Why the Twins bullpen will bounce back in 2019

The unit has the potential to be a strength of the team.
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It’s no secret the Twins are going to need a strong performance from its pitching staff in 2019.

Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi are solid starting pitchers. Michael Pineda and free agent signing Martín Pérez could lock up the back half of the rotation but they’ll certainly have to earn it in spring training.

With a bit of uncertainty in the starting rotation, Minnesota's bullpen has to be an effective unit if the Twins want to be contenders this season.

In 2018, the Twins bullpen ERA ranked 10th out of 15 teams in the American League.

Before we dive into why, let’s take a look at what the league averages were for relievers last season in the AL, according to Fangraphs.

  • ERA: 4.09
  • OBA (opponents batting average): .244
  • K% (strikeouts/batters faced): 23.2%
  • BB%: (walks/batters faced): 9%

We use K% and BB% instead K/9 and BB/9 because it's a more effective way to view a reliever, who's likely only pitching one inning at a time, instead of nine.

So if those numbers are the template, the Twins currently have three relievers on their roster who are above average.

Taylor RodgersTrevor MayBlake Parker

2.63 ERA

3.20 ERA

3.26 ERA

.202 OBA

.216 OBA

.248 OBA

 28.9 K%

35 K%

 25.4 K%

 6.2 BB%

4.9 BB%

6.9 BB%

It’s unclear who the Twins plan to use as their closer by Opening Day and all three have closing experience. Regardless of who gets the job, Minnesota will have two above-average relievers to use in high-leverage situations.

Look for Trevor May to be their top option to get out of jams. After missing all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery, he returned to the Twins in 2019 on July 31 and was downright filthy. If he remains healthy, he’s bound to have a very good season.

Parker's a veteran who can fill just about any role you place him in and Rogers was easily the Twins most consistent arm from Opening Day to end of the season.

Together, the trio will be relied on heavily in tough situations.

Bounce-back candidates

Addison ReedTrevor Hildenberger

4.50 ERA

5.42 ERA

.290 OBA

.258 OBA

18.2 K%

21.9 K%

6.2 BB%

8.2 BB%

It was a tale of two seasons for both Reed and Hildenberger in 2018. They got off to nice starts but by June their production fell off a cliff.

Before June 1st

  • Reed: 2.83 ERA, .255 OBA, 25 K%, 7 BB%
  • Hildenberger: 3.00 ERA, .220 OBA, 19 K%, 5 BB%

After June 1st:

  • Reed: 6.26 ERA, .336 OBA, 11 K%, 4 BB %
  • Hildenberger: 6.85 ERA, .286 OBA, 23K%, 9 BB%

Reed's free-fall was more alarming. 

He was one of the most consistent arms in baseball before he signed with the Twins. If he can at the very least regain the flash he showed early in the season, he’ll be a solid option. 

Hildenberger's peripheral numbers were still on-point in terms of strikeout rate and walk rate. But it doesn't hide the fact he had an ERA of near seven during the final four months of the season and an ERA of nine in the second half.

However, if they’re not put in high-leverage situations, it could make them more effective.

Wild cards

Adalberto MejiaFernando Romero

2.01 ERA

4.69 ERA

.210 OBA

.271 OBA

14.1 K%

18.2 K%

9.8 BB%

7.7 BB%

Both Mejia and Romero are under the age of 25 and neither have previous relief experience, but there have been hints they could be moved to the bullpen.

Romero’s fastball averaged 95.6 mph last season; Mejia’s averaged 92.8 mph. If they’re asked to come out of the pen and pour a little extra velocity on, now you’re talking about two hard-throwing young relievers at manager Rocco Baldelli's disposal.

A good example of this is former Twins closer Glen Perkins, who transitioned from a starter to reliever at 28 and became a three-time All-Star.

The opener

Last season a new trend started with teams using an opener instead of a starting pitcher to begin games. Tampa Bay used it consistently, and that’s where Baldelli spent most of his coaching career.

With Baldelli and the Twins having experience with openers, Minnesota can get very creative with how they use their pitchers in 2019.

It worked pretty well for the Rays, who won 90 games last season despite missing the playoffs in a crowded American League Wild Card hunt. The Twins used the strategy a few times with Tyler Duffey and Gabriel Moya and the results weren’t great.

But let’s plug in Mejia and Romero as options for the opener and if they can indeed up their velocity and take pressure and workload off a starting pitcher, it can benefit everyone.

So in a perfect world – or if I were managing the Twins – Minnesota would break camp with the seven relievers.

  1. Taylor Rodgers
  2. Trevor May
  3. Blake Parker
  4. Addison Reed
  5. Trevor Hildenberger
  6. Adalberto Mejia
  7. Fernando Romero

If the top-heavy guys perform as they did in 2018, Reed and Hildenberger bounce back, and the Swiss-army knives of Mejia and Romero are ready for the bullpen, now you’re talking about a pretty legit unit.

As we’ve seen from past World Series winners, you’ll only go as far as your pitching staff will take you and the Twins bullpen could be what carries them to success.

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