The Twins entered the weekend No. 24 in MLB in bullpen ERA at 4.90. Those who clamored for more bullpen help before the season started are getting louder now. How — if at all — should the Twins respond to what looks like a deficiency?
First take: Michael Rand
In an early schedule filled with off days and a game postponed until next month, the Twins had some advantages. Jose Berrios started four of the Twins’ first 12 games. And their best bullpen pitchers could work almost whenever Rocco Baldelli wanted because they were sure to get rest.
The ’pen has been exposed lately as pitchers other than Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger (to name two) have been thrust into higher-leverage situations.
But it’s not time to panic or make a major move. Rogers and Hildenberger are still doing fine, ranking No. 13 and No. 26, respectively, in win probability added among MLB relievers, per FanGraphs. Blake Parker and Trevor May have been decent. The near-term return of Gabriel Moya and perhaps Addison Reed from injury should help. They should start there.
Twins writer Phil Miller: Under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, the Twins used 20 relief pitchers in 2017 and 23 last year (not counting a plethora of position-player volunteers), and with 11 pressed into service already this year, it appears that’s going to be the case again.
What must be so frustrating for the Twins is that they tried to address the problem with high draft picks — since 2012, they have used valuable first- or second-round picks to choose J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis, Nick Burdi and Luke Bard — with nothing to show for it.
And their repeated attempts to create elite relievers out of starters has yet to work, too. Rogers is the only converted starter who has undeniably succeeded in the new role. May shows promise but has stumbled in high-leverage situations in the first three weeks. Meanwhile, Tyler Duffey, Adalberto Mejia and this year’s convert, Fernando Romero, have been slow, to put it mildly, in adapting to bullpen life.
Will Moya and Reed help? Well, neither had an ERA below 4.50 last year, and each got hurt in camp. It’s hard to view them as solutions.
Rand: I’m going to continue to lean into a counterintuitive argument, though: Aside from high-leverage guys, the bullpen doesn’t matter as much as we think. And the Twins have a pair of good ones, at least so far.
May is the key — the pitcher and the month. If the hard-throwing righty can be a better-than-average third wheel, the Twins can bridge the gap to the warmer months when teams that fall out of the race are more willing to trade relievers.
Miller: Wow, that is counterintuitive — relievers don’t matter that much? I’d say middle-inning guys mean more than ever. More games are decided by the bullpen than ever, and not just in the ninth inning.
You might be right about acquiring help at the deadline, but to me, the Twins’ failure to do so over the winter is a reflection that the front office was always in wait-and-see mode about this year. They have a stockpile of prospects from their trade-deadline deals, yet made no trades for bullpen help.
Rand: Bullpen ERA is an overblown stat because it gets bloated in meaningless games. I think the Twins will get the help when they need it. If they don’t, then we can be more critical.
Final word: Miller
Four of the five worst offenses in the AL thus far belong to the Twins’ Central Division compadres. This problem might fix itself.