The Minnesota Twins have the 5th-best bullpen in Major League Baseball this year, according to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. This may come as a surprise to some fans, but it shouldn’t. Even though the bullpen imploded against the Yankees in the ALDS last year, the regular season showed what this pitching group is capable of.
As Castrovince mentions, they evolved over the 2019 season. The Twins bullpen went from a question mark at the beginning, to a bona fide strength, by playoff time. They became a highly-utilized and extremely effective group, for manager Rocco Baldelli.
“This is a group that evolved over the course of 2019 and, by season’s end, it was a bona fide strength. The left-handed Rogers (2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 30 saves) assumed the closer’s role with a heavy dose of strikeouts (32.4 percent of plate appearances) and ground balls (50.6 percent of balls in play). May and Duffey were flamed-out depth starters who became fire-breathing monsters in the bullpen in the second half (Duffey had a 42 percent strikeout rate and May limited opponents to a .573 OPS).”Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com
ADAPT AND SURVIVE
This is exactly what the bullpen did in 2019. 2018 was a dreadful year for Twins relievers (min. 15 appearances). Whether it was the collective ERA of 4.67 or ERA+ of 109, they were hardly serviceable.
But 2019 proved to be a different story for the Minnesota Twins. While the 2019 bullpen pitching (again min. 15 appearances) had a comparable WHIP (1.324) and other comparable statistics, they were drastically more effective at stranding those runners. With an ERA+ of 131 and an ERA of 4.195, they were able to hold leads and save more games. It definitely helped that the offense was scoring at a record pace too.
Their ability to improve comes at the hands of more veteran help (Sergio Romo, Blake Parker…although he is with Philadelphia now) and Rocco Baldelli’s hire of Wes Johnson, who utilized more advanced pitching metrics and tools to gauge performances. That’s something the Gardenhire and Molitor tenures did not utilize enough.
WORTHY OF THEIR RANKING?
With all bias aside, yes. The improvement seen from 2018 to 2019 is there. While the postseason left us unimpressed, the playoffs are a whole different animal.
Taylor Rogers moving to the closer role helped dramatically, at the back-end of games. With a 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 30 saves, Baldelli’s usage of Rogers proved effective. Oftentimes, he’d bring Taylor into the game in the eighth inning, to work a four, five and sometime even six-out save. When you have stuff like this in your pen… you utilize it as much as possible.
What a 3 pitch sequence from Taylor Rogers here:
– 96 mph FB away
– 84 SL even farther away
– 85 mph SL in the dirt. pic.twitter.com/MMuWqqmCJR— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) October 8, 2019
It was also a second chance for Tyler Duffey and Trevor May. After initially being called up as starters, their progression to the pen paid off in 2019. Duffey did even better than Rogers at striking guys out (42%). May held opponents to a paltry .573 OPS.
Throw in Romo’s filthy slider plus Tyler Clippard’s disgusting changeup, and the Minnesota Twins bullpen could be even better in 2020. Some rust has shown in the recent scrimmages, but that could hold zero relevance once the season starts next week.
It took until June for #MNTwins reliever Trevor May to average 95+ on his fastball.— Cody Pirkl (@CodyPirkl) March 11, 2020
Before June 1: 22.9 K%, 3.79 ERA
After June 1: 32.8 K%, 2.58 ERA
Trevor May is already sitting 96-97 in Spring Training. pic.twitter.com/fvBuWUQvDD
BRING ON 2020
A lot of their ranking may have to do with the hype surrounding the team as a whole, though. Even with the truncated season, the team is projected to win the AL Central and head back to the postseason, with anywhere from 34-40 wins out of 60 games. If the offense continues to rake and the bullpen holds their own, the ranking is validated.
They aren’t as good, on paper, as those above them on the list (Yankees, Padres, Brewers, and Rays), but the season could prove something different. Thankfully, they won’t have to compete against three of the teams ranked ahead of them (Yankees, Padres, and Rays) until the postseason.
All we can hope for is the same type of outings as last year, a healthy pen, and another playoff berth. After that, it could ultimately be a crapshoot.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan