We wrap up the Position Analysis series with a look at the relief corps, which could best be described as "unstable." There's little question that the Twins will proceed with seven relievers and a short bench, as is their standard; to fill those seven spots, they brought a veritable army of flawed pitchers to compete in Ft. Myers.
With a week left to go, it appears that the Twins have settled on which arms they will carry north. As is always the case in spring training, this is subject to change – particularly with the uncertain situations surrounding Scott Baker and Jason Marquis – but here's a look at the seven relievers I believe the Twins will break camp with.
2011 Stats: 65.2 IP, 4.25 ERA, 15/ 24 SV, 34/13 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP
Capps spent most of last season battling a forearm strain. Pitching through the pain, he never complained, took the mound when he was asked and showed accountability when he failed to get the job done. He deserves credit for that. He also got hammered by hitters routinely, blew nine of 24 save chances and was booed off the mound at Target Field multiple times.
Capps has been an effective hard-throwing relief pitcher with outstanding control for most of his career and he's still only 28. If he's fully healthy he should be perfectly adequate in the closer role. Last year's arm problems were never addressed surgically, so there exists a real possibility that the injury could come barking once again.
2011 Stats: 61.2 IP, 2.48 ERA, 65/21 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP
The only member of this bullpen who looks like a remotely sure thing is Perkins, coming off a breakthrough season. In his transition to a setup role, Perk was flat-out unhittable over the first four months of 2011 but saw his performance deteriorate in August and September. Most likely, this was due to his high usage; he appeared in 65 games last year when his previous professional high was 39.
Assuming the southpaw's arm is in good shape, he's a solid bet to proceed as one of the league's better late-inning relievers. His fastball gained significant velocity with the switch to the bullpen, setting up a slider that is one of the league's deadliest weapons.
2011 Stats: 161.2 IP, 5.23 ERA, 115/52 K/BB, 1.52 WHIP
Last spring, I bemoaned Ron Gardenhire's decision to hand Duensing a spot in the rotation, reasoning that his success as a starter in 2010 was unsustainable and that facing righty-stacked starting lineups would eventually do him in. Sure enough, the lefty had a tough year in the rotation, finishing with a 5.23 ERA and 1.52 WHIP.
Through the struggles, Duensing continued to mow down left-handed hitters, holding them to a .217/.242/.280 hitting line with one home run in 187 PA. Considering his major weakness against righties, it makes a world of sense to move him back into a role where he can be situationally matched up against same-sided batters. Played to his strengths, Duensing figures to have plenty of success.
2011 Stats: 102 IP, 4.32 ERA, 55/26 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP
Swarzak has been a useful swing man in the past, but there are plenty of reasons to be leery of his outlook. During his time in the big leagues last year, he struck out 12.5 percent of the batters he faced; only five qualifying pitchers in the majors had a worse rate. His 19-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 as a reliever inspired little confidence. Hopefully a full-time switch to the bullpen will help play up his stuff, because it's hard to see his low 90s fastball and mediocre secondary offerings serving much value in anything other than a mop-up role.
2011 Stats: 4.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3/3 K/BB, 1.93 WHIP
Burton is probably the most intriguing guy in the bullpen mix. He's pitched a total of eight innings in the majors over the past two seasons, but prior to that he'd been a quality late-inning reliever for the Reds, and he's 30 years old. Injury issues derailed the right-hander in recent years, but he's been healthy in camp and his results on the mound have been excellent. He's the club's best hope for a reliable right-handed setup man to complement Perkins.
2011 Stats: 18.2 IP, 9.16 ERA, 13/4 K/BB, 2.14 WHIP
The Twins claimed Maloney during the offseason because they saw something in him despite an unremarkable 2011 season spent mostly starting in the Reds' system. Their belief in his potential as a reliever appears justified based on a 16-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 1/3 spring innings, but that's overshadowed by a lengthy record of mediocrity. Fortunately, as a third lefty option out of the bullpen and long reliever, he shouldn't need to see too many high-leverage spots.
2011 Stats: 48.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 23/21K/BB, 1.51 WHIP
The buzz for Maloney is understandable, to some degree, but I'm baffled by the Twins' fascination with Gray. Apparently in line to make the roster by virtue of being out of options, he's a 30-year-old right-hander with a 50-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 2/3 big-league innings, a 6.6 K/9 rate in the minors and two strikeouts against four walks in 8 1/3 spring innings. Gray is a hard thrower, with a fastball that registers in the mid-90s, but the velocity hasn't translated into remotely dominant numbers, and he's been around for a while.