Thursday, July 14, 2011

Revisiting the bullpen candidates

In the early days of spring training, I did a lengthy series of "Bullpen Candidate Profiles" -- 20 posts about 22 bullpen candidates in the Twins camp.

Of those 22 candidates, 15 have relieved at least once this season, and two others are no longer with the Twins. Only one reliever, Matt Capps, has been on the active roster from Opening Day to All Star Break. So far, the Twins have not brought in a reliever who wasn't in camp.

The 'pen always figured to be a work in progress -- all bullpens are -- but that amount of churn is impressive.

Let's review what's happened and see whose status has risen and whose has declined. The pitcher's name link will lead back to his candidate profile; a second link will lead to his season stats. I'll group the players by the role they contended for in Fort Myers:

Joe Nathan has been
charged with one run
since returning from
the disabled list. 
Joe Nathan opened with the job, then lost it, went on the disabled list, and has returned pitching far better ball than he had been.(His ERA was 7.63 when he went on the DL, and it is now 5.82).  His velocity is up, and he worked in back to back games for the first time last weekend.

I still doubt the Twins will pick up his option for 2012, but if he winds up reclaiming the closer's job and remains sound, it's no longer inconceivable. Arrow up.

Matt Capps has had two slumps, one in May when he was overused and another at the end of the recent homestand. He bounced back with a pair of relatively low-leverage saves in Chicago over the weekend. He's been there, which counts, but on the whole his season has to be regarded as at least mildly disappointing. Arrow down.


Glen Perkins has been the Twins best relief pitcher this season. Should the Twins cut their ties to Nathan and Capps, he would figure to inherit the closers job in 2012. Arrow up.

Chuck James might
be in line for another
Phil Dumatrait has been on the big league roster since mid May. His 5.71 ERA and the fact that he's walked more men than he has struck out suggests he's a marginal pitcher. But he's held the leads he's been asked to hold and has suffocated left-handed hitters (.536 OPS in 32 plate appearances, although with just one strikeout). Since I never expected him to be on the big club and he's made it through two months, I'll say arrow up.

Jose Mijares was expected to step up from his accustomed LOOGY role, but he has walked too many men and is once again testing the patience of the manager. He spent some time on the disabled list. It's possible that, if the Twins take Dumatrait's success against lefties seriously, that Mijares could be demoted. Arrow down.

Chuck James would figure to the beneficiary if Mijares loses his job. He had five shutout innings in an earlier call-up and has been dominating at Triple A (48 strikeouts in 40 innings, 2.25 ERA). Arrow up.

Dusty Hughes had a strong spring but was simply awful once the season opened. He has been dropped from the 40-man roster, although he remains in the Twins system at Rochester, where he hasn't been all that bad (3-0, 3.90, 32 strikeouts in 25 innings). Arrow down.

Scott Diamond was in camp as a Rule V draftee but didn't make the team. The Twins traded for his rights in a deal that was widely criticized, and he has not fared well at Rochester. (If it's any consolation, Billy Bullock, the power arm the Twins gave up for Diamond, isn't doing much better in Double A.) Arrow down.

Right-handed middle men

Pat Neshek was waived during spring training and picked up by San Diego. He has a deceptively good 3.52 ERA (helped by Petco Park) and way too many walks. Arrow irrelevant.

Alex Burnett was the first pitcher called up from the minors and he's stuck, but his numbers are not impressive. He's had trouble in his major league tenure when he finishes an inning and come out to start the next, and he's been pummeled by lefties this year. He has to deal with those problems if he's going to remain. Arrow down; his role is more prominent than he merits.

Kyle Waldrop may
not be enough of
a power pitcher to
suit the Twins.
Jim Hoey has the best fastball velocity in this group, but lacks the command or movement to survive on that alone, and his secondary pitches aren't getting outs either. Awful major league numbers, but his Rochester stats aren't bad. Arrow down.

Anthony Slama missed much of training camp with an injury, did OK in a brief call-up, and is having a good season in Rochester. His primary problem: He doesn't throw as hard as Burnett or Hoey, and the Twins seem to want a power arm for matchups with power hitters. Arrow down; the Twins are more likely to import a new arm than give Slama a clear shot at a set-up job.

Kyle Waldrop, for a time in camp, appeared to have a shot at a job, but his status as a nonroster player apparently worked against him. The sinkerballer was instead assigned to Rochester, and he has not fared as well there in 2011 as he did in 2010. Not only has his ERA nearly doubled, his strikeout rate has dropped. Arrow down.

Carlos Guterriez, like Waldrop, is a sinkerballer working at Rochester who is not on the 40-man roster. He's having a better year than Waldrop, he throws harder than Waldrop, but also walks more men than Waldrop. My guess is that he's moved ahead of Waldrop in the pecking order, and my further guess is that, since they are similar pitchers, there's only room for one (at most) on the big league roster. Arrow up, but more for 2012 than for 2011.
Longmen and long shots

Yorman Bazardo opened the season with Rochester and was released after nine games and 21 innings. He has not resurfaced. Arrow down.

Deolis Guerra's
ERA is inflated, but
his walk/strikeout
ratios are actually
Eric Hacker had a brief call up -- two games, one unearned run allowed -- but has not had a good season in Rochester. Arrow down.

David Bromberg was mentioned early in spring training as a possible bullpen candidate, but was quickly optioned out to Double A New Britain, where he suffered a fractured forearm when hit by a line drive. He's not a factor for 2011. Arrow down, but only for this season.

Jeff Manship opened the season on the Twins active roster but was shipped out after just 3.1 innings. He's been Rochester's disabled list. Arrow down.

Anthony Swarzak didn't figure to be a factor in the Twins bullpen, but he has emerged as the long man and sport starter. Arrow up.

Deolis Guerra is the sole remaining direct acquisition from the Johan Santana trade. He was reportedly impressive in spring training, but his minor league struggles continue. Arrow down.

Transplanted starter

Kevin Slowey was the man left out of the starting rotation (rather than Brian Duensing, who had pitched out of the bullpen before with some success). Moving Slowey to the bullpen proved rocky both in results and attitude. Arrow down.

Duensing has made one relief appearance himself.


Going through this really underlines the idea that the biggest gap in the bullpen is the right-handed middle reliever, the power arm to deal with right-handed hitters in the seventh inning. That's Alex Burnett's job right now, but he hasn't fared all that well in it.

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