Thursday, December 19, 2013

Minnesota Twins 40 Man Roster Analysis: Relief Pitchers

I'm on a quest to analyze the entire 40-man roster to figure out who the Twins can rely on in 2015.  2015 is the season I think the Twins start to compete for the playoffs.  Who will contribute to the 2015 team?  I looked at starting pitchers yesterday and I'll take a look at relievers today. Let's start with those least likely to contribute and move down the list.

Oh, if you missed the starters, here you go.

Self-promotion over, let's talk relievers.  

Um.  I guess the Twins were worried that they would lose Ibarra in the Rule 5 draft.  I guess that makes sense.  They may have lost him, I suppose.  However, who cares?  Ibarra is a lefty reliever with a decent strikeout rate and a poor walk rate.  He has a career MiLB ERA of 4.12 in almost 600 innings pitched.  He had an excellent 2013 season, but a pretty bad 2012 season.  I don't envision Ibarra as part of the future, but I guess the Twins were too sentimental to potentially lose him.  He's been with the organization since he was 17; it's natural.

Pressly was a Rule 5 selection and he pitched reasonably well in 2013 considering he hadn't ever pitched above AA.  His strikeout rate was paltry and his walk rate wasn't great either.  His Minor League numbers aren't much better, although he had been a starter through much of his MiLB career.  I'd bet the Twins will keep Pressly at AAA in 2014 and try to see if he can start.  I'm not sure how that will work, and even as a bullpen arm, I don't see him as anything more than a mop-up guy in 2015. 

The Twins have to know that they are still rebuilding and therefore, Burton could become a reasonable trade chip this season.  The Twins have really good options for late-inning, right-handed relief and Burton's good track record over the past two seasons could make him attractive to a contending team in need of another arm.  If he isn't effective, he's a 33-year-old reliever with an expensive option.  That player is expendable.  So, he's either good, and therefore valuable as a trade chip or not good, and therefore expensive and getting old.  Either way, I don't think he'll be on the roster in 2015. 

Duensing had always been productive as a reliever, but slipped a bit in 2013.  There was a point in the season when I thought Duensing could have been released altogether.  He rebounded some and posted a 102 ERA+.  He had some bad BABIP luck (.348 in 2013, .310 career mark) but his strikeouts and walks weren't completely out of line with his career numbers.  He'll reach free agency after the 2015 season and if he has another rough season in 2014 and another lefty (see below, the suspense!) continues to develop, the Twins may opt to non-tender him after next season and save a couple million bucks. 

Thielbar was hot like fire in his first 19.2 innings of MLB work, giving up zero earned runs.  He finished 2013 with 46 innings pitched, a 1.76 ERA, 39 strikeouts and just 14 walks.  He was outstanding against lefties, posting a 5.75 K/BB ratio.  His 2013 season might have been a touch lucky though, as he had a .175 BABIP and a 83.3% strand rate.  The lefty dominance is encouraging, but I'm not sure he will hold a lot of long-term value beyond being a standard LOOGY.  As a situational guy, I think he can help in 2015.  If the Twins try to thrust him into a bigger role, I'm not sure it will work so well.

Please don't move him back to the rotation!  Swarzak was really good as a reliever last season, so don't mess with success.  He had his highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate and much of that comes from the fact that he didn't make any starts.  He's better suited for the bullpen and works well as a long-man.  His 96 relief innings were the most any relief pitcher had thrown in a season since 2006.  Hopefully the Twins will not need a lot of mop-up innings in 2015.  If they don't, Swarzak could easily slide into a more high-leverage role and I think he'd be just fine. 

Fien does a really fine job.  Here's an odd table of two fine Fien seasons:


Adventures in Small Samples!  Fien actually pitched better in 2013, evidenced by his strikeout, walk and ground ball rates.  However, he got worse results due to a correction in BABIP and strand rate and an over-correction in home run to fly ball ratio.  Most of those home runs came against lefties, so maybe Fien should be used in a more specialized role.  I actually think he could fill in for Jared Burton as the 8th inning guy just fine.  I expect he'll still be with the team and throwing quality innings in 2015. 

Tonkin is your typical hard-throwing, fastball/slider, late-inning reliever.  He may never be a closer in the Majors, but he could end up in the 8th inning and it could happen very soon.  His fastball touches 96 and he has that "traditional" late-inning stuff.  Tonkin doesn't have a huge platoon split in his MiLB numbers, as he was actually better against lefties last season.  He's a big man, that's for sure.  I think it's nearly impossible that he isn't helping the Twins bullpen in 2015, but his role depends on his performance and the performance of others.  Of course, that can be said about everyone and everything. 

Here's my expert Glen Perkins analysis:  he's awesome.  He'll contribute in 2015, so long as the Twins don't trade him.  He's a lot of fun to watch and I hope the Twins keep him forever.

There we are.  Each reliever has some value and I could easily see each of these players on the Twins' active roster in 2015.  They won't all make it, which is sad.  Some dudes just get left behind.  In the next installment, we'll investigate the outfielders and the catchers.  We'll do that next week.  See you then!

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