The Twins’ bullpen went from shaky to downright phenomenal as the season went on in 2019. There are three prominent reasons why the bullpen will find more success in 2020 ...
1.) They are right-handed heavy
As currently constructed, the Twins bullpen will include righties Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard, Zack Littell, Matt Wisler and potentially Cody Stashak, Fernando Romero or Ryne Harper. The only proven lefty at this point is Taylor Rogers, with Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe looming as long-relief candidates.
While the Twins could use one more reliable left-handed specialist, their bullpen is built for the AL Central. The division is filled with right-handed sluggers such as Franmil Reyes, Eloy Jiménez, José Abreu, Jorge Soler, and Hunter Dozier. Most of the prominent switch-hitters, Carlos Santana, and Francisco Lindor, have a higher career OPS against left-handed pitching. Yoán Moncada is the one switch-hitter that has generally been better against right-handed pitching.
Outside of the Central, the AL contenders are also largely right-handed at the plate. The Yankees’ lack of variety has been noted, and the Astros best position players, Alex Bregman, José Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa, are all right-handed. Duffey and May were actually better against lefties in 2019, but the difference in OPS was marginal and they will likely return to the league norm in 2020.
2.) They have wipeout sliders
With the acquisition of Wisler and the re-signing of Romo, the Twins confirmed they will have a slider-filled bullpen. Wisler threw his slider more than 70% of the time in 2019 and generated a 41% whiff rate and expected slash line of .193/.248/.298. Romo had similar numbers, throwing his slider 60% of the time with a 33% whiff rate and .186/.229/.300 expected slash line.
It isn’t just Wisler and Romo. Rogers threw his slider at a 35% clip and relied on it much more than he did in 2018. His slider was nasty, pulling a 36% whiff rate and a .171/.215/.284 expected slash line. Duffey also had a revelation with the pitch, throwing it 30% more often in 2019. Different pitcher, same result. Duffey generated a 42% whiff rate and opponents hit .169/.227/.289 against his slider. This doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
The nasty slider ties in directly with the right-handed heavy construction of the bullpen. Righties hit .205/.248/.394 off Romo in 2019, while lefties have hit .203/.270/.268 off Rogers in his career. Their sliders are a primary reason for this. Here is a look at how Rogers uses his slider-fastball pitch mix to shut down left-handed hitters:
3. They throw strikes
The worst thing a reliever can do is issue walks. The Twins’ bullpen jumped from eighth to first in walks per nine innings from 2018 to 2019. In strikeout-to-walk ratio, the Twins ranked second in the American League. Throwing strikes helped the bullpen rank first in MLB in FIP and fourth in SIERA. The Twins had four relievers that averaged more than one strikeout per inning. Rogers, Duffey, May and Romo all averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
The young pitchers in the system seem to have been primed to limit walks and push for strikeouts. Stashak entered the bullpen in late July and pitched 25 innings down the stretch. Stashak produced a 3.24 ERA and 3.01 FIP with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 25-to-1. Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe combined for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 92-to-27 in 105 innings in 2019.
There is depth in this bullpen that simply can’t be found on every club. Duffey, May, Clippard, Rogers and Romo all showed in 2019 that they are reliable in high-leverage situations. The Twins also have a plethora of lower-leverage arms like Stashak, Littell, and Wisler. The group mostly struggled in the postseason, but Rocco Baldelli and company know they can depend on this group to remain extremely effective in 2020.
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