The Minnesota Twins are not a serious contender until they fix the bullpen.
It’s frustrating watching the front office make a lot of the right moves to fix the team, (trading for starting pitching, addressing the injuries and depth issues of last year, keeping Byron Buxton healthy) yet not address the bullpen.
There were no major signings to speak of this off season when it comes to the bullpen. It was nice to see Jorge Lopez come over from Baltimore last summer, but the lack of quality arms in the bullpen is starting to show. If Jhoan Duran or Lopez doesn’t come through the bullpen door, I don’t have much faith.
Emilio Pagán has been the bane of my existence the past two seasons since coming over from San Diego. Pagán was given numerous save opportunities last season and proceeded to compile seven saves, two losses and two blown saves over the first two months. Doesn’t seem awful, but it was worse than it sounds.
Pagán had a decent 3.00 ERA through the first two months, but had a 6.11 FIP. A .214 batting average against is good, but a .500 slugging percentage is not. His strikeout numbers have always been good and that’s likely the primary reason Pagán is still on the roster. He had 88 strikeouts is 63 innings last season, but it seemed like when Pagán wasn’t striking guys out, he was in trouble.
These are games last season when Pagán didn’t get a loss or blown save. A 34 pitch performance in the ninth inning in a 2-1 win over the White Sox on April 22 where Chicago left the bases loaded. 27 pitches to get through the eighth in Baltimore on May 2. 28 pitches the next time out against Oakland for the shaky save. Another 28 pitch, one inning save two days later vs. Oakland. The Twins won all those games, but you could see Pagán was a house of cards that was soon to fall.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli continued to give Pagán chances, despite his struggles. It finally blew up to the tune of six blown saves by the end of July and six losses by the middle of August. Pagán’s last save of the season came on June 13 after his poor pitching and the emergence of Duran. His last hold was on August 2. The Twins could not put Pagán into a meaningful spot with a lead for basically the last three months of the season.
This past off season seemed like the perfect time to cut bait. Pagán didn’t work out. You couldn’t blame the Twins for outright cutting him and there were even reports that Pagán was discussed in trade talks that never materialize. The 2023 season starts and Emilo Pagán finds himself back in the Minnesota bullpen.
Outside of a rough six run outing in Boston last month, Pagán has pitched fairly well in low leverage situations. He had only given up runs in two of his 14 appearances, just enough to fool the most naive Twins fan into thinking maybe he had turned a corner.
Then right on cue, Pagán gives up a walk followed by a grand slam on Wednesday to the Dodgers in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game to see his ERA jump to 5.60.
The lack of quality depth in the Twins bullpen is alarming, outside of Duran and Lopez. Griffin Jax has been Minnesota’s third option and has an ERA of 4.82. Brock Stewart has not given up a run over 9 2/3 innings, but also has nine walks and a 4.13 FIP that would indicate the law of averages will take over eventually. Jovani Moran has nice strikeout numbers, but also a 5.09 ERA.
The Twins added Lopez and Michael Fulmer at the trade deadline last summer. They traded for Sergio Romo before the 2019 trade deadline. They have not made the bullpen a priority with any free agent signings, deciding to go in house in search of answers.
Minnesota came into Wednesday’s game with a 3.65 bullpen ERA, sixth best in the AL, which is ok. I’m looking for better than ok. The Twins starters have arguably been the best in baseball with a 3.13 ERA, second in MLB, with the most innings (244.1) and best K’s per 9 (10.17). The Minnesota starting rotation has absolutely masked the lack of quality depth this bullpen has. The problem is I don’t think the Twins are going to address it at the trade deadline and if they somehow do, it will only be a short term fix and the same problem will proceed next season.
When October gets here and a Twins starter goes six innings of one run ball, who comes out of the bullpen first and do you trust them. The answer is likely not Lopez or Duran and no.