Evaluating The Twins’ Struggling Bullpen

Of the four clubs who underwent major bullpen renovations this past offseason, three have thus far met the challenge.  The Diamondbacks needed to make major upgrades given their bullpen's shoddy performance in 2010, and their new relievers have done well.  The Padres chose to deal away some quality arms to fill other holes on the roster, though the 'pen is still deep enough that San Diego has barely felt the loss.  The Rays lost virtually their entire 2010 bullpen to free agency, but they have held steady with a number of quality, low-cost replacements.

And then there is the fourth team, the Twins.  Like Tampa Bay, the Twins found themselves with several relievers (Jesse Crain, Randy Flores, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Ron Mahay and Jon Rauch) eligible for free agency and given how the relief market exploded this winter, Minnesota chose not to bring back any of them.  The holes were filled by the likes of Jim Hoey, acquired from Baltimore in the J.J. Hardy trade, waiver claim Dusty Hughes, and most notably, incumbent closer Joe Nathan, expected to make a strong return from Tommy John surgery.

So with Nathan closing, Matt Capps earning $7.15MM in his last arbitration year as a set-up man, southpaw Jose Mijares returning and the odd men out of the rotation battle (Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey) joining the 'pen, the Twins crossed their fingers and hoped their relief corps would at least hold its own.

Unfortunately, like so many other things in this seemingly snake-bitten year for Minnesota, things haven't worked out as planned.  Entering Thursday's play, the Twins ranked fifth-last in baseball in bullpen ERA (4.82) and opponents were batting a whopping .369 against Minnesota relievers.  The Twins' inconsistent starting pitching and injury-plagued lineup have garnered most of the blame for their poor start, so the bullpen has largely escaped blame simply by not being as glaringly bad as the other aspects of the team.

The most obviously disappointing reliever has been Nathan, who lost his closer's job in mid-April and thus far has a 7.30 ERA and eight walks against just 10 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings of work.  While Capps has stabilized the closer's spot and Perkins (0.51 ERA in 17 2/3 innings) has excelled, the rest of the 'pen has pitched terribly.  Hughes, Hoey, Alex Burnett and Jeff Manship have all been shelled, while Mijares has dealt with control issues and has an 0.78 K/BB ratio.

Where did the Twins go wrong?  When you look at the Rays, the other team that lost most of its bullpen, they tried to address the problem by bringing new arms into the fold.  While it remains to be seen how the likes of Kyle Farnsworth will perform over a full season, being proactive about the issue has seemingly benefited Tampa Bay.  Minnesota, however, stood pat and presumed that Nathan's return would stabilize everything.  This seemed like a miscalculation to begin with, given that most pitchers struggle in their first season back from Tommy John surgery, and indeed, Nathan's poor form was a fatal blow to a 'pen that was already lacking in depth. 

It also creates an interesting problem for this winter as Nathan has a $12.5MM team option for next season.  Does Minnesota pick up the option and again bet on Nathan pitching like his old self, or do the Twins buy him out for $2MM and risk seeing Nathan regain his All-Star form for another team?  Would the Twins then re-sign Capps to be the full-time closer, or would they go outside the organization?

In the wake of what already looks like a hugely disappointing campaign, the 2011-12 offseason will be one of Minnesota's most interesting in recent memory.  GM Bill Smith will have no shortage of problems to solve as he tries to get the Twins back on the right track, but Smith cannot afford to spend another winter overlooking the bullpen. 

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8 Comments on "Evaluating The Twins’ Struggling Bullpen"

4 years 3 months ago

The Twins have shown a distinct lack of grit and hustle this season. They aren’t pitching to contact and playing the game the right way!

4 years 3 months ago

 Its hard to pitch to contact when almost all of the pitchers can’t even hit anywhere near the plate.

Scott Hayton
4 years 3 months ago

Yeah… forget talent, what they need is grit!

4 years 3 months ago

 Only four clubs underwent major bullpen overhauls? I’m not sure about the rest of the league, but the Mets started the year with only two relievers (Krod, Parnell) on their roster  that were on the team last year. Otherwise, they signed free agents Byrdak, Isringhausen Carrasco, Buchholz, and Boyer, as well as added Rule 5 Pick Beato. (Izzy was only called up when Parnell got hurt a few weeks into the season). The poor performance of Boyer saw the return of Igarashi, but even newly signed starter Capuano has seen some action in the ‘pen. Beato’s injury even resulted in the promotion of Mike O’Connor, who spent all of last season with the Mets’ AAA.

However, the biggest change for the Mets bullpen, bigger then anything any other team went through, was the end of Pedro Feliciano’s time with the Mets. Feliciano appeared in more games then any pitcher in the majors three years in a row and spent eight years with the Mets. His departure from the team was a major blow to the team and its fans (I bought a Pedro Feliciano jersey last spring).

Other pitchers that have since moved on from last year include H. Takahasi, Elmer Dessens, Green, Nieve, Valdez, and top prospect Jennry Mejia returned to the AAA starting rotation… then injured himself.

4 years 3 months ago

This team is a complete mess right now. The bullpen is just horrible and that Maurr contract might turn out to be the biggest mistake they’ve made as a organization but they had no other option. They had to sign him.

4 years 3 months ago

 Couldn’t agree with you more.  As an avid Twins fan, I think Mauer’s contract will end up being the biggest mistake in the history of the Twins organization.  Bigger than basically giving away Santana.  But they didn’t have a choice with Mauer.  Twins got their new stadium, and they had to put butts in seats.  To do that, they had to keep the home town hero on the roster.

4 years 3 months ago

There’s no way that the Mauer signing was as big a mistake as how the Santana trade was handled. If they’d gotten anything near value for Johan, Mauer’s absence wouldn’t be killing them right now. Instead they got:
-Carlos Gomez (3.0 WAR before being traded for JJ Hardy, who produced 1.3 WAR before being nontendered so that Alexi Casilla could start at SS).
-Philip Humber (-.2 WAR before leaving as an FA.)
-Kevin Mulvey(-.2 WAR, traded for Jon Rauch who gave 1.9 WAR before leaving as a free agent).
-Deolis Guerra(Never appeared in majors, currently has a career ERA of something around 6.50 in AA and AAA).

So, in exchange for arguably the best pitcher in their post-Blyleven history being traded at 28 years old, the Twins got a return of 5.8 WAR, and, four years later, have zero players on their roster to show for it.  Not even guys they got for guys they traded for. For comparison’s sake, Santana, in three seasons since the trade, has a total WAR of 14.4. I consider that worse than overpaying their best and most popular player.

4 years 3 months ago

 That is not entirely true, Jim Hoey is on the major league roster, and he is from the JJ Hardy trade.