The Twins’ bullpen has been long lamented by me and many others that write on the interwebs. Most of them are better at statistics than me, which is why I generally shy away from using advanced statistics to make predictions or to analyze the past performance of a pitcher. If you want someone to use stats, try here or here or here.
My place in the storied (yeah, right) history of the Twins blogosphere is to point out what should be obvious, and thus waste everyone’s time. Hence today’s observation:
The bullpen kinda, sorta stinks.
Yeah, yeah. I know, don’t let all your jaws hit the floor in unison. This is the kind of observation that I get (not) paid for. No compliments, it’s what I do.
However, it’s true. The Twins have now lost 12 games with their bullpen, which is fifth worst in the league (there are three teams tied at 13).Their ERA is 4.19, which isn’t bad, except when you think about how many extra runs the starters have absorbed because of the bullpen’s ability to strand. They have been, in short, really bad.
However, the bullpen has only had to throw 197.1 innings, which is fourth-fewest, and in my opinion, fourth best, in the AL. (just as an fyi, I use the AL as a measuring stick because NL rules lead to a very different role for the bullpen from time to time). The starters have done a good job of eating innings, which is pretty impressive, given the poor records of Scott Baker, and, especially, Francisco Liriano. As a matter of fact, the Twins starters have thrown the most innings in the AL (and are only 1/3 inning behind St. Louis for the overall lead) at 429.1 innings.
The bullpen’s ERA is better than the starters, mostly thanks to disastrous outings by Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Scott Baker in April (4.19 to 4.55). However, the bullpen ERA is helped by incredibly low numbers put up by Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, R.A. Dickey (as a reliever), and Matt Guerrier (at 1.69, 2.57, 2.14, and 2.84, respectively). The numbers then jump up by more than a full run to 4.18 (Luis Ayala, may he rest in peace), 6.00 (Brian Duensing, in AAA), 6.28 (Craig Breslow, may he enjoy the yellow and green in Oakland), 7.36 (Sean Henn, who for some reason is still with the team), 8.15 (Jesse Crain, in AAA), 12.46 (Phil Humber, may he rest in peace), and 22.50 (Juan Morillo, in AAA). (Note: I know ERA is bad as a measure, but I don’t do advanced stats, so there we go).
Ouch. So, pretty much what we can conclude from this is that the four anchors of the bullpen have been great most (or all) of the season, and especially lately. However, the rest have been wretched. Ironically, yesterday the Twins got rid of the best of the worst when they dfa’d Ayala, for doing basically what the Twins should have expected him to do from the time they signed him, as Aaron Gleeman pointed out this morning. They basically switched him for Bobby Keppel, who should take up the mantle as yet another mediocre righty in the ‘Pen.
Despite the obvious problems with the bullpen, though, there is no reason the bullpen can’t be a reason the Twins will succeed, rather than something they have to overcome to succeed. The four studs are more than capable of mixing and matching to take the eighth and ninth innings and the seventh if necessary. However, the Twins have no semi-effective mop-up guy, or a guy that could throw multiple innings other than Dickey, who should really be placed in higher-leverage situations.
However, the starters might be in line to need more time off. Nick Blackburn is on track to throw 212 innings, and he, Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Liriano are all on track to throw career highs in total innings (Perkins would be too if he hadn’t been on the DL). The starting staff will tire and will likely start to break down a bit, which means that we need middle relief that actually works. Unfortunately, no one but Dickey has been adequate in that role, and he will likely be placed in higher leverage situations because he has been so good to this point. Henn needs to stay out of situations where there is less than a four run lead or a six-run deficit, but that isn’t going to be an option if middle relief is needed. Keppel hardly inspires confidence, as he seems like a cheaper and probably less effective Ayala.
So, what about Glen Perkins? He has been rather ineffective as a whole as a starter this year, though he has had flashes of brilliance. What if he was sent to the ‘Pen to be the long-reliever? I don’t doubt he would be really good in that role. Lacking that, maybe Swarzak could come back to fill that role; he did quite well in two of four outings as a starter, but maybe he’d do better only seeing each hitter once.
So, note to Bill Smith: we don’t need Huston Street, and we really don’t need LaTroy Hawkins. We need a Brad Penny. Or, barring that, we need fewer mediocre minor league free agents.