Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A rough draft of the 2011 bullpen

In today's game, calling somebody a "relief pitcher" is akin to calling somebody an infielder. A shortstop is not a first baseman is not a second baseman is not a third baseman, and a lefty specialist (or LOOGY)  is not a closer is not a long man.

So ... let's examine 10 of the various candidates on hand for the Twins bullpen, identify their established roles and ask ourselves what role they can reasonably be expected to fill in 2011. The Bill James Handbook lists seven roles -- closer, set-up, lefty specialist, middle reliever, long man and utility reliever (generally an inexperienced guy who pitches as needed while trying to work into a better role) plus emergency relievers (starting pitchers or position players pressed into relief duty). I'll use the book's determinations.

Joe Nathan: 246 saves with the Twins.
Joe Nathan (injured; closer): The significant questions begin at the very foundation of the bullpen. Nobody knows in the dead of winter what form Nathan's return from ligament replacement surgery will take. Anything is possible, from a Billy Wagner-style complete and immediate return to excellence to a Darren Dreifort-style immediate reinjury.

But Nathan will be paid $12 million next season, and he wants to earn it and the Twins want him to earn it. I expect him to open the season with a significant role; he may pitch his way out of it, but he'll get a clear shot at retaining the ninth inning job. It may well be that he won't be used on consecutive days.

The Outsider's verdict: Co-closer to open the season.

Matt Capps (closer): He had 42 saves last season (split between Washington and Minnesota). In the Twins perfect 2011, he's the top set-up man; things seldom work perfectly.

The Outsider's verdict: Co-closer/primary set-up.

Jose Mijares (LOOGY): When the rotund Venezuelan debuted late in 2008, he was awesome. In the past two seasons he has twice reported to camp out of shape, been optioned to the minors, spent time on the disabled list, moved at least one teammate to the verge of violence and convinced Ron Gardenhire that he can't be trusted against right-handed hitters.

The tools are there to be better. The makeup may not be.

The Outsider's verdict: LOOGY, but if he's matured he could move into a set-up role.

Jim Hoey (minors): Big fastball, questionable control. If he throws strikes, he'll climb the ladder in the 'pen rapidly.

The Outsider's verdict: Utility; he's the best bet for the Greg McMichael Rule to come into play (if you get outs, they'll find a job for you).

Pat Neshek's Twins ERAs:
2.19, 2.94, 4.73. 5.00
Alex Burnett: (utility): Miscast last season in multi-inning stints because that's where the team had its need. His minor league success has come in shorter stints.

The Outsider's verdict: Middle relief.

Pat Neshek (utility): The key is his velocity. If he's in the low 90s, as before his TJ surgery, he's a set-up candidate; if he's in the low-to-mid 80s as he was last year, he cannot pitch in the majors.

The Outsider's verdict: Utility and pitches his way up or out.

Glen Perkins (LOOGY): He's been primarily a starter, but the Twins are now looking at him as a relief pitcher. His track record against lefty hitters is not good. He needs a good breaking ball to do the job, and the idea seems to be that his slider will do the trick. We'll see.

The Outsider's verdict: Utility/secondary LOOGY-- if he makes the team.

Scott Diamond (minors): The Rule 5 pick either sticks or returns to the Atlanta Braves. He's been a starter, but some prospect gurus see him as an effective lefty specialist. Probably competing with Perkins for a job, but there's room for both on the roster if Mijares moves up the ladder.

The Outsider's verdict: Utility/secondary LOOGY-- if he makes the team.

Anthony Slama (utility): Good minor league numbers, but his command is uncertain and his stuff doesn't impress scouts. The Twins have not been eager to give him a shot.

The Outsider's verdict: Utility reliever if he makes the team.

Jeff Manship (utility): I don't know why he's not listed as a long man, but he's not. He's probably Plan B for the rotation as of now, meaning he's the guy who'd get the first shot if /when one of the starting rotation guys goes down; that status is likely to fall to Kyle Gibson later in the year. Pitched better with the Twins last season than in Rochester.

The Outsider's verdict: Long man if he makes the team.

That's 10. There are other possibilities, like Carlos Gutierrez and Rob Delaney, but these are the 10 most likely guys right now for the (probably) seven bullpen jobs. There are a lot of open jobs, and just as many questions here. Good organizations can find answers to those questions. And that's the challenge -- maybe the challenge for 2011 --  for the Twins.

How I see it as of today:

Nathan (closer)
Capps (set-up/second closer)
Mijares (LOOGY)
Burnett (middle)
Hoey (utility)
Diamond (utility)
Neshek (utility)

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