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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bullpen Shape Pt 1

The bullpen was a constant source of pain and humiliation for Twins fans last season, to deliver the point, with a bullet, the Twins bullpen was the worst in the Majors, with an ERA of 4.58, allowing opponents an average of .270 against them, striking out a pathetic 323 in 461 innings of work. The beleaguered corps also had a WHIP of 1.46, stuck out just 6.3 per 9 innings and was generally a shambles. Looking forward to 2012 both the personnel and performance of the pen is hard to predict, but the Twins, who have always prided themselves on excellent relief pitching, may witness a much more mediocre bullpen in 2012, with rebound years, increasing experience and some successful pickups.

Closer - Matt Capps

Few relievers have garnered the ire of Twins fans in the way Capps did last year. Truth be told, while he had a poor season, Twins fans were frustrated after his dominant 2010, particularly in the wake of Joe Nathan’s slow return to form after Tommy John surgery; and who can blame them? Capps went from an excellent 2.47 ERA to a Kevin Gregg-esque 4.25 in 2011. Interestingly his WHIP and BB/9 actually decreased, so why the drop-off? Capps K/9 fell from 7.3 in 2010 to a miserable 4.7 in 2012. Capps BaBIP was also an incredibly friendly .265 in 2011, compared to .317 in 2010. So what gives? Other than the strikeout decrease and a jump in the amount of HRs Capps surrendered in 2011, the only other figure that jumps out is his improved control. Capps walked just 4.7% of batter faced in 2011 (the MLB average is 8.5%); perhaps this increased strike zone presence (combined with Capps’ very average closer stuff) led to his massively down year. Look for a rebound from Capps, who may not hit the heights of 2010 but should split the difference of a stellar 10’ and a disappointing 11’.

LH Set-Up Man – Glen Perkins

Perkins was the highlight of the pen last year, having a breakout year and exhibiting simply dominant stuff consistently for the Twins. Despite petering out at the end of the season, he was simply outstanding. Perkins was simply nasty in 2011, striking out 65 in 61 innings in 2011, giving up just 0.3 home runs per 9 innings and holding opposing hitters to a batting average of just .244. Perkins was also a bright spot in a Twins bullpen generally incapable of striking out opposing hitters (Perkins made 25% of opposing hitter’s whiff last season, compared to the MLB average of just under 18%, elite stuff indeed). Perkins velocity was up significantly from 2010; look for a similarly outstanding contribution in 2012 with a man who may well be the next long-term solution at closer.

RH Set-Up Man – Joel Zumaya

Bringing Zumaya on board was a low-risk, high reward move by Terry Ryan. Zumaya offers an elite power arm, although he hasn’t been able to stay on the field since his rookie season of 2006. Zumaya was a beast his rookie season, with 10.5 SO/9, a WAR of 3.4 and holding opposing hitters to a .187 average. Since then he hasn’t managed more than 38 innings and despite logging solid numbers in fits and spurts, has failed to deliver the type of results both his arm and his stuff had promised. Zumaya could be an important power arm in the Twins bullpen in 2012 if healthy but Twins fans should temper their expectations in him becoming a late innings stabilizing force. Don’t be surprised if you see the headlines which must make Zumaya feel like he is stuck in Groundhog Day ‘Zumaya headed to the DL’, the chances are high.

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