce of energy he had and refused to be beaten.  I am not sure Taylor Rogers has that personality, but I am pretty confident that Duffey does not.  That is not based on today's game--every pitcher has days when he doesn't get the job done (except maybe Mariano Rivera).  I think he has shown a lack of confidence for the past 2 years.  I think he is more at ease in the 6th inning role.  On the other hand, Duran and Acala seem to have these characteristics, but they lack experience.   I guess I would give the young guys who have some swagger to them an opportunity to grab the role.  But, we also have to recognize that the offense has been horrible the past two days.  You aren't going to win a bundle of games scoring 4 runs in 2 games. 

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    3 hours ago, alex ψ said:

    A whole bunch of **** killed this team last year

    Closer among them, or at least a closer type, but hardly even close to the only thing.  That is for sure.

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    I have to begin my thoughts by making a couple of precursor statements:

    1] Rogers has never been a/our "closer". He was/is a high leverage "fireman". And that's NOT to diminish him! Modern analytics...and just history and basic logic of watching baseball...has shown a diminished value in a SAVE. A save with a 2 or 3 run lead in the 9th with a "closer" facing the bottom 3 of an order is not as great as a "fireman" facing the heart of the order before that to keep the game in check. I could be wrong, but I think it was Cleveland pen and Andrew Miller, recently retired,who really changed this perception a few years ago. Tampa has also embraced this change in recent years with great success. So it's not about a pure "closer" in the old sense, it's about having high leverage arms who can make things happen in the late innings as needed. 

    2] Being a broken record, I've been stating over and again that the pen could be just fine with a healthy Rogers AND a quality RH version to work along side him. I never asked for or expected some $10M+ 3yr deal. There were enough proven arm on the market to add for somewhere around $5M-ish on a 1or 2yr deal to add so Duffey could just be a reliable arm, Alcala could continue the transition to dependable late option, Thielbar could just keep doing what he's been doing, and the middle innings could be in good hands with the arms available, whether or not the Twins transitioned Duran to the pen on a temporary or permanent basis.

    Instead, we traded Rogers and only signed Smith as a veteran middle guy to fill the role that Clippard was so good at. 

    For those who want to debate WAR or F-WAR, or any other metric in regard to the pen in 2021 and how it finished, and it finished strong WITHOUT Rogers, Colome was part of that and pitched well after May. Duffey, still here, figured it out and was still good despite a lowering of K numbers. Minaya and Coulombe were also part of that 2nd half pen. I was surprised Minaya wasn't protected, and glad he's back. Also happy Coulombe is back and doubt he won't be part of the team in 2022. And I get roster crunch and players you want to hang on to for potential, but we were lucky that both of these solid vets decided to re-up. 

    NONE of my comments have ANY weight after 2 games to open the season against a good Mariners team.  Let me be perfectly clear about that! This was 2 games! Duffey could be as good as ever after today, though he, like everyone, has bad moments. We should actually be pretty excited about what the first 2 games showed us. Despite less than ideal weather, just first appearances, the pen has been solid. Ryan and Gray weren't  necessarily on top of their game, but they were OK. 

    I am not going to hang Duffey out to dry for 1 game where he looked bad. But I AM going to hang the FO out to dry in a few weeks for NOT adding ONE quality late inning arm to add to the pen with or without Rogers still around.

    As to the OP in general:

    Romeo/Cotton: They're both here on a temporary term because the Twins want to see what they can do, vs Minaya. Romero hasn't thrown yet. Cotton did well today. I don't trust either, but I'm inclined to like what Cotton did when healthy last year and still surprised Texas just let him go. Both are on a short lease.

    Coulombe is not on as short of a lease. He's had a decent, OK of a career. But overall, by the numbers, his 2021 Twins term has been one of his best seasons. When does Moran develop enough to make him obsolete? For that matter, a healthy Smeltzer had a great ST. Coulombe may be a part of 2022, and he's off to a great start with his ST and 1st appearance, but when is he replaced by someone younger? For right now, I like him as a mid innings pitcher.

    Thielbar struggled early in 2021, like everyone, and that should be commented on, but like Duffey, he figured it out and suddenly was very good, yet again. And he still looks good. I actually have a lot of confidence in him. His ML lifeline may be limited, we'll see, but he sure figured out the whole complicated "pitching" part of MLB. I trust him in the 6th and 7th innings. But as good as he's been, he shouldn't be an 8th inning guy. 

    Smith is Clippard in retro, and partially Thielbar. Proven and can do the job in the mid innings. Awesome.

    Pagan is a guy I admit to know nothing about, except for BB Reference and what I've read here. Great 2019 and mediocre since. Apparently,  despite a poor 2020 and final 2021 numbers, he has an arm. His reported 2021 had him on a quality trajectory of a season with a low 3 ERA before he collapsed in his last 10÷ games.

    I took a few minutes to actually look at his numbers. I don't know that we got some kind of surprising stud back, but you also have to look at the numbers. By all reports, he took his career numbers in to August and then had a meltdown his last few appearances. He can either climb back up, or, succumb to his late 2021. He's a WC, and I sure wouldn't put him at #3 on the list at this point. But he could surprise.

    Duffey is NOT the #2 guy unless he suddenly finds something else. He's been a stalwart, and sort of re-invented his approach in 2021 to finish strong. And that actually comes from a Rogers comment. He's good, and I bet he will be good, But I'm doubting his "fireman " status at this point. I hope I'm wrong. But I think Alcala and Duran will prove to be the STUDS of this pen for 2022, at least eventually.  And I don't doubt the middle relief has some great options, including Winder to get his feet wet. But pen wise, I'm optimistic but scared. 

    Right now, we have arms and velocity and options.  And we might be OK. I hope we are. But just like the rotation, I'm afraid we lost an opportunity to add an arm who could have made a difference. 

     

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    I still maintain that in the long run it's the pitching that will inevitably doom this team.  Granted over the first two games the pitching overall had been decent.  The hitting has been very sub par.  I'm concerned with the retreads and inexperience throughout the entire pitching staff.  Even healthy I don't see this group of starters or relievers making us a contender.  I think as the season plays out there will be a lot of questioning about the FO moved and non moves.  

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    The more important question is how confident is Tyler Duffey in himself?  He didn't look confident on that mound yesterday, even before he gave up two runs.  Reminded me of how he looked a couple years ago.

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    Its still early everyone! Though I agree Duffy is not a shut down closer type reliever. As usual we see Rocco out of some sense of loyalty, admirable as it may be, going with a guy he was with from the past seasons in Duffy. He also had Duffy up in the 9th inning in game 1 in case we tied the score. I haven't seen Pagan pitch in the last couple of years so I don't know how he has regressed, but he was really good a few years ago. I have reservations about Cotton and his control. IMO we should be looking at Alcala and Duran to close out and end games. At least for now. See how the young guys handle the stress. They both seem to have the stuff and the swagger. why not give them a little rope at least until they're close to hanging themselves?

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    Whatever we do with the pen, I hope we do not do similar to what happen last year marching the same couple guys out in high leverage situations to fail.  Our pen is what put us behind the 8 ball last year blowing many leads.  They ended up not being terrible over the year, but one thing I thought Rocco would do is change up the high leverage guys sooner than he did.  I hate making anyone the "closer" as I believe the save is a dumb stat.  Now, I will agree that some guys look at the 9th different than other innings.  Maybe it is the lack of more innings to come back, but there has been many guys that did great as a set up guy, only to fail when they were asked to close.  Other guys had no issues coming in the 9th.  

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    This bullpen is weak and thin.

    Ill equipped to withstand the long season, or short exposure to good lineups. 

    I refuse to buy into the notion that you can build a strong pen from cast-offs, retreads, and waiver wire fodder. Or that "throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and figure it out by July" is a viable strategy. 

    Very little chance this pen is contender worthy.

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