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  • Ranking the Twins’ Top 5 Relievers by Level of Trust


    Cody Christie

    Minnesota’s bullpen has been a roller coaster ride during the 2022 season. So, who should the team trust when the game is on the line?

    Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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    Throughout any baseball season, bullpen roles and responsibilities are going to shift. Sometimes a pitcher has a great stretch and starts pitching in more high-leverage spots. Other times, a pitcher struggles, and the team attempts to find a new role for that arm. One bad outing doesn’t necessarily shift a player lower on the list, but an accumulation of bad performances impacts the team’s bullpen pecking order. 

    1. Jhoan Duran (2.15 Win Probability Added)
    Realistically, Jhoan Duran is the lone bullpen arm that has been consistent throughout the season. His transition to the bullpen has been electric, with 46 strikeouts in 33 innings. The team is using him in the highest leverage situations, and he has responded with only four appearances where he has allowed an earned run or more. Duran has also proven he can be relied on to pitch in multiple innings as he has recorded more than three outs in nine appearances. He’s been a lifesaver for the 2022 Twins, and the team will continue to trust him in late-inning roles. 

    2. Griffin Jax (0.50 WPA)
    Griffin Jax has been a surprise late-inning contributor to the Twins. Outside of Duran, Jax might be the most trusted name in the Twins bullpen. One of his most significant changes this season has been an increase in his slider usage. Batters have posted a slugging percentage over 175 points lower when facing his slider compared to his fastball. Jax will continue to see an increase in his WPA as he is used in higher leverage situations. 

    3. Caleb Thielbar (0.43 WPA)
    There have been three outings where Thielbar has allowed three earned runs or more, but outside of those appearances, he has been terrific. In high leverage situations, opponents are hitting .143/.294/.179 (.473) with eight strikeouts in 38 at-bats. He’s the lone left-handed reliever on a first-place team, which is quite the switch from how bullpens have traditionally been built. For the Twins to succeed, Thielbar must continue to pitch well. 

    4. Emilio Pagan (0.03 WPA)
    Pagan has been used in many high-leverage situations, and the results have been mixed. In his first 25 appearances, he posted a 99 ERA+ with 2.1 HR/9. His strikeouts per nine innings have jumped from under 10.0 K/9 over the last two seasons to over 12.1 K/9 in 2022. Without other options, Pagan will continue to get high leverage opportunities, especially on nights when Duran is unavailable. 

    5. Tyler Thornburg (0.07 WPA)
    Earlier in the season, names like Tyler Duffey and Joe Smith would be included in the team’s most trusted bullpen arms. Both have struggled through different parts of the season, which has allowed players like Thornburg to take on even more critical roles. Since joining the Twins, he has yet to allow an earned run in four appearances. Nearly all of his appearances have been low leverage this season, but he has held opponents to a .254 slugging percentage without allowing a home run.  

    How would you rank the players above? Who are your Top 5, or even Top 9? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 
     

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    Interesting.  Personally, I have always liked Thielbar, so it is nice to see him get a shout out of sorts.  From what I have read here, others not so much.  Thornburg, for me, simply has too small a sample to allow me to trust him or not trust him.  4 appearances in low stress situations just isn't enough to know, but I like what we have seen so far.  The others are probably the best choices right now.  

    My main fear is when you line those 5 up against true playoff caliber teams top 5 we just don't match up well.  Come September, if they are going strong and we are in first place, I will stand corrected, but right now it doesn't look like a championship top 5.  I wouldn't mind an addition (or 2?).  

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    This shows we have 2 guys we trust plus another 2-3 at any given time that we trust. Unfortunately, this is constantly changing and doesn't give confidence for the playoffs or against top teams.

    Joe Smith I still trust if he comes in to cleanup the inning. Pagan if he doesn't throw the cutter and can get strikes with his other pitches. Thielbar should be trustworthy...

    I imagine the Twins are hoping for clarity over the next month on two rehabbing pitchers. Alcala and Maeda. If both of them are on track by the deadline, I could imagine the Twins only trading for one reliever max and focusing on a starter instead. Those two would slot in above Jax, which would be amazing.

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    57 minutes ago, Dave The Dastardly said:

    Duran and Jax. The rest give me heart palpitations.

    I just dont know how Jax is doing it...Does not have great stuff..reminds me of Stashak...once he's seen a few times he's gonna get blasted... I have zero trust in any of our Bullpen..maybe Duran..a little bit..no lead is ever safe when we go to the pen

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    Pagan looked good using a new grip on his slider last time out. Question is can he be consistent with it? That split finger change he throws can be nasty but here again is that consistency question. So After Duran and Jax is an inconsistent Pagan, a former LOGY Thielbar and Smith that has slid badly before going on the IL. Cotton shows promise but those walks!

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    Duran is the only one who can be trusted. The rest can give up a 5 run lead with one pitch. Same thing every year they make the playoffs...always have enough offense, bullpen gives up the lead every time.

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    12 minutes ago, MinnInPa said:

    I just dont know how Jax is doing it...Does not have great stuff..reminds me of Stashak...once he's seen a few times he's gonna get blasted... I have zero trust in any of our Bullpen..maybe Duran..a little bit..no lead is ever safe when we go to the pen

    Griffin actually does have some really good stuff if you believe in analytics like Stuff+. In fact he's ranked 23rd (128.2 Stuff+) in baseball by Stuff+, 1 spot above Duran (127.8 Stuff+).

    Edit: sorry, I was on the wrong tab, that was from earlier this month. The numbers as of 6/26 are Jax 127.6 and Duran 128.8. So Jax is still right in the same wheelhouse as Duran. Duran is 21st in baseball and Jax is 26th of anyone who's thrown a pitch this season. If you limit to guys with at least 10 appearances they're 13th and 18th in baseball.

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    10 minutes ago, Hondo said:

    Duran is the only one who can be trusted. The rest can give up a 5 run lead with one pitch. Same thing every year they make the playoffs...always have enough offense, bullpen gives up the lead every time.

    You may want to go check out their runs scored in the playoffs during the current 18 game losing streak...

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    4 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

    Griffin actually does have some really good stuff if you believe in analytics like Stuff+. In fact he's ranked 23rd (128.2 Stuff+) in baseball by Stuff+, 1 spot above Duran (127.8 Stuff+).

    Haha, Stuff+?  That's awesome.  Hadn't heard of that one yet.  But, I'm not one to dive deep into advanced metrics.

    That might be my new favorite though since it sounds so generic and made up! 😆

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    8 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

    Griffin actually does have some really good stuff if you believe in analytics like Stuff+. In fact he's ranked 23rd (128.2 Stuff+) in baseball by Stuff+, 1 spot above Duran (127.8 Stuff+).

    Edit: sorry, I was on the wrong tab, that was from earlier this month. The numbers as of 6/26 are Jax 127.6 and Duran 128.8. So Jax is still right in the same wheelhouse as Duran. Duran is 21st in baseball and Jax is 26th of anyone who's thrown a pitch this season. If you limit to guys with at least 10 appearances they're 13th and 18th in baseball.

    thanks for the data... i dont get to see many games...just remember watching Jax as a starter..I just like to see flame throwing relievers that miss bats..Jax certainly is not that. Top teams have Bullpen guys that miss bats...at least they have no problem when playing us !! HaHa

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    3 minutes ago, wsnydes said:

    Haha, Stuff+?  That's awesome.  Hadn't heard of that one yet.  But, I'm not one to dive deep into advanced metrics.

    That might be my new favorite though since it sounds so generic and made up! 😆

    Straight to the point naming!

    https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2021/12/what-is-stuff-quantifying-pitches-with-pitch-models/
    Here's an article from driveline. 

    https://theathletic.com/2641834/2021/06/11/the-pitcher-report-what-exactly-is-stuff-featuring-rich-hill-sam-long-and-more/
    Or The Athletic if you have a subscription there.

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    2 minutes ago, MinnInPa said:

    thanks for the data... i dont get to see many games...just remember watching Jax as a starter..I just like to see flame throwing relievers that miss bats..Jax certainly is not that. Top teams have Bullpen guys that miss bats...at least they have no problem when playing us !! HaHa

    Jax is in the 87th percentile for K% this season. I think you may be selling him short. 76th percentile for velo isn't exactly elite, but 90th percentile in whiff% shows he's certainly missing bats. He's been way different as a reliever than as a starter.

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    1 minute ago, chpettit19 said:

    Hard not to figure out what you're dealing with, especially with context!

    Thanks for the links!

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    5 minutes ago, MinnInPa said:

    thanks for the data... i dont get to see many games...just remember watching Jax as a starter..I just like to see flame throwing relievers that miss bats..Jax certainly is not that. Top teams have Bullpen guys that miss bats...at least they have no problem when playing us !! HaHa

    His pitch arsenal plays much better in relief than as a starter.  He looks like he can definitely stick with a bullpen role.

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    I've been screaming bullpen for years now. Falling on deaf Falvey ears apparently.

    "Flamethrowers that miss bats"

    Lol, that is the best way to describe what the top playoff teams have and we don't. It's  that simple Falvey.

     

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    Alcala can't come back soon enough. Really need to see what he's looking like this year. If he's like he was to end last year it'd change the playoff outlook for this pen greatly. With extra rest days in the playoffs you can ride your pen horses a little harder and Duran, Alcala, Jax could be a really nice back 3. I'd still like to add 1 more piece at the deadline. Also hope Maeda is back in September in a pen role. But Duran, Alcala, Jax, and 1 trade acquisition would make me feel much better about the pen situation.

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    48 minutes ago, Hondo said:

    Duran is the only one who can be trusted. The rest can give up a 5 run lead with one pitch. Same thing every year they make the playoffs...always have enough offense, bullpen gives up the lead every time.

    I am curious what "enough offense" constitutes, as we have scored 3 runs or less in approx. half our games this year.  Offensive capability, or actual runs scored?  

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    In season it is so easy to be reactionary to the small sample of relievers. Beyond strike out and walk rates it is hard to project forward. WPA is not a stat that projects forward. 

    xFIP relies on strike out and walk rates. Duran stands out with an xFIP near 2. They really need another arm to go with Duran.

    The best of the rest are in the low to mid 3s including Pagán, Jax and Duffey. Pagán and Duffey both have HR/FB rates well above career norms. That should regress. However they both have a history of giving up hard contact and a home run rate greater than league average so their xFIPs might be a little too promising. 

    They might have someone in the roster that can join those three. Many of their relievers have a very small number of innings that no current data is helpful. Maybe Moran or Megill fits in that group. I would be shocked if Thornburg belonged with that group in the 3s. The last time he had an xFIP in that range was 2016. 

     

     

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    My current list goes

    1. Duran (then a pretty big gap, then...)

    2. Jax

    3. Pagan

    4. and 5. TBDs

    The only top 5 list I'd put Thielbar (or Duffey) on right now is the DFA/Option list for who goes if better options come along. Caleb has had some moments, and you can't cherry-pick out innings where he gives up a grand slam after loading the bases, because it is not 'one bad pitch' but several bad pitches. Opponents have a .339 (!) on-base percentage against Thielbar, and his ERA is just under 6 (and not by accident). His ERA+ is 65, and his WAR is -.6 (and going down). The other day was one of his 'good' (as in no runs allowed) outings where he came in, filled the bases with terrible control, and escaped by the skin of his teeth (and a 3 pitch strikeout of Cron by Pagán). (Yes, Pagán has had control issues as well, but his are getting better, whereas Caleb's are not.)

    I'd love to see Emilio pushed down to 5 here, and there are potential short-term in-house candidates to bolster the 'pen (especially if we can get Winder/Ober back healthy and/or Moran can figure out the control thing and/or Schulfer/Sisk can transition to the majors, and/or Thornburg keeps it up in tighter games), but in-house or trade, it would be great to add at least two solid names (or more) to this list.

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    I've said some mean things about Thielbar this year, but I looked at the underlying numbers and honestly he's mainly getting unlucky. His XWOBA is slightly improved from last year, Baseball Savant has it in the top quarter of the league. His main issue has been an increase in walks.

    In the same vein, I hope to see the Twins stick with Jovani Moran. His walks are also too high, but he's so difficult to hit otherwise. I think he's got high leverage stuff if he can harness it.

    At any rate, the Twins need to trade for another high leverage arm. If they make the playoffs, the bullpen should look something like:

    Highest Leverage: Duran

    Second Highest Leverage: [Trade]

    Third Highest Leverage: Jax

    Primary Lefty: Thielbar

    Secondary Lefty: Moran

    Best Performing of the Rest: ??? Cotton???

    Second Best Performing of the Rest: ???

    Long Relief: Smeltzer

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    1. Duran

    2. Pagan - he's got the pitches and just has to perform consistently

    3. Thielbar - for situations that include lh's

    4. Jax - his pitching tells another story this year. I just can't get last year out of my mind. It appears that I may be wrong about him. Hope so.

    5. Canterino - not sure what his injury is. If it's not much, his stuff is good enough for him to be another Duran this year if his arm allows.

    Yes, we will trade for 2 relief pitchers at the trade deadline.

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    Two questions:

    1. What have been the relative stats of the Twins bullpen in the first half vs the second half over the past several seasons? (My sense is that they have consistently been better in the second half.)

    2. How does that improvement (if I remembered correctly) compare with the league average? I would suspect that the league average in the second half is typically better than in the first half, since other teams are also jettisoning flotsam in the second half. 
     

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    Twins have Thornburg throwing a slider for the first time in his 9 season career. It's grading out pretty rad-like. If it's not just a shiny new toy that hitters start to pick up on, he could be a legit weapon. Especially if he drops that nonsense curveball that has had a negative run value every season since 2014. 

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    After today's game I think you might want to edit your essay and remove Emilio from the list.  Not sure who to put in, but Pagan is a disaster.  I guess you can give me Moran over Pagan, but I think it is difficult to get past three RP at this point.

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    Tiday is Exactly what will happen and take the heart out of ANY team when you parade this  bullpen out onto the field. 

    Get two.good arms or leave Falvey.

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