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The deceiving statistics of the Twins' bullpen

The numbers don't paint the full picture.
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When it's this early into a baseball season, triumphs and tribulations are magnified. 

We're not even 15 games into the season and here we are, once again, asking if the Twins' bullpen will hold up for the long haul. 

It's certainly a valid question but it seems a couple of bad outings and decisions from Rocco Baldelli and the Twins' braintrust has skewed perception that the bullpen is a disaster. 

The Twins have a record of 8-6 and the bullpen has a combined 5.07 ERA, which is the third worst in the American League. However, ERA can be a deceiving statistic for relievers.

To calculate ERA, you take a pitcher's earned runs allowed, multiply it by 9 (for 9 innings) and divide it by innings pitched. Well, that's not really fair, because relievers usually don't pitch more than an inning so why should nine innings be part of their equation?

And even though their ERA is the third worst in the AL, they've actually only allowed 28 earned runs, which ranks ninth of out of the 15 teams, meaning eight teams have allowed more earned runs than the Twins. So it's really been an average group.

Also, Minnesota's 49.2 bullpen innings is the fewest of any bullpen in the American League. So again, the ERA has skewed things a bit.

The rookies blew things up 

Because of two terrible performances from two specific relievers, the Twins bullpen looks a lot worse than it actually is.

On April 9, when the Twins defeated the Mets in their first game of a two-game series, Chase De Jong got rocked in what felt like a never-ending ninth inning that the Twins started with a 14-4 lead. 

De Jong was called up before the road trip and things did not go well. In his one inning of work, he faced nine batters, allowed four runs on three hits and walked three before getting the third out. 

The Twins still ended up winning the game 14-8, but De Jong's performance gave him a one-way ticket back to Rochester.

The very next night when the Twins had the lead – albeit 1-0 – in the bottom of the fifth inning, starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi was pulled after 71 pitches. Baldelli called on Andrew Vasquez, who had just been called up from Triple-A Rochester in favor of De Jong, with the bases loaded and two outs.

The 25-year-old Vasquez who had just 5 MLB innings to his name faced three batters, threw 13 pitches – three for strikes – walked two and even pegged a guy and was charged for three earned runs.

He was pulled from the game for Trevor Hildenberger, but by the time the inning had ended, the Twins' 1-0 lead turned into a 6-1 deficit leading to a loss.

Even though the bottom of the fifth inning is early, why would Baldelli call on a rookie, who by the way was used frequently as a one-out specialist with decent numbers in the minors, in such a tight spot and give him such a long leash? 

Vasquez was sent back to the minors the very next morning. 

De Jong and Vasquez's putrid performances accounted for seven earned runs in a combined one inning of work.

If you take away those two outings, the Twins' bullpen has allowed 18 runs this season on a 3.84 ERA. That's not bad at all. It's hypothetical, but you get the point. 

The good of the bullpen

Taylor Rogers, Blake Parker, Ryne Harper and Hildenberger have given the Twins solid innings this season. The four arms have allowed a combined 2 runs in 23.2 innings for an ERA of 0.77 and a WHIP of 0.43. Again, encouraging stuff.

Trevor May is coming off his worst appearances of the season on April 17, where he faced five batters, allowed two runs, one hit and two walks and was pulled after two-thirds of an inning.

But May was lights out in his limited work in 2018 and it's likely Baldelli will continue to turn to him knowing that he has the stuff to punch batters out.

Then there's Mejia.... 

Adalberto Mejia, who the Twins converted to a full-time reliever in spring training, is the only regular who's been consistently a disappointment. 

In 7.2 inning of work, Mejia has allowed eight earned runs with eight strikeouts and five walks.His latest blunder came on April 15 when be blew a two-run lead in the top of the eighth to the Blue Jays. Here's how the inning began:

  • Galvis: Single 
  • Grichuk: Double
  • Smoak: RBI single 
  • Hernandez 3-run home run

Despite all that damage, Baldelli elected to keep Mejia in the game, where he retired the next three batters, but the Twins' 3-1 lead had turned into a 5-3 deficit, again leading to a loss.

Now you're probably coming to conclusion that Baldelli can't keep turning to the same five guys (if including May) over and over again because they'll get worn out by June. I hear you on that. 

But Baldelli needs to be better in his decision making. 

Now the bullpen will really be needed as the Twins play 38 games over the next 39 days, so thanks for all those off days to begin the season, Major League Baseball. 

Tyler Duffey was called up on Tuesday to try and stabilize the gong-show that is the back half of the bullpen. Despite not having a lot of a career success at the major league level, Duffey has been strong in Triple-A Rochester this year, having struck out 11 batters in six innings with an ERA of 1.50. 

He pitched well in his season debut, throwing two innings and striking out three batters.

Hopefully Duffey can carry the same success with the Twins, which will give Baldelli more capable arms to rely on out of the 'pen. 

Otherwise, Minnesota's front office better make a call to free agent Craig Kimbrel because some of these decision are leading to losses for the Twins.

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