Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Twins Preview: Bullpen

Joe Nathan, CL?
Since he began closing for the Twins in 2004, Nathan has actually been slightly better than Mariano Rivera. But TJS is no trifle to recover from, as Francisco Liriano and Pat Neshek could attest. It doesn't sound like his velocity is there yet on his fastball, and his slider isn't working yet, either. He's trying to add some other secondary pitches, which will probably help him as he ages. But after a spring training in which he was generally effective (only the Phillies got him) but struck out only 3 batters in 8.1 IP against 4 BB, it's clear that he's not himself yet. I think he'll get better as the year goes along, but it could be dicey in the early going.
Expected line: 65 IP, 7.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP

Capps, on the other hand, looks to be healthy and in his prime, so we can expect recent history to repeat itself with him. Whether he's used in the 8th or 9th innings, he's a perfectly solid reliever. Other than a weird year with BABIP and HR/FB in 2009, he's been consistently good since 2007. After seeing Nathan this spring, I'm glad the Twins kept him around for some insurance at the back end of the 'pen.
Expected line: 70 IP, 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP

According to some, Mijares struggled last year. I don't see it. He missed a lot of time with injuries, but when he was in there he was pretty much the same guy we saw in 2009. The BB/9 came down, the HR and K rates stayed about the same. Sure, he gave up a bunch more hits, but the BABIP was a little high at .313, so that will probably even out a bit for this year. He's tough on lefties, and that's probably the most important trait of his given his likely role in the bullpen. Capps is the last guy I'm worried about in this 'pen; Mijares is 2nd to last.
Expected line: 60 IP, 7.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

All the Twins' starters were pretty much lights-out this spring, so I guess Slowey wound up in the bullpen by virtue of being the only mid-rotation starter without a long-term deal. It's hard to say what to expect from him as a reliever, since there's so little precedence for it in his career. He's held opponents to a .646 OPS in the 1st inning of his GS, and a .683 OPS the 1st time through the batting order. They say he's throwing his fastball a little harder in short stints. I think he'll do pretty well. Though I expect him to find his way back into the rotation at some point during the season (if he sticks around long enough).
Expected line: 100 IP, 6.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

The Twins are very high Hughes, claiming him off waivers from KC at the expense of Rob Delaney. He pitched well against the Twins last year, but was pretty hittable against everybody else. Still, last season's overall line wasn't too bad, and he certainly earned a spot with a strong spring. He gives me yet another reason to decry the senseless loss of Craig Breslow to the A's, but in a lower-leverage role, he could be acceptable.
Expected line: 70 IP, 5.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 4.10 ERA, 1.40 WHIP

If I held the keys to the front office, Perkins wouldn't have been tendered a contract for this year. To his credit, he put together a very nice spring, with a 1.50 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 12 IP. But larger sample of his past couple of years is more telling, and it's not good. He doesn't get lefties out. He doesn't get groundballs. He doesn't strike guys out. I don't see what sort of bullpen role he could thrive in.
Expected line: 40 IP, 4.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 5.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

Almost by default - was he the RHP on the 40-man roster who sucked the least? - Manship took the final spot in the bullpen, despite a Grapefruit League ERA over 5.00. That performance shouldn't come as a surprise, since his career ERA in the Majors is over 5.00, and his ERA at Rochester last year was over 5.00. The decent K rate he had in the lower minors hasn't followed him to the upper levels. He's a replacement player, keeping that low-leverage spot warm until some worthier prospect is ready to come up from the minors and assume it. I hope that happens sooner rather than later.
Expected line: 30 IP, 6.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 5.00 ERA, 1.55 WHIP

Like the bench, this is a weakness for the Twins, especially at the back end. There are some palatable options down at AAA, like Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett and Kyle Waldrop. One or more of them will probably come up before too long. And Bill Smith has shown over the last 2 seasons a willingness to upgrade the bullpen for the stretch run, so I expect something like that to come in July or August. In the meantime, the starters will have to pitch deep enough into games in order to keep the softer parts of the 'pen from being over-exposed. When they can't, we could be in for some long games.

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