State of the ‘Pen, ver. 2.1

So, we have arrived at the second half of the season, at least as separated by the All-Star Break. The Twins, as a team, are playing pretty well. If not for injuries/illnesses, there is a very good probability that the Twins could be leading the division right now. Lets take quick stock of what this team has:

  • An amazing defensive catcher who also leads the majors in batting average and the American league in SLG%, OBP%, and therefore, OPS. He also leads the league in VORP. All-in-all, worth offering a big contract to, I think.
  • For the first time in years, a relatively stable defensively-proficient third base, which also has provided a great deal of power and home runs.
  • As for first base, do I need to say anything?
  • On most days, a very good defensive outfield.
  • On most days, a proficient starting rotation.
  • On some days, a proficient bullpen.
  • A great closer.
  • A DH that seems to finally be hitting his stride (well, he started to last year, but he has gotten better this year).
  • The season’s four worst pitchers, measured by ERA, are no longer with the Twins.

Here’s what we are lacking:

  • A reliable bridge to said closer.
  • Proven long relief.
  • Consistency in the bullpen.
  • A 1-2 punch in the rotation… or we could have Liriano actually step it up a bit.
  • A middle infield that, you know, hits the ball with any reliability.
  • A hitter for the 2-spot.
  • A reliever that can reliably get lefties out in the middle innings (other than Mijares).

So with that in mind, I’ll look at the bullpen in this post, and some of the other missing pieces in other posts. I’ll start with a look at the staff post-all-star break, in order of efficiency/how good they have been for the first half.

  • Joe Nathan – Has been just as good as advertised, and worth his extension. His inning in the All-Star game was uncharacteristically shaky, but he has been a force of nature most of the year, and I am pleased to say that my reluctance to grant my approval to Nathan has been proven unreasonable. Joe is now, in my opinion, the best closer in baseball by quite a bit, and we should appreciate him even more than we do, if possible.
  • Jose Mijares – While part of me wants to continue to insist that he is playing over his head, he has been so consistent that even a cynical guy like myself has to acknowledge that he must be doing something right. Mijares’ K-to-BB ratio is nothing special, at 25-to-14, but his ERA is still below 2, earning him the number 2 spot on this list. However, Mijares seems like he might be morphing into an early-Nathan-style reliever, where he gets the job done, but there are a lot of baserunners and a lot of fingernails chewed to the nub.
  • Matt Guerrier – When Matty basically melted his arm last year, we (including me) were worried about his future with the team. He has since proven that we had little worry about. He has gone back to his efficient self, putting up a sub-2.5 ERA while posting the second best WHIP on the team, after Mr. Nathan. We’ll see if overuse remains a problem later in the year, but so far, he has been used less, and he has shown that the trust placed in him has not been misplaced.
  • R.A. Dickey – Dickey has hit a rough spot this month, after hanging out at a 2.36 ERA at the beginning of the month, he gave up runs in three of his last four outings, though they weren’t all his fault. Even so, he still sits at an impressive 3.25 ERA going into tonights action against his old Texas team. The Home/Road splits have been heinous on Dickey, but not in the way you would expect. On the road, he holds a 1.75 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP, while at home he has a 4.55 ERA and a 1.5 WHIP. This gives me some hope for next year, as he should stick with the team. They thought that Dickey would be great in the controlled conditions of the Dome, but that just hasn’t been borne out. However, he has been FAR better than expected, and that should be recognized even through his current struggles.
  • Bobby Keppel – WTF?! Seriously, I wrote a few weeks ago that he would be a rent-a-player until he either was demoted and opted out of his contract, or would be traded. While trading him is still not out of the question, I have to say, he has been darn impressive. In 12.1 innings, he has allowed only one ER, and has been much better than advertised (See, front office, this is what an effective sinkerball looks like!). He’ll probably come back to earth, and when he does, the Twins have the luxury of choosing whether they want to hold on to him or not. I’m guessing they will, unless he becomes horrendous a la Sean Henn.
  • Brian Duensing – Why is he with the team? If he is being showed off as trade bait, it isn’t working too well. If they are hoping to get good innings from him, it hasn’t been working either. I assume the only reason he is up is for another lefty option, but honestly, i don’t know why. He’s suitable for mop-up work and not much else.
  • Kevin Mulvey – The Twins just purchased his contract. Again, I don’t know why. Trade bait? Who knows.

So, we have the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unknown. I am not optimistic about the Twins’ ability to trade for bullpen help, but I would assume that we will be seeing a good short reliever soon, like Rob Delaney or Anthony Slama (both of whom should get September call-ups, if not sooner). I wouldn’t focus on a set-up guy per se, though. Mijares and Guerrier are doing a decent job of that at this point. What the Twins really need is consistency in middle relief, and if Keppel and Mulvey (and maybe even Duensing) can provide that, the Bullpen is in a strong position for the beginning of the second half of the season.

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