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  • Once a Glaring Weakness, Twins' Bullpen Is Now a Clear Strength


    Nash Walker

    The Twins’ bullpen has leaked runs and caused headaches all year long, motivating the front office to improve it at the deadline. They filled the holes with a bang, and now the arm barn looks like a real strength. 

    Image courtesy of Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

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    Despite all the issues and the 19 crippling blown saves, the Twins had one advantage in their bullpen: a young, terrific weapon in Jhoan Durán, who’s carried the late-innings all year. Griffin Jax, another first-year reliever, has been more than serviceable with a 3.49 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43 innings. It’s Durán, though, who made fixing the bullpen woes at the deadline easier than it appeared. 

    Durán is tied with Guardians’ generational closer Emmanuel Clase for the most Win Probability Added among relievers in the American League (2.80). He owns a sterling 2.15 ERA in 46 innings, striking out 58 and walking only 10. Durán’s emergence is a primary reason why the Twins are in first place. It’s hard to imagine where they’d be without him. 

    Durán’s excellence allowed the Twins to flip the bullpen picture completely. They already had one outstanding right-handed reliever and then traded for another. Jorge Lopez, who now has a 1.64 ERA in nearly 50 innings, completes one of the more overwhelming duos in baseball. López and Durán have combined for a 1.87 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 96 ⅓ innings. While Durán wows with one of the hardest four-seam fastballs in baseball, López induces chopper after chopper with a turbo sinker at 98-100 mph. It’s a deadly combo for opposing hitters. 

    The late innings will primarily belong to the two flamethrowers, but Michael Fulmer is an under-the-radar pickup for the Twins. Fulmer shuts down right-handed hitters, holding them to a .136 batting average and zero homers in 102 plate appearances. 

    Fulmer has given up one extra-base hit to a righty all season, a double from his new teammate Gio Urshela on July 24th. No righty has barreled Fulmer this season. In a division and league loaded with right-handed talent, he should continue to thrive in those matchups. Fulmer and Jax both have elite sliders, holding opponents to a combined .170 batting average. 

    Depth is as important as the stars, and Trevor Megill has filled in wonderfully. Megill has a sub-2 ERA in 19 outings, regularly reaching 100 with his fastball while showing good command. Megill, Durán, and López all average over 97 mph with their primary fastballs. When’s the last time the Twins had three high-velocity arms in their bullpen?

    Caleb Thielbar hasn’t shined in the ERA department, but his 3.09 Fielding Independent Pitching shows he’s been unlucky. Thielbar has a 1.38 ERA over his last 13 innings and a 2.90 ERA over his last 34 outings. He’s a reliable lefty and has held left-handed hitters to a .180/.281/.260 line. 

    Even Emilio Pagán, who the Twins demoted to a lower-leverage role, has a 3.18 ERA and 2.23 FIP with 21 strikeouts over his last 12 outings. This bullpen picture gets even brighter if he can fill a vital sixth-inning role. Pagán could redeem some of his value with a solid final two months. 

    It’s impossible to ignore the bullpen’s issues up to this point. Pagán and Tyler Duffey have allowed 40 earned runs in 79 ⅓ innings. Joe Smith, while excellent early, was so poor that the Twins DFA’ed him despite being the largest bullpen acquisition of the offseason. 

    Even with the much-improved outlook, there’s still hope and depth outside the 26-man roster. If Jorge Alcalá can return, he’d provide Rocco Baldelli with another high-octane option for the late innings. Alcalá posted a 0.82 ERA with 27 strikeouts over his final 22 innings of 2021.

    Jovani Moran, who the Twins optioned Wednesday, has a 1.93 ERA in 20 outings with the Twins this year. Kenta Maeda, a relief ace for the Dodgers in the past, is working to return for the stretch run in the Twins’ bullpen. 

    They still have to play the games and stay healthy, but this group looks excellent. The Twins have seldom had this many reliable relievers in one bullpen, and they’ve never had a duo with the weaponry of Durán and López. If the Twins win the division and make a run into October, the bullpen will be a crucial reason why. 

    What do you think of the Twins’ revamped bullpen? Comment below!

     

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    8 hours ago, h2oface said:

    Just don't tell Justin Verlander, fresh back from TJ surgery and still proving it doesn't have to be at 39 1/2

    I'm going to assume you aren't trolling and know he's an exception. 

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    31 minutes ago, wabene said:

    Another thing I notice is there is a lot of payroll in the top ten. 

    It will be interesting to see how the Twins pitch Mahle, on the year he averages over 5.5 innings, 97 pitches and facing 23 batters (all above any Twins average), But you only take his last 14 starts (not his first five, where he wasn't very good and was getting stretched out) those numbers jump to 5.85 innings, 103 pitches and facing 24+ batters.

    So I guess will see if the Twins philosophy changes when they get "better"/different pitchers. (I really, really hope he is good tonight so we can see)

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    20 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    I'm going to assume you aren't trolling and know he's an exception. 

    Is that really any different then claiming the Twins are doing what everybody in baseball are doing? Because I can name close to 20 others pitchers similar to him, but can't find another team doing what they Twins are doing with every one of their pitchers. Yes teams do exactly what the Twins do with pitches limit the amount of batters pitchers face, keep pitch count down.

    The Tigers have two guys one turned 24 this year (also a Rookie) and another that is 25, that average more batters faced and innings than any Twin. (Skubal and Brieske) and yes they aren't in the Verlander territory, but go though their game logs and notice when they don't go 5 plus innings generally the team loses.

     

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    47 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    I'm going to assume you aren't trolling and know he's an exception. 

    But can we agree "everyone is doing it this way" is also overstating your case?

    The Twins are a full inning under the leader in IP per start. Above only 2 teams. 2nd to last in pitches per start, the highest number of <80 pitch starts. 

     

    I agree this isn't just (or mostly) a Rocco thing. It's by design. But let's not pretend the Twins are "just doing what everyone else is doing."

    Starter workload is on a downward trend across baseball, and has been for a couple decades and seems to be accelerating. 

    But it's pretty clear the Twins are presently far out on the leading edge of that trend.

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    11 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

    But can we agree "everyone is doing it this way" is also overstating your case?

    The Twins are a full inning under the leader in IP per start. Above only 2 teams. 2nd to last in pitches per start, the highest number of <80 pitch starts. 

     

    I agree this isn't just (or mostly) a Rocco thing. It's by design. But let's not pretend the Twins are "just doing what everyone else is doing."

    Starter workload is on a downward trend across baseball, and has been for a couple decades and seems to be accelerating. 

    But it's pretty clear the Twins are presently far out on the leading edge of that trend.

    Iiirc, that's largely because of Archer. Yes, I think there are times they could go further. But to give Verlander as an example of today's baseball?

    Yesterday it was clear the starter was struggling, do people think he should have pitched another inning? 

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    2 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    Iiirc, that's largely because of Archer. Yes, I think there are times they could go further. But to give Verlander as an example of today's baseball?

    Yesterday it was clear the starter was struggling, do people think he should have pitched another inning? 

    Yesterday, no. Had no problem with yesterday. 

    I dont know why Verlander should be excluded from questioning if the Twins starter protocols should change, but OK. How about Toronto's (young) starter yesterday? Can we use him?

     

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    8 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

    Yesterday, no. Had no problem with yesterday. 

    I dont know why Verlander should be excluded from questioning if the Twins starter protocols should change, but OK. How about Toronto's (young) starter yesterday? Can we use him?

     

    Use whomever you want. 

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    3 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    Use whomever you want. 

    Ok. Alex Manoah. Averaging almost 6.5 per start. Less than 6 IP only 4 times in 21 starts.

    Do you think that would be the case if he were a MN Twin? 

    I don’t. 

     

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    7 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

    Iiirc, that's largely because of Archer. Yes, I think there are times they could go further. But to give Verlander as an example of today's baseball?

    Yesterday it was clear the starter was struggling, do people think he should have pitched another inning? 

    The disagreement has nothing do to with last nights game IMO, if you walk 5 games in 5 innings you probably aren't coming going out for the 6th for most team. It is just another game asking your bullpen to come in for 4 innings, which isn't a problem in any "one" game, the problem comes from it happens every game with 4 of your starters and the 5 starter generally requires even another inning from a relief pitcher. And the main reason a relief pitcher is pitching in the 4,5,6 innings are because they are failed starters somewhere along the way and they aren't going to be perfect every single time out. IMO other teams have realized that you can't do that with every starter, you can do it with a couple and maybe a third you need to start a nontraditional starter. But you have to have a pitcher give you that extra inning occasionally just to limit the use of those guys in the middle innings.
    As for Archer he is tied for the team league in starts with 18, the team is 7 - 11 in his starts. Once Winder went 4 after him, Cano went 2 and 2.1, Jax went 2 twice, Minaya 2.1, Duran 2 and Moran 1.1. So in 8 of his 18 starts (which they knew were going to be short) they followed him up with a multiple inning pitcher.

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    10 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

    Ok. Alex Manoah. Averaging almost 6.5 per start. Less than 6 IP only 4 times in 21 starts.

    Do you think that would be the case if he were a MN Twin? 

    I don’t. 

     

    Well he did give up a run in the 6th so it would be justified if they took him out. 😜,

    There is zero, nada, zip chance he would have those stats with the Twins.

    But lets look, after 5 he had faced 20 batters and 80, which is exactly what Ryan did the night before (20/78) and he was taken out. But they were losing 1 - 0 and he had only given up one hit and two walks, So I say Rocco would have brought him out for the 6th but for sure would have been taken out after the hit and maybe after the walk.

    I will say it does seem like Rocco tries to get his starters the win, there has been a few times were I was almost certain based on batters faced/pitch count that he would take the starter out after inning but bought them out the next to give them a chance for a win. (Not often but it has happened)

     

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    I understand why they want Smeltzer stretched out in AAA in case they need a starting pitcher but I think he could be useful in an MLB bullpen. 

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    57 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

    Ok. Alex Manoah. Averaging almost 6.5 per start. Less than 6 IP only 4 times in 21 starts.

    Do you think that would be the case if he were a MN Twin? 

    I don’t. 

     

     

    38 minutes ago, TwinsDr2021 said:

    Well he did give up a run in the 6th so it would be justified if they took him out. 😜,

    There is zero, nada, zip chance he would have those stats with the Twins.

    But lets look, after 5 he had faced 20 batters and 80, which is exactly what Ryan did the night before (20/78) and he was taken out. But they were losing 1 - 0 and he had only given up one hit and two walks, So I say Rocco would have brought him out for the 6th but for sure would have been taken out after the hit and maybe after the walk.

    I will say it does seem like Rocco tries to get his starters the win, there has been a few times were I was almost certain based on batters faced/pitch count that he would take the starter out after inning but bought them out the next to give them a chance for a win. (Not often but it has happened)

     

    The Twins need to move up this list, where they are is not tenable. I will add, however, that I think the Twins were among the league leaders in innings per start in '19 & '20. This says to me it's more about the horses (Archer is the glaring example) than Baldelli. That would fall on those that aquire the talent.

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    6 minutes ago, wabene said:

     

    The Twins need to move up this list, where they are is not tenable. I will add, however, that I think the Twins were among the league leaders in innings per start in '19 & '20. This says to me it's more about the horses (Archer is the glaring example) than Baldelli. That would fall on those that aquire the talent.

    I believe you are correct. Maeda averaged 6 in 20, Berrios just over 5, Pineda a hair over 5 and everybody else below 4.

    In 19, they Berrios at almost 6 1/3, Pineda at 5 2/3, Gibson, Perez and Odo all just above 5.

    So the question is was Berrios, Maeda, Pineda the norm, or was all the rest of the pitchers? IMO they thought they had a future "Verlander" type in Berrios and then realized maybe they didn't, but if you go look though Maeda's 2020 game log it doesn't look that much different from game logs this year except he was way more efficient (1 8 inning game with 114 pitches, other than that only 4 games over 90 pitches, only 3 games facing 25 or more batters) Kind of the same with Pineda.

    So unless the Twins starters can become way more efficient with the amount of pitches per at bat and batters faced in a game, I don't see that the Twins philosophy has changed much if at all. Because even the beginning of last year Berrios was being moved to the low 20 batters faced and IMO is the reason he isn't a Twin anymore because he wasn't buying into that and said trade me and pitch me as much as possible to help with my value. Because the trade value is way less for a 5 inning pitcher than a 6 plus inning pitcher.

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    43 minutes ago, wabene said:

    This says to me it's more about the horses (Archer is the glaring example) than Baldelli. That would fall on those that aquire the talent.

    Concur.

    I believe the FO made a conscious choice to attempt to get quality starter numbers by reducing their exposure. 

    I think they decided we don't have and can't afford front line starting pitching, but we can get something close to it, just not for as long. To a certain extent, it's been reasonably effective. 

    Of course, I also  believe they didn't think through the other part of that plan very well. If you're taking innings away from the starters, somebody still has to pitch them. 

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    5 minutes ago, h2oface said:

    Nearly 4 months waiting on Alcala lost. Seems like such a waste of time that could have been avoided. 

    We get this line of thinking all the time, but I know if it were me and the choices were going under the knife or trying rest and rehab first, I would choose the latter every time. 

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