Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do the Twins Need Bullpen Relief?

Every Tuesday afternoon, I appear on KAUS 1480 AM, the Twins' radio affiliate in the Austin, MN area, to chat baseball with host Dean DeBoer. The segment is always a lot of fun and Dean is clearly a bright Twins mind, but one thing that amuses me is his constant lamenting of the team's bullpen. Of course, he's not the only one to do so, and he's certainly not the only Twins follower out there who would like to see the team pursue a top-flight reliever as the trade deadline approaches.

I suppose the fan base's mid-season yearning for relief help was an inevitability as soon as Joe Nathan was lost for the season during spring training. No one can be blamed for cringing when Jon Rauch quickly surrendered the Twins' extra-inning lead on Saturday by coughing up a homer almost immediately after Drew Butera had stunningly put the Twins ahead with a solo homer in the top of the 10th. But, despite a few hiccups, Minnesota's bullpen has been surprisingly effective this year and has not prevented the team from winning many games. In fact, it has barely cost them any.

Despite being without their best reliever, the Twins' bullpen ranks third in the majors with a 2.89 ERA. While bullpen ERA can be a misleading statistic in some cases, it's not here; this has clearly been one of the most reliable relief units in baseball, and that's reflected by the fact that the Twins are 36-1 when carrying a lead into the seventh inning. Twins relievers have allowed only 23 of 81 inherited runners to score -- a 25 percent strand rate that places them solidly below the league average of 31 percent.

A big part of the bullpen's surprising effectiveness has been Rauch's outstanding performance at the back end in place of Nathan. While some relievers seem to struggle with the mental aspects of slamming the door shut on tight games (see: Hawkins, LaTroy), Rauch appears to be a rare example of a guy who thrives under the pressure associated with the closer role.

The right-hander has posted a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while converting 17 of 20 save opportunities. Even in blown saves, he's been able to limit the damage as the Twins have not lost a single game this season that he has entered with a lead. His current numbers -- most notably his walk rate -- parallel the ones he posted with the Nationals in 2008, which was the only other time in his career that Rauch has been asked to serve as closer for an extended period of time.

During his time with the Nats in '08, Rauch posted a 44-to-7 K/BB ratio over 48 1/3 innings; this year, he has posted a 21-to-3 K/BB ratio in 28 innings. For a pitcher who has displayed mediocre (at best) control throughout his career, those low walk totals are extremely impressive and they suggest that when Rauch is handed closing responsibilities, he can go out and throw strikes.

For all his positives, though, Rauch is not dominant. His .705 opponents' OPS is hardly stellar for a closer, nor is his pedestrian 6.8 K/9IP rate. There's no telling whether he'll be able to continue at this rate throughout the remainder of the season. Many would like to see the team pursue someone like Heath Bell to improve the Twins' chances of finishing off tough lineups in the playoffs. Yet, a dominant closer hardly guarantees postseason success, as Nathan (and several other top-tier closers) proved last autumn, and given Rauch's high-end performance in high-leverage situations this season, there's little reason to believe he'd cower against the Yankees or Red Sox in October.

If the Twins want to make a big splash at the deadline, they'd benefit more from adding a starting pitcher or an infield bat. Pawning off top prospects for an elite bullpen arm who could serve as closer just doesn't make sense considering how well Rauch has done. Meanwhile, trading for a lesser reliever who could simply help boost the bullpen in the middle innings should not be a consideration, given that the organization possesses plenty of usable relief arms in Triple-A (most notably Kyle Waldrop, Pat Neshek and Anthony Slama).

They might not be flashy, but the Twins' bullpen has been far from a liability this season. In fact, they've been one of the most reliable in the game. Barring an injury, the Twins would be foolish to focus on adding external relief help at the trade deadline. Bill Smith has bigger fish to fry this time around.


Dave said...

My question is, will Rauch be closing next year with the club? If I'm not mistaken he is a FA next year, and who knows what Nathan will be like post injury. Any idea what kind of contract we would have to offer him and if anything is in the works already?

Nick N. said...

At this point, I'd have to think Rauch is at least a Type B free agent and approaching Type A status. I figure the Twins will offer him arbitration. If he accepts it, great; if not, they'll get a couple draft picks and spend that money on the free agent market. Same deal with Pavano.

Ben said...

I keep forgetting about Neshek. How's he doing?

Ed Bast said...

Jettisoning Jesse Crain would be the best bullpen move the front office could make. As long as he's on the roster, you know Gardy's going to use him, including in the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

As long as he's on the roster, you know Gardy's going to use him

I hope so. That's a bit obvious, isn't it?

rghrbek said...

The bullpen has definitely been a pleasant surprise. It's been good to see.

I still think the Twins should offer up Crain in any trade scenario for nothing (as an add on) just to get rid of the million plus they still owe him and release Mahay.

You have 3 ready to pitch guys in AAA you can choose from to help the team.

We've been clamoring for this all year. It's just not gonna happen.

Dan Cook said...

Agreed, the bullpen is not where the Twins should focus their trade efforts.

As has been made clear on their current road trip, starting pitching needs to be a priority.

As constituted, they can win the Central, but they desperately need a shut-down starter to make any noise in the post-season.

Ed Bast said...

"I hope so. That's a bit obvious, isn't it?"

You hope Gardy turns to Crain in key situations?'re not Jesse Crain, are you?

Anonymous said...

They need a power arm, period. The rotation should be the first priority followed by bullpen, but will the spend the money? Will they send prospects to the Astros for a Roy-rental? Doubtful. How about Cliff Lee? Even more doubtful.
They have no power arms in AAA or AA last time I checked (I could be wrong, of course), so those options are out.
I'd be quite surprised if they sign or trade for anyone. Remember, as Gardy says: "Minnesota Twins. We're in first place, guys!"
So, we likely have another sweep in the first round of the playoffs, again, but at least it will take place at Target field, rather than the dome.

Anonymous said...

The Twins dont have an 8th inning guy. Matt G is the guy they try to run out there but usually they have to match up the whole game until the 9th. I know his stats bare out good but do you really trust him in a 1 run game on the road in the playoffs? They need some power in the back of that pen. There is no intimidation factor or any arm that puts fear in other teams. That is a paraphrase from an advance scount i talked to last year when even joe nathan was there.
I think the bull pen should be top priority even over starters and regardless of how well or bad the pen has done so far. Why not upgrade from crain and mahay if this is the year we are making a run at the world series? Most if not many post season games are won late in games.

jack torse

Jimmy James said...

"While bullpen ERA can be a misleading statistic in some cases, it's not here"

Jon Rauch xfip: 3.96
Matt Guerrier xfip: 4.38
Jose Mijares xfip: 5.05
Jesse Crain xfip: 4.67
Brian Duensing xfip: 4.23
Alex Burnett xfip: 4.31

I'd argue that a sub 3 era for this group is very misleading. For reference Fransico Liriano has an xfip of 3.07 and 3.11 era which is higher than the bullpens. Just about every arm in the bullpen is a strike throwing, fly ball pitcher with low strikeout totals by reliever standards and they have certainly been more lucky than good. Jesse Crain has the highest K rate at 6.99 k/9. No one is over 7 which is awful.

Look at Matt Guerrier. 1.64 era, 6 k/9, 44 gb%, .220 babpip. His peripherals dont come close to supporting a 1.64 era. Hes pitched a lot closer to a 5 era. But hes had 2.8% of fly balls go for Hrs and a 220 babip which have kept the era very low but both those numbers are very lucky and unlikely to be sustained. Rauch is in the same boat. Doenst strike many people up and gives up a lot of fly balls. He is certainly not as lucky as guerrier but he should give up more extra base hits than he does (especially with the defensive outfield the twins field) and if teams stop hitting long fly balls right at the outfielders his era will spike. If either of these guys were to have their era blow up i wouldnt be surprised. The bullpen has been lucky.

All that being said i certainly wouldnt pay much to bring in a relieve or a starter for that matter. Twins shouldnt be over paying for rental players ever.

Anonymous said...

The Twins need to learn how to run the bases before they worry about anything else. I have never seen a more pathetic baserunning group. Every single game I have watched they make at least one mental mistake on the bases. What is the deal here? Major league players don't know how to run the bases.

Schruender said...

Bullpen arms have longevity in only the rarest of cases. I would not trade for a bullpen arm unless it involved prospects that would never have an impact on the AAAA team.

Anonymous said...

Do you think?

tom hoffman

Anonymous said...

mike jackson, mike stanton, latroy hawkins, jc romero,duane ward, arthur rhodes, darren oliver, dennys reyes, mike timlin to name a few off the top of my head were all just set up relievers. they had/have longetivity.. Arthur Rhodes 41, .81 whip in 31ip makes half of what punto makes per year.

Spider Rico

David! said...

The one thing this bullpen needs is probably one more effective lefty. I'd like to see them take a flyer on Eddie G, I still think he has something left in the tank.

Mahay, Mijares and Duensing have all been fine, but they need a 4th to make it a balanced bullpen.

Nick N. said...

Mahay, Mijares and Duensing have all been fine, but they need a 4th to make it a balanced bullpen.

Disagree, the Twins' bullpen has often operated just fine with only one lefty. I think they'd be fine without Mahay.

DAVID! said...

If the Twins are going to have 8 bullpen people it only makes sense that they have 4 lefties and 4 righties for balance. They could trade Burnett to make room for Eddie, Burnett doesn't even pitch that much!

Anonymous said...

eddie? come on!

Anonymous said...

"Do the Twins STARTERS need relief?"

Does a bear shit in the woods son?

Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, Ret.

Bryz said...

All I can say is, "Wow."

As long as he's on the roster, you know Gardy's going to use him

I hope so. That's a bit obvious, isn't it?

You hope Gardy turns to Crain in key situations?'re not Jesse Crain, are you?

Uh, no. The middle comment means, "It's obvious that a guy that's on the major league roster will receive playing time." There was no mention of hoping that Crain is used in key situations.

Mahay, Mijares and Duensing have all been fine, but they need a 4th to make it a balanced bullpen.

Why is a balanced bullpen necessary? Very few, if any, teams have a "balanced bullpen." If you watched tonight's Twins/Mets game, you'd have seen that the Mets have only one lefty, Pedro Feliciano, in their bullpen.

They could trade Burnett to make room for Eddie, Burnett doesn't even pitch that much!

You've got to be joking. First, Burnett is easily better than Guardado. Second, Burnett is cheap. You shouldn't get rid of a cheap, young, good player just to add an older, worse, potentially more expensive player.* Third, Burnett is tied for 4th with Jon Rauch in appearances by relievers for the Twins (27), and he has the most innings pitched by a Twins reliever (34). That hardly supports, "He doesn't even pitch that much!" Lastly, I don't see any reason why the Twins would rather remove Burnett from the roster rather than someone like Crain or Mahay.

* Though this does happen far too often.

fitz gerald said...

You don't need a lot of bullpen help if you have starters getting in to the late innings - GET CLIFF LEE NOW !!!

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