Monday, July 6, 2015

Puzzling Or Predictable: The Twins Bullpen Debacle

Over the weekend, Ervin Santana returned to the Twins starting rotation. After serving an 80 game PED-related suspension, the free agent acquisition came out of the gates strong. Twirling eight strong innings, Santana sat back and watched it all implode. Paul Molitor went to the bullpen, and his relievers let him down yet again.

Most recently, the suspects were Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson. In a tie game over the weekend, Molitor elected to give the ball to arms not named Glen Perkins. Of the two, Thompson has been especially bad this season. After starting relatively strong, he's come back to earth and now owns a 5.01 ERA.

Thompson is one of six Twins relievers this season to post an ERA north of 5.00. Alex Meyer's 16.88 ERA is easily dismissed with him only contributing 2.2 IP on the season. Caleb Thielbar also is in the group despite just throwing 5.0 innings for the big club. His 5.40 ERA looks worse however, considering he has struggled for much of the year at Triple-A.

Tim Stauffer and Michael Tonkin have also failed at the big league level this season. Minnesota offered Stauffer 15.0 innings of work, and multiple months of action before moving on from the free agent signee who posted a 6.60 mark in 13 games. Tonkin has spent more of the season moving back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues, but owns a 5.73 mark with the Twins. Rounding out the ugliness is Brian Duensing.

Duensing continues to get a pass, much like Stauffer before him. Minnesota took the lefty to arbitration this offseason and handed him a one-year $2.7 million deal. His 6.52 ERA is the worst on the current 25 man roster, and his 4.58 FIP (fielding independent pitching) suggests it won't get much better any time soon. For a guy owning 4.02 FIP and 6.0 K/9 marks, the Twins have given way too many chances.

Looking at who are the culprits behind the problems though, we have just identified the bigger problem. Excluding those already named, Molitor has just Glen Perkins, J.R. Graham, Casey Fien, Ryan Pressly (now injured), and Blaine Boyer at his disposal.

Perkins is now doubt in the midst of the best season of his career. His 1.31 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and major league leading 27 saves have contributed to a 1.0 fWAR thus far. Unfortunately, Molitor can't only rely on Perkins out of the pen (even if he should have in Santana's first start).

Fien is a setup man, saved for the 8th inning. Even despite that, his 3.86 ERA and ugly 4.9 K/9 mark has led to some ugly blowups for the Twins this year. Graham has performed well, but is still getting just his first action above Double-A, and remains susceptible to vulnerability the more he is used. Boyer has no doubt worked out better than his ex-Padres teammate Stauffer, but Molitor has had to rely on him far too often. A 4.09 FIP suggests that the 2.63 ERA has plenty of room to rise.

With a bullpen full of uncertainty, and a closer that can only do so much, Molitor has had to get creative. Looking around the organization though, the pool is running empty. Tonkin and Thielbar have been afforded opportunities (albeit in short bursts). Triple-A Rochester offers little else unless tweener types like Logan Darnell (2.40 ERA AAA/7.13 ERA MLB career), Lester Oliveros (3.79 AAA/7.11 ERA MLB career), or A.J. Achter (2.15 AAA/3.27 MLB career) do anything for you.

The hope was that some of the Double-A bullpen would make its way to the big leagues in 2015. Since, Nick Burdi has been demoted to Fort Myers, Jake Reed has struggled mightily, Zack Jones has fallen off, and only recently promoted J.T. Chargois has excelled. It all adds up to the Twins being in a relatively difficult place.

While there may be potential answers in the future (with the hope that Tyler Jay would add to that equation), there doesn't appear to be any on the near horizon. The Twins have played above water most of the 2015 season, and while sustaining the roll would be nice, doing so without a competent bullpen is going to be quite the task.

In order to acquire a reliever capable of being more than a band-aid, teams will be asking for some of the Twins minor league depth. Knowing that bullpen options are few and far between, Minnesota may be best positioned to oblige and fix what appears to be a glaring problem. Right now, getting to the 9th inning with a lead provides all but a lock scenario. However, having only done that 27 times over the course of 82 games, Minnesota has left way too much on the table.

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