Twins Roster Analysis: Bullpen

I’ve been more or less missing for the last week or two, but rather than being my spring training, I’ve been busy with a professional academic project. Nonetheless, the season is upon us and I’d like to finish up this series. The timing is perfect, considering that the Twins just released their 25-man roster. Seems I could have waited on some of my other projections–turns out Brian Dozier, J.R. Towles, and Drew Butera won’t be making any early appearances, but Chris Parmelee and Sean Burroughs will be. Before I get to the bullpen, I’ll briefly comment on Burroughs, whom I’d didn’t touch on in discussing the infield because I underestimated his ability to make the team.

Burroughs is a 31-year old former top prospect, son of a former #1 pick and one-time undeserving MVP winner Jeff Burroughs who hasn’t made a opening roster since 2005. In 1647 at-bats, Burroughs has hit .280/.337/.357 with 20 steals. He hasn’t been very productive, in other words. He’s a career .317/.400/.445 minor league hitter in 1783 minor-league at-bats, so at least there he’s shown the ability to get on-base, if not to hit for power. But that might be mostly irrelevant at this point, since he only returned to professional baseball last year. He had a solid spring, even if the numbers don’t matter, and expected to be a pinch-hitter and be a backup at third and first, so he probably won’t have too great a influence on the Twins chances to compete. However, an injury could put him in a bigger role and there, I’d imagine he still won’t break hitting something like .270/.350/.350 at best.

As for the bullpen, as I’ve written before, I’m very concerned about the lack of improvement from last year’s disaster. In fact, with Joel Zumaya out for the season, the Twins made no significant changes. Sure, they have new blood–Matt Maloney, Jeff Gray, and Jared Burton weren’t around last year. But none of those arms are particularly exciting. To start the season, the bullpen will be consisting of those three, plus Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Alex Burnett. Burnett only made the team because to start the season, Ron Gardenhire is going with a four-man rotation until Scott Baker and Jason Marquis return to the team. One would expect that given his significant struggles, he’d be first to go.

But maybe that’s not entirely true. Burnett is likely to have his issues. It’s not so much that he’s had a bad spring–that doesn’t prove much. In 98 1/3 innings so far in his career, he’s got a 5.40 ERA to go with 70 Ks/44 BBs. It hasn’t been pretty. His 4.60 FIP/4.64 xFIP suggest that he isn’t getting particularly unlucky. His 64% strand rate is lower than league average, but even if he improves, he’s likely a subpar reliever. Which means that he could be back in Triple-A sooner than later.

Maloney is 28-years old and has a mixed track record. He hasn’t spent much time in the majors and when he has, overall, he also has a 5.40 ERA in 80 innings. His control has been solid in that time (17 BBs) but he doesn’t strike out many (54 Ks) and gives up a lot of hits (99–and the .314 BABIP isn’t that high). It’s not a big sample size by any means. Maloney has had solid numbers in the minors, with a 3.57 ERA in 516 1/3 innings at AAA, but he has just a 7.6 K/9 there, including 5.6 K/9 last year in 81 1/3 innings. That kind of inability to miss bats makes me question what kind of success Maloney can have in the majors. And if he’s there because he’s a lefty, the Twins don’t exactly desperately need one–they have Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins. As much as Burnett could struggle, so could Maloney.

What about Gray? Gray is 30 and Gray’s numbers in the minors aren’t much better. He’s got a 3.56 ERA and 301/101 K/BB ratio in 409 2/3 innings. At AAA, he’s been less effective, with a 3.94 ERA and 142 K/66 BB ratio in 198 2/3. In 88 2/3 major league innings, he’s got a 4.57 ERA with a 50/31 K/BB ratio. About the best thing you can say is that he has decent velocity on his fastball (93.5 mph). Perhaps he has a chance then to break out, but it doesn’t seem too likely given that his stats speak to another mediocre arm that can’t miss bats.

Jared Burton is also 30 already, but he appears at least to be a little more intriguing. He was a effective reliever for a time with the Reds, posting a 3.41 ERA/3.97 FIP/4.39 xFIP in 169 innings with a 143/73 K/BB ratio, good for 7.6 K/9. Perhaps Burton has something left. If any of the new names were going to be effective, I’d put my money on Burton. He’s older, but he has the best track record. Even his minor league numbers are better–8.6 K/9, 2.31 ERA in 78 AAA innings.

What about the other returning names? Perkins got himself a nice little offseason extension, resigning for 3 years, $10.3 million with a team option for 2016. This is possibly the best thing they did all offseason, since Perkins is by far their best reliever, but because he isn’t a closer picking up those magical saves, he won’t get overpaid like the current Twins closer Matt Capps. Perkins broke out last year, posting a 2.48 ERA/2.411 FIP/2.92 xFIP with a 9.49 K/9 in 61 2/3 innings. The strikeout rate is for real, as Perkins posted a 11.2% swing strike percentage, which is excellent and indicative of his ability to keep up this change. He also saw his average fastball velocity jump to 93.8 mph. I’d complain about his usage patterns last year, but it’s not like the Twins were competing for a playoff spot. I don’t know if I’d expect Perkins to repeat, but I think he’ll still be the Twins best reliever and he’ll continue to punch out hitters much more often.

Matt Capps really isn’t quite as bad as my gripes about his contract make him out to be. But he really isn’t worth $4.75 million and certainly not in a buyer’s market. And not at the expense of compensation draft picks. And once again, I don’t put much stock in spring stats, but the fact that Capps has nearly allowed more home runs (4) than strikeouts (5) is a potential sign that he’ll be as ineffective as he was last year. Capps was never a strikeout pitcher, but he had posted solid enough rates (6.6 K/9 career) before the bottom dropped out last year to 4.66 K/9. That’s supported by his swinging strike percentage falling to a mediocre 6.7%, down from 9.2% in 2010. He did lose a little velocity on his fastball (94.0 mph in 2010, 92.9 mph last year), but that doesn’t explain it all. The thing is, his 4.25 ERA reflected a little luck, with a low BABIP (.263), a higher strand rate (75.4%), and higher FIP (4.75) and xFIP (4.49). I’m not sure Capps’ strikeout rate will stay down that much, but he was really never that great of a pitcher. He can be effective and perhaps he will be again, but that won’t make overpaying him entirely forgiveable.

Brian Duensing was actually not a terrible starter last year, despite his 5.23 ERA, as mention in this previous post. His FIP/xFIP numbers only went out slightly from 2010, when he had a 2.62 ERA. The difference, of course, was his BABIP and strand rate. Duensing seems like he could be a solid starter, but his extreme split makes him a good candidate to be a lefty specialist. Lefties hit just .217/.242/.280 against him last year and they have hit .203/.248/.263 in 399 career at-bats against him. Righties, on the other hand, have hit .300/.359/.477 in 1059 career at-bats, including .330/.387/.560 last year. That’s a monumental swing. So long as Duensing is primarily used against lefties, he should be one of Gardenhire’s most effective bullpen arms and given his background as a starter, he should be plenty useful for long relief or any needed spot starts. Remember, he had a 1.80 ERA (even if that’s misleading) in 45 relief innings in 2010. He can be pretty good there.

Anthony Swarzak is the last member of the bullpen, but as much as the Twins seem excited about him, I’m not sure he’s much different than the Burnett/Maloney/Gray crowd. In 38 1/3 relief innings last year, Swarzak posted a 3.99 ERA, but he really didn’t perform that well. He struck out only 19 hitters while walking 13. Overall, in 161 major league innings, starts included, he has a 5.03 ERA and a 89/46 K/BB ratio (4.65 FIP/4.85 xFIP). That’s not surprising, given that in 268 2/3 AAA innings, he has a 4.32 ERA and a 165/80 K/BB ratio–just 5.5 K/9. He has induced just a 5.0% swinging strike rate in the majors. When I think Swarzak, I think Brian Bass. He simply doesn’t have the tools to become any kind of above average reliever–and most of this thrown together unit likely does not as well.

The bottom line is that two bullpen arms are likely to perform well (Perkins, Duensing), two have good potential to be above-average or serviceable relievers (Capps, Burton) and the rest are likely to be mediocre to bad to worse. It’s not a recipe for success, but it could still be an improvement over last year’s situation. I still would have kept Jose Mijares around, but I’m glad to be rid of Scott Diamond, Phil Dumatrait, Dusty Hughes and Jim Hoey. At least for now–Diamond and Dumatrait are still in the organization. With that, here are my projections for bullpen as it is now:

Capps: 65 innings, 34 svs/42 opportunities, 50 K/12 BB, 3.85 ERA (ZIPS: 4.48 ERA/4.27 FIP, 64 1/3 innings, 42/17 K/BB)

Perkins: 70 innings, 2 svs, 75 K/25 BB, 3.10 ERA (ZIPS: 4.08 ERA/3.76 FIP, 64 innings, 53/23 K/BB)

Duensing: 85 innings, 60 K/35 BB, 3.45 ERA (ZIPS: 4.54 ERA/4.18 FIP, 138 2/3 innings, 88 K/44 BB)

Burton: 60 innings, 50 K/20 BB, 4.05 ERA (ZIPS: 4.91 ERA/4.50 FIP, 36 2/3 innings, 26/16 K/BB)

Maloney: 50 innings, 30 K/10 BB, 4.80 ERA (ZIPS: 4.96 ERA/4.38 FIP, 123 1/3 innings, 72/27 K/BB)

Gray: 45 innings, 25 K/20 BB, 5.50 ERA (ZIPS: 5.04 ERA/4.59 FIP, 50 innings, 25/19 K/BB)

Swarzak: 90 innings (including starts), 45 K/30 BB, 5.30 ERA (ZIPS: 5.34 ERA/4.74 FIP, 121 1/3 innings, 61/38 K/BB)

Burnett: 35 innings, 23 K/15 BB, 6.10 ERA (ZIPS: 4.87 ERA/4.55 FIP, 61 innings, 39/25 K/BB)

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