Monday, January 13, 2020

Relief Provided in a Big Year for Twins

Going into 2019 one of the biggest storylines was that of the Minnesota Twins bullpen. New manager Rocco Baldelli had a rag tag group of arms, and there were more question marks than anyone would have liked. Fast forward a year and Wes Johnson transformed that narrative allowing 2020 to keep the unit entirely off the radar.

When the team broke from Spring Training down in Fort Myers last year, only six players were truly relievers. The group consisted of Taylor Rogers, Trevor Mayer, Blake Parker, Adalberto Mejia, Trevor Hildenberger, and Ryne Harper. Of those, only three remain.

Over the course of 2019 that unit took on a considerably different feeling. From one of uncertainty to a relative strength, new faces were added, and steps forward were taken. When the dust settled, Minnesota’s unit posted the 3rd highest fWAR in baseball, and were on par with the vaunted Yankees relief corps. The 3.92 FIP was the best in baseball, and while they didn’t have the best strikeout rate, a 2.9 BB/9 led the sport as well.

Fast forward to today and the bullpen is all but settled. The Twins have some pieces to add on the roster, but this isn’t an area that needs work. With a 26-man roster for 2020, an eight-man staff to start out the year makes a good amount of sense. The names that make the most sense are Rogers, May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey, Tyler Clippard, Zack Littell, Cody Stashak, and Matt Wisler. As a holdover from 2019, Ryne Harper could also push to eek his way in.

This configuration includes hard throwers, bat missers, and guys with a strong ability to hit their spots. Breaking balls are present in the arms of Romo, Duffey, and Wisler. Littell and May can both shove, while arms like Rogers, Clippard, and Stashak are well rounded overall. This group doesn’t have names like Chapman or Britton, but you can bet that on performance alone, there’s household contributors to be utilized.

After needing to replace four-fifths of the starting rotation from last year, it’s there that the Twins will find the most question marks for the year ahead. Give credit to Wes Johnson stepping in and immediately establishing himself as a viable and impressive pitching coach at the Major League level. The rotation is now buoyed mainly by veterans, but the supplementation of younger arms will need to be positioned with opportunity for success.

Last season there was a good deal of changes made on the fly in the pen and being able to successfully navigate those waters provides a blueprint for the year ahead. No team will ever have enough pitching, and while Minnesota has flip-flopped the avenue in which they are needy, an infrastructure that fosters success is clearly in place.

We don’t yet know how the Twins relievers will perform in the year ahead, and volatility on that part of the roster is to be expected. Given where the narrative was just a season ago however, the development and change are to be celebrated.