Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there were few things that looked like a bigger question mark for the Minnesota Twins than their bullpen. With an uncertain starting rotation, the pen had been comprised mainly of holdovers, with veteran additions of Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow. What’s worth noting though, is the Twins have their own secret weapon.
Last fall, we saw relievers put onto full display in the Postseason and World Series. The Chicago Cubs leaned on Aroldis Chapman heavily, and no arm was more valuable to their team than Andrew Miller late in games. What was interesting with Miller, is that while he’d likely be the most dominant closer in baseball, Terry Francona routinely brought him into games much earlier.
Throughout the Postseason, we saw a pitcher being used in a very unconventional way. Miller has become the gold standard in the big leagues out of the pen, and the Indians turned to him whenever they needed an out. Entering games with runners on in key situations, Miller’s usage bucked the trend of saving your top arm for the final inning. He allowed Cleveland to escape jams and hold onto leads. While the Twins don’t have Andrew Miller, they have their own way to recreate the same scenario.
Enter Ryan Pressly.
During the offseason, much has been made about what the Twins will do at closer. Brandon Kintzler hanging onto the job while striking no one out is a big ask, and Glen Perkins could be all but done with his major league career. The consensus is that next in line would be either J.T. Chargois or Pressly. For now though, Pressly gives the Twins a really, really nice weapon.
Recently, Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse tweeted “Modern bullpen use: Ryan Pressly is Twins best, but not the closer. He's getting 2 outs & leaving lead run on 3rd earlier.” He couldn’t be more spot on. In the third game of the season, Pressly entered in relief of Craig Breslow during the 6th inning. With runners on second and third in a tight game, Pressly got two straight outs and allowed the Twins to leave the inning still tied up.
Pressly turned in an 8.00 K/9 in 2016, and got strikeouts against just north of 20% of the batters he faced. Each year since joining the Twins as a Rule 5 pick in 2013, Pressly has upped his velocity, averaging 95.2 mph on his fastball a year ago. He also features a wipeout slider at 88 mph and a strong curveball in the low 80s. Posting a new career high, Pressly generated swing strikes 11.7% of the time a year ago, and he was forcing batters to chase out of the zone one-third of the time.
For 2017, Pressly makes right around $7 million less than the Indians superstar, and he has nowhere near the same level of fanfare. Don’t let that fool you though, Paul Molitor has a weapon of his own. While it may be conventional wisdom to have Pressly work the eighth or close games for the Twins, using him as a shutdown arm when the game commands it most gives Minnesota an advantage that is all too valuable.