Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Twins Building A Better Bullpen

Over the past few years, the Twins have put forth some pretty poor displays of baseball. From 2011-2014, they were among the worst teams in baseball and routinely found themselves behind the pitching curve. While every team clamors for top tier starting pitching, the bullpen is an area that can generally be turned around more quickly. It appears that Minnesota is finally conforming to some league wide trends.

After having some of the worst relief options in the big leagues the past few seasons, there's been some definite bright spots for Paul Molitor's club in 2016. Although the bullpen in its current form leaves plenty to be desired, there's some real pieces for the future out there. For the first time in franchise history, the Twins have five relievers (at least 25.0 IP) with at least 8.0 K/9, and could have a sixth (J.T. Chargois) join them by season's end.

When looking at the Twins pen however, there needs to be a disclaimer attached, simply stating this is a transition in progress. Minnesota still ranks 13th of 15 American League teams in relief ERA. Despite the strikeouts being heightened for some, it's not across the board yet either, as the Twins 8.52 relief K/9 comes in 8th across American League teams. Then, there's the realization that Twins starters have forced the pen into action far too often this season. The bullpen's 402. IP is second most in the American League and 8th in all of baseball.

So, that leads us to a point where we can take a quick glance ahead. Operating under the belief that a bullpen should either be good, creative, or cheap, Minnesota has some options that can fulfill a few different realities a year from now.

Recently, I wondered if we'd see over or under four of the current pen options on the 2017 Opening Day roster. Those options as they stand today include:

  • J.T. Chargois
  • Taylor Rogers
  • Michael Tonkin
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Ryan O'Rourke
  • Ryan Pressly
  • Pat Dean
The results of the poll I posed asking that question had 58% of respondents taking the under. I'm not entirely confident in my belief, but I think we end up seeing five of those pitchers crack the Opening Day roster in 2017 with the Twins. Four of the five guys I would carry to start 2017 are plenty capable of striking batters out and holding leads. My group would include: Chargois, Rogers, Tonkin, Pressly, and Kintzler.

Right now, Minnesota has been forced into using Kintzler in the closer role. He's performed admirably thus far, but profiles better for a seventh inning type role. He strikes out just 5.4 per nine although he walks no one (just 3 BB in 39.2 IP). As a 32 year old with a final year of arbitration, he shouldn't be too terribly expensive, and continues to be a nice non-roster find. The worst thing Minnesota could do with Kintzler is to force him down the Kevin Jepsen path, asking him to continue to pitch out of the closer role, and expose him for an extended period of time.

That brings us to the final to relief spots, one of which is the closer role vacated by Glen Perkins. Expecting the Minnesotan to return to form would be a nice, but could be a fool's errand. Perkins has struggled to stay healthy for some time now, and I still am of the belief that the Twins significantly failed on their opportunity to capitalize on him by moving him two years ago. Regardless, he's likely going to be given the closer gig back to start 2017, and Minnesota has options in Chargois or Pressly should he falter.

With the final pen opening, the Twins could make a play at another non-roster guy, or give a long look to the list of internal options. Blaine Boyer and Kintzler have been recent NRI types that have worked, and Minnesota only needs to hit on one. Staying internally would mean considering Jake Reed and Zack Jones, or weighing options between injured arms Nick Burdi and Trevor Hildenberger.

No matter what, the Twins don't project to be significantly better a year from now. They should be looking to compete in 2018, and ironing out the pen prior to that point would be a good decision. Following the trend of strikeout arms that has taken over the big leagues is something that's nice to see the Twins on board with. Pushing the envelope and making sure there's an even greater output of strikeouts has to be something the organization demands from pitchers in the pen, as well as the rotation, for many years to come.

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