Monday, May 23, 2011

Rebuilding the Bullpen

Some people don't seem to recognize what an integral factor the Twins' spectacular bullpen was in their success last year. Even with Joe Nathan gone for the entire season and Jose Mijares gone for much of it, the relief corps was one of the most effective in memory.

That group simply did not give up leads. The 2010 Twins lost only twice when they took a lead into the ninth inning; only three times when they took a lead into the eighth inning. They went 75-5 when they entered the seventh with a lead. That's quite the testament to a bullpen which, while somewhat amorphous and not terribly flashy, consistently got the job done.

The front office's gutting of the unit during the offseason has yielded the expect results: the Twins aren't getting much relief from their bullpen this year. Already the team has lost six games after entering the seventh inning with a lead.

Twins' relievers have posted a rather dreadful 89-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 2/3 innings this year, so it should come as no surprise that they've allowed 141 hits with a 5.33 ERA. No bullpen under Ron Gardenhire has ever had more hits allowed than innings pitched, but this year's group seems a good bet to break that trend.

Sadly, things are getting worse instead of better. Glen Perkins, quite literally the lone bright spot in an abysmal unit, strained his oblique over the weekend and will be out for close to a month. He was the only Twins' reliever who had made more than six appearances and posted an ERA below five; if you take his 1.59 ERA over 22 2/3 innings out of the equation, the bullpen's overall mark sits at 6.11. Yikes.

On the bright side, the Twins' crappy relief pitching won't have a chance to derail their season, as team-wide failures over the first two months have already effectively accomplished that feat. In addition, the team's lack of competitiveness should deter Bill Smith from dealing away more valuable assets for overrated "closers."

For the remainder of this season, the focus should be on auditioning relievers within the organization in an effort to determine who might be able to play a significant role in next year's pen (and beyond). So far, the Twins are doing it wrong. With Perkins and Mijares hitting the disabled list in recent days, the team has called up Phil Dumatrait, a 29-year-old with a 6.95 career ERA in the majors who had issued 11 walks in 15 2/3 innings at Triple-A, and Dusty Hughes, who had been demoted earlier this year after posting a 10.13 ERA in 12 appearances for the Twins.

Hughes and Dumatrait are both almost 30, and have established through a lengthy track record that they're not very good. Yet, the Twins opt to call them up and subject fans to their known mediocrity rather than taking a look at an intriguing player like Chuck James, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop or even the Rule 5 pick Scott Diamond.

There's no guarantee that any of those guys will prove to be credible MLB relievers, but they've all shown some level of promise in the minors, so why not give them a shot? The luxury of a season like this is that it enables a "trial by fire" approach for borderline prospects, and if they plan on a quick return to contention the Twins could benefit from seeing what they really have in some of these arms.

Even in terms of winning games now, calling on players like Dumatrait and Hughes is odd. Frankly, it only seems like an effort to justify the bad decisions of signing them and/or placing them on the 40-man roster to begin with.

It's what frustrates me most about this front office lately: they tend to compound their mistakes rather than correcting them.


Jeff Hamilton said...

Are you shocked by what they're doing, Nick? I'm still upset about the Bullock for Diamond trade. In addition, though I was never a J.J. Hardy fan, one would think we could garner more than Hoey and Jacobson.!/TheHammerMn

Jay Hamilton said...

Again, cut all of the dead weight and get let the young, hungry guys play. 1986!

Nick said...

The Twins front office is absolutely correct in their current bullpen management. Since the season is already lost, why not try and run these re-treads out there and get some decent innnings to showcase them for a trade. There will be 15 or so teams still in the race come July and a LOT of them will need bullpen arms. Hopefully you can swing a guy or two for some flyer low-A ball pitcher who will help us in 5 years. After the deadline, they can cut bait and start the trial by fire. There will be plenty of time.

The Twins front office sucks.

Nick said...

Oh crap, my begin and end comments didn't make it to the post. It was beging optimistic thinking for the paragraph and end optimistic thinking before the last line. Doesn't make much sense without that!

cy1time said...

I don't think that any playoff contender is going to want Dumatrait or Hughes come July. I doubt Hughes had any trade value on April 1st coming off a great spring.

On a positive note, we're missing Hernandez and Pineada in the Seattle series. Maybe this is the week the turnaround starts? I have tickets to too many games to give up already.

Shane said...

I agree that James, Gutierrez, and Slama need to be up now. The front office really is compounding the mistakes made on the field with personnel mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Over the past decade this team built it's success on 5 dominant players: Mauer & Morneau, Nathan, Johan Santana, and Torey Hunter. Two left with nothing in return (effectively) and they are getting nothing from the other 3. There are no other promising young players coming up to replace or supplement them either. So this downfall shouldn't be completely surprising to us. It's past time to re-stock the farm system. No more dumb trades of top prospects for suspect closers.

Anonymous said...

"In addition, the team's lack of competitiveness should deter Bill Smith from dealing away more valuable assets for overrated "closers.""

Can we trade good prospects for closers if it sends a win now message?

Ed Bast said...

"Can we trade good prospects for closers if it sends a win now message?"

Not when the guy you are trading for a) is below league average in save percentage in his career; b)converts saves as the same exact rate as a guy you already had; and c) is only traded for because, according to the GM, he "has an option for next year".

Trading good prospects for impact players is more than okay to "win now". Trading your only viable trading chip for a guy who is no better than the guy you already have simply because you don't know how next year's closer situation is going to turn out is the opposite of "win now" and pretty much summarizes this front office's baseball incompetence.

Nick N. said...

Can we trade good prospects for closers if it sends a win now message?

Aha, ahhh... I see what you did there.

BuddyG said...

Good post Nick - I agree that any of the younger 'ready now' players at Rochester need to be given a chance at the MLB level, especially the available relievers since we have obvious open slots at the big club. Those kinds of no-risk experiments are the only positive thing in otherwise disappointing seasons and the Twins need to take advantage of the opportunity. Heck, if they really have no faith in the 24-26 year olds at Rochester then bring them up to at least have a chance at increasing their trade bait value instead of having them waste away down there.

So many FO moves of the last 2 seasons seem to be cover-our-asses moves that compound past mistakes in an effort to prove to the world that they know exactly what they are doing.

TT` said...

One of the great things about blogs is you can go back and see if you should take the person writing seriously:

Last May Nick wasn't so upbeat about the Twins bullpen:

"The Twins' recent promotion of Jeff Manship to the big-league roster gives the Twins 13 pitchers, an ominous sign for the struggling Crain. When J.J. Hardy is ready to come off the disabled list this weekend, we may see (Crain) designated for assignment, with numerous right-handed options existing in Triple-A."

Two months later:

"There's also the matter of Jon Rauch, who owns a 7.11 ERA and 2.69 WHIP in seven July appearances, but if anyone is going to be replacing him in the closer spot I'd guess it would be Jesse Crain."

I can't wait for Nick's next "of-the-moment" post.

The Twins bullpen is not their biggest problem. As for auditions, do you really need to audition Slama in the big leagues when he can't get AAA hitters out?

The deal with James is puzzling. He is a lefty and has good results at AAA. Yet they haven't called him up.

I would love to see Gutierrez called up, but I don't think that move gets made until they are fairly certain of his success. He still seems to miss the plate lot.

I don't think throwing young players into the fire before they are ready and destroying their confidence has ever been a good development process.

Ed Bast said...

Sort of like how a certain blogger titled a spring training post "Best Twins Team Ever" and predicted 110+ wins? No offense, but I'll take Nick's measured approach any day over ludicrous kool-aid drinking delusion.

Nick N. said...

Here's what I said about the bullpen prior to last season:

"Fortunately, if ever there was an acceptable time for the Twins to lose their elite closer, this is it ... Nathan will be missed, but there are enough quality arms here that the Twins should be able to withstand his loss."

Here's what I said about the bullpen prior to this season:

"Unless you're engaging in starry-eyed optimism, it's tough to view the bullpen as a strength for the Twins as we enter the 2011 season. They lost several quality relief arms during the offseason and signed no one to replace any of them, so much will hinge on a return to form from Joe Nathan and the emergence of several unproven hurlers in unfamiliar roles."

I felt fine about the bullpen last year, and I felt pretty horrible about it this year. As it turns out, my takes in both cases were warranted. Even last year's relief corps had its hiccups (the early struggles of Crain and the mid-summer scuffling from Rauch being perhaps the most notable, but really, that was the best you could do in terms of finding overreactive "in-the-moment" posts?), but it was a quality unit with established arms and good depth.

This year's bullpen is a $25 million atrocity, and there's no defending it.

daved said...

As Anonymous #1 brought up, we got nothing for Johan Santana & "Torey" [sic] Hunter. Hunter was granted free agency, so we got nothing from him. But as for Johan, I got curious...

What is left of the Johan Santana trade?

Johan was traded to the Mets for:
Carlos Gomez
Philip Humber
Kevin Mulvey
Deolis Guerra

I looked up all the transactions of the players we got in the Johan trade, and followed any other transactions until it led to current Twins players. Here we go...

Carlos Gomez
Traded for JJ Hardy, who was then traded for Jim Hoey (optioned to AAA after terrible start) & Brett Jacobson (young and doing ok, could still pan out).

Philip Humber
Granted free agency and currently the ace of the White Sox staff.

Kevin Mulvey
Traded for Jon Rauch, who was then granted free agency last year.

Deolis Guerra
Still in our farm system (he's only 22), and he's bouncing around AA, & AAA trying to keep afloat. He could still be useful in a few years.

Basically we got two young pitchers who still could be good (Jacobson & Guerra) and a struggling 28-year-old reliever (Jim Hoey).

Santana's injury problems definitely eases the pain of this trade fail, but the Mets still got 600 IP with a 2.85 ERA out of Johan.

l. fletcher prouty said...

you simply dont find world series level teams who dont have excellent bullpens. It's almost as important as a starting staff and its importance has repeatedly been marginalized by the twins blogosphere. just because Jeff Manship "profiles" like Matt G doesn't mean he's going to be him. Just because Detroit signed Joaquin Benoit to a bad deal doesn't mean free agent relievers are not wise to sign. With a healthy Fuentes the Twins had a stellar pen and as they all departed because other teams had the audacity to offer them multi year deals, one could see this sort of scenario happening. the twins deserve this for refusing to ever spend money on a major league contract for a reliever. us fans unfortunately do not.

Anonymous said...

A big reason why we aren't seeing the AAA guys is because if they pan out, the Twins don't want them to become Super 2s and have to pay them one year earlier. The Twins do this all the time with their minor league players. It's not a bad move since this team is going nowhere.

Also, of all the things I question about the Twins, I won't question the way this farm system develops its pitchers. They tend to have a pretty good track record over the past 10 years or so.

Ed Bast said...

Twins fun fact of the day: Joe Mauer and Josh Hamilton went on the DL the same day. Hamilton came back yesterday; Mauer TBD.

Hamilton's injury: broken arm.
Mauer's injury: soreness.

Anonymous said...

For all practical purposes, the Twins season is officially over, they will have to play .700 baseball from here on out to even think of getting to the playoffs. Bring up some young guys and give them some experience, get rid of the scrubs they have there now. Its not like the season can go any worse.

Alex said...

It seems like the FO took the view that they had to sign all the bullpen free agents, or none of them. If the Twins could have signed a solid reliever like Crain - or even like Matty G, who would be a little cheaper after a comparatively down year for him - the Twins could have molded a decent bullpen around that. But no, they couldn't do that

Now what? I think the Twins need a shake up, but there's nothing really to shake. They don't have enough money or talent to send a message. They can't demote all the bad relievers and fill their spots with better ones. They could send Nathan back to AAA for a bit so he could get some reps and feel his way back.

Maybe they could free up some salary space by waiving their General Manager.

Matt said...

Twins fun fact of the day: Joe Mauer and Josh Hamilton went on the DL the same day. Hamilton came back yesterday; Mauer TBD.

Hamilton's injury: broken arm.
Mauer's injury: soreness.

I'm glad you mention that...
I brought up something similar to a rabid, hardcore Twins fan who was crying into his beer at the bowling alley last night.

He got pissed at me and questioned how I could dare to question Mauer's toughness, work ethic, and leadership abilities (both verbal and by example - tough to lead by example when you are not playing due to "soreness").

Winning culture has to include fans too, and Twins fans essentially demand nothing from their squad or it's players who are horribly underachieving this year...

TT said...

Nick -

You can find a post by you on all sides of every issue. That was my point. Your jump from over-reaction to over-reaction.

"the early struggles of Crain and the mid-summer scuffling from Rauch being perhaps the most notable, but really, that was the best you could do in terms of finding overreactive "in-the-moment" posts?"

Given your opinion of the bullpen going into last season, you don't think suggesting a month and half later they should designate Crain for assignment was a bit of an overreaction? And then, a month and a half later, designating him the closer in waiting?

Ed -

Here is what I actually said - "This is a completely sunny description of the Twins. But this is opening day - which is a time for optimism. Likely not everything will work out, but if it does this team could win 110+ games."

To say "not everything worked out" is a bit of an understatement. There isn't a player in the Twins lineup who has "worked out" this year with the exception of Kubel.

Lets see what happens when, and if, they get Mauer and Nishioka back in the lineup and Perkins and Mijares back in the bullpen.

TT said...

"the Mets still got 600 IP with a 2.85 ERA out of Johan."

They didn't get 600 IP from Joahn in the Twins trade. The Twins only had control of Johan for one more season.

And the Mets would all 600 IP for one of the Twins trips to the playoffs. Gomez, Rauch and Hardy all played roles in that happening. I don't think the Santana trade has been a great success, but it hasn't been a washout either. Certainly they have more than they likely would have from a couple of draft choices to show for it.

USAFChief said...

"Certainly they have more than they likely would have from a couple of draft choices to show for it."

You mean a couple of HIGH draft choices AND 230 IP on a team with WS aspirations--the Twins--right TT?

TT said...

Even "HIGH draft choices" don't usually amount to much. I think about half the first round choices never even appear in a big league game. So yes, the players they still have in the system are likely more valuable than a couple 2009 draft choices.

Count me as a skeptic that Santana would have won them the World Series. Its likely they would have won the division, but given the distraction Santana still being around would create I am not even sure that is true. And a 2008 World Series win isn't going to help them now or in the future.

Anonymous said...

I want the Twins to win as much as the next fan and I'm all about young players coming up and getting their chance, but there is absolutely no reason to call any of them up right now. Everyone seems to agree that this season is going nowhere and now becuase of Joe's contract we are basically back in the small market team category because we gave all our extra money to 1 player like idiots. Since we aren't going to have much money to spend in the up coming years we need to continue to keep our young players in the minors until we need them to avoid having to pay them earlier than we really need to. Plus if they aren't really ready and we call them up the chances are much better that they fail and lose all confidence and are useless the rest of their careers than that we have a replay of '86 into '87 where they all just turn out to be great. I'll take my chances with letting them develop at the rate they should and not paying them for a couple extra months in a lost season. They have expanded rosters in September for a reason.