Twins losing games in the bullpen: What will they do about it? (free post)

They lost some notable contributors and they'll need to look internally for some answers -- the sooner the better.

While we wait for an update on Byron Buxton’s strained hip, we cross our fingers and toes and write about the Twins’ bullpen. There’s a lot to unpack there and it will be a continued topic of discussion in this column.

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Pitching coach Wes Johnson said this week that Álexander Colomé is mere centimeters off with his location but that his raw ‘stuff’ remains excellent. And while that may be technically true it won’t inspire any more confidence in fans of Minnesota sports than when Josh Freeman famously told Vikings fans that plays were “just a hair off” after he completed 20 of his 53 passes in a regrettable debut.

But this is not and never will be a Vikings column. This is a column about the Twins’ bullpen woes, and it of course starts with Colomé. We talked about this week on Twins Today that the team is sort of pot-committed to fixing that problem, even if it means lower leverage opportunities for the foreseeable future. At this stage what other option do they have? Minnesota lost a game and a four-game series Thursday when they plated 3 runs and the Rangers, given the advantage of a ghost runner at second base, pushed across the pivotal run in the 10th inning off Tyler Duffey.

The Twins are now 11-19 overall and an “unbelievable” 0-7 in extra-inning games, to quote manager Rocco Baldelli.

So we could focus on a three-pronged approach to solving this problem for the Twins. They’re no doubt working on a many-pronged approach themselves, and so maybe my advice won’t be all that helpful but it’s worth a shot.

Job 0: Remove Colomé from the biggest spots (check)
Job 1:
Add 1 reinforcement
Job 2: Get Colomé back to form
Job 3: Have Tyler Duffey transform back into a monster

Here is roughly how I view the level of trust in each reliever after the team’s first 30 games.

Taylor Rogers
Tyler Duffey

[gap]
Hansel Robles
Cody Stashak

[gap]
Caleb Thielbar
Jorge Alcala

Not listed: Colomé because where do you list him? Randy Dobnak because he’s been sent to the minors and I expect that the Twins will continue to stretch him out as a starter. Brandon Waddell, Luke Farrell and even Devin Smeltzer, because it’s not clear to me that the Twins would figure them into high-leverage and late-inning situations, which appears to be the root of the Twins’ problem.

They’ll want to have one more in the top of that trust tree and one more in the second-tier, which I’m saying can come from internal development. (They’ve gotten useful innings the past two seasons out of Matt Wisler, Zack Littell, Ryne Harper, etc.; who’s next on that list?)

For Job #1 -

Is it too early for a trade? Because I’m looking at the minor leagues and wondering if the Twins think that they have somebody ready to leapfrog Stashak on the Trust Depth Chart. And if they do, why isn’t that person in the big leagues already? I know that Edwar Colina has dealt with injury and Jhoan Duran is supposed to be a starter, so we’ll just see how the situation develops.

For Job #2 -

Easier typed than accomplished, for sure. Can the Twins’ famed pitching factory regain even 80% of Colomé’s powers? And what’s with the shaky command in 2021? If a fastball-cutter guy suddenly is finding his pitches in the middle of the plate, as Wes Johnson has suggested, what’s the way to get him back to the outer edges and away from a hitter’s nitro zone? And to lean on the tried and true sports cliché, how much of a factor is confidence? After blowing one chance, does doubt start to creep in, making subsequent outings more fragile? How about after blowing so many chances in a month that you’re moved into mop-up duty? And lastly, if confidence is a factor, what does it take to rebuild?

For Job #3 -

This is the final enhancement. Minnesota’s bullpen was great in 2019 and 2020 in part because they ran deep with respectable Major Leaguers and in part because they were top-heavy with monsters. In ‘19: Rogers, Duffey, Trevor May. Monster, monster and monster. Throw in useful contributions from Sergio Romo, Zack Littell, Matt Magill and a good run from Ryne Harper, and the Twins were able to overcome a wobbly season from a guy they had signed to trust, Blake Parker. In ‘20, it was a weird year, but they had Duffey, Tyler Clippard and Romo, plus valuable contributions from Matt Wisler, Thielbar, Stashak and Alcala, and they had Rogers and May, good relievers who probably didn’t like their overall results.

They’ve lost Clippard, Romo, May and Wisler. Duffey is still around but he’s gone from quietly one of the best relievers in baseball to something less than that. One way the Twins have to get Duffey back on track is by getting him in the strike zone more regularly. If he never throws a breaking ball for a strike, it neutralizes his best weapon because opposing hitters won’t feel the need to offer at it. I like the high-four-seam fastball + great curveball combination and I believe it can work wonders for Duffey. And to do that he’ll need to command the fastball for strikes and non-strikes, and encourage the belief that you’ll eventually need to swing at a breaking ball because he’ll throw it in the zone for called strikes if you’ll just take all day. Short of that, opposing hitters are identifying breaking pitches and taking them for balls, which leads to unfavorable counts - and we all know that unfavorable counts lead to unfavorable results for the overwhelming majority of humans who pitch in the major leagues.

2021 stats

Trevor May: 11 1/3 innings, 1.59 ERA, 36.4% strikeout rate, 4.5% walk rate for the Mets

Tyler Clippard: On the 60-day Injured List with Arizona with a strained shoulder

Sergio Romo: 11 1/3 innings, 7.94 ERA, 14.5% strikeout rate, 9.1% walk rate for the A’s

Matt Wisler: 11 1/3 innings, 7.94 ERA, 26.5% strikeout rate, 8.2% walk rate for the Giants

Zack Littell: Recently called up to pitch for the Giants

Matt Magill: 10 1/3 innings, 6.10 ERA, 24.4% strikeout rate, 13.3% walk rate for the Mariners

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