Friday, February 12, 2016

What If Abad Is All Good?

This offseason, the Minnesota Twins had a serious need when it came to relief pitching. While left-handed arms were in short supply, the relief corps as a whole needed a jolt. Instead of forking over big money on the ever-inflating relief market, Terry Ryan and the Twins went a different route. Much like Blaine Boyer the year before, the club offered a minor league deal to Fernando Abad.

On the surface, Abad's deal doesn't really move the needle, but what happens when the performance does?

A season ago, Abad pitched in 62 games logging 47.2 IP for the Oakland Athletics. He tallied a 4.15 ERA backed by an ugly 5.50 FIP. It was no doubt the Abad's worst big league numbers since his 2012 season with the Astros. Despite his K/9 numbers holding strong at 8.5 (a career best), he also walked 3.6 per nine (his worst effort since 2012). The Twins however, believe that Abad was tipping his pitches, and they may be on to something.

Minnesota needs relief help, and if they can unlock what Abad was in 2014, they may have found something at a very low price. For the Athletics in 2014, Abad owned a 1.57 ERA across 57.1 IP. He put up an 8.0 K/9 rate and walked a respectable 2.4 per nine. It was easily the best campaign he's put together as a big leaguer.

Then there's the fact that Abad has been equally as competitive against both right and left-handed batters. Over his big league career, Abad has allowed a .253/.330/.423 slash line to righties and a .254/.304/.411 line to lefties. Far more than just a situational lefty, Abad if gotten back on track, could provide the Twins something they have not had in quite some time.

Previously filling the role Minnesota is hoping Abad takes over, was Brian Duensing. Duensing's numbers have never been what Abad's are. The former Twins lefty-reliever struck no one out, walked too many, and more often than not, pitched to significantly too much contact. Also, while being good against lefties (allowing a .238/.289/.325 slash line), he's been easily hit off of by righties (.292/.352/.462 line). With Duensing out of the picture, the Twins have plenty of room to improve.

No doubt Abad will have to turn away some unfortunate 2015 developments. He allowed hard hit contact 35% of the time last season, a number nearly 10% worse than his career average. He also watched as 17.2% of fly balls left the yard, a six percent bump over his career total. Then there's the fact that his fastball dropped nearly two miles per hour in velocity. In fact, it was slower than any at any point since 2012.

If Minnesota believes that Abad's struggles were a direct result of him tipping his pitches, that's one thing. Having seen enough film to notice that there were indications of what type of pitch was coming, this is more than a plausible belief. What the Twins have to figure out is how to reverse Abad's rhythm out of the situation he developed a year ago, and also help him to fix some of those ugly detractors.

At the end of the day, it's very possibly that Neil Allen takes Abad on as a project, rights the ship, and the Twins snag a very quality MLB reliever for next to nothing. Should things all go wrong, the risk isn't all that great either, but the club may be left searching for left-handed answers.

Regardless of how it plays out, a swap of Fernando Abad for Brian Duensing is a win for the Twins bullpen, and there's more reason to believe it works than there isn't.

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