The Twins re-signed Phil Dumatrait today. No official word on the terms of the deal, but Joe Christiansen of the Star Tribune notes that it is probably a minor league deal, and that seems a reasonable observation. At least, I hope it’s a minor league deal. Anything other than that and the Twins got swindled.
Dumatrait had a 3.92 ERA last year, by far the best he’s had in any Major League season, but the ERA masks a lot of ugly numbers. For one, he doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as you’d like to see from a reliever – just 5.78 K/9IP for his career. For another, he walks an insane number of batters. Last year he gave up 25 bases on balls in just 41 innings pitched. And that was no fluke. For his career, Dumatrait has walked 90 and struck out 97 in 151 Major League innings. We hear so much about the Twins preaching control for their pitchers, but Dumatrait is the exact opposite of that philosophy.
Look at Dumatrait’s advanced stats, and the picture becomes even less pleasant. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 5.71, which means that his ERA would have been about two runs higher if not for some lucky breaks in the field. Though hitters put the ball in play due to the lack of strikeouts, Dumatrait only induced 39.3% ground balls – well below what you’d like to see. And according to Fangraphs, Dumatrait’s WAR was -.6; he was actually worse than a replacement level pitcher.
This move is also slightly confusing because the Twins do not lack lefty options. Glen Perkins and Jose Mijares will almost certainly occupy bullpen slots, and the team recently added lefty Matt Maloney from waivers. Factor in that Brian Duensing will probably move to the ‘pen, and that’s a serious glut of southpaws. That doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t add another one if they find a guy with dominant stuff and good numbers, especially if it’s a lefty who can get righties out. But Dumatrait certainly doesn’t fit that mold.
The Twins have been very busy stocking up on marginal relievers. Their strategy seems to be to accumulate as many bullpen bodies as possible in the hopes that a few of them will turn out to be hidden gems. During the late part of the 2011 season, they added Lester Oliveros and Esmerling Vasquez. In the past month, Maloney, Jeff Gray, and Jared Burton have joined the team. They’ll compete with holdovers Perkins, Mijares, Alex Burnett, Jim Hoey, Anthony Swarzak, and Jeff Manship for bullpen slots in 2012. Prospects Deolis Guerra, Anthony Slama, Cole DeVries, and Carlos Gutierrez may also get a chance to compete. Matt Capps and Joe Nathan are free agents right now, but either one could potentially be re-signed as a late inning option.
Are there any legitimate setup men in that list? Who knows? Honestly, this isn’t a terrible strategy, since relievers are notoriously unpredictable from year to year, and the Twins need to hunt for bargains anywhere they can. The only real downside I can see is that it might be tough to thoroughly assess each player in the spring, since they’ll all crowd each other out for innings in exhibition games.
I really doubt that Dumatrait will be the answer for the Twins, but I’ve certainly been wrong before. That said, I guess it won’t really hurt to invite Dumatrait to Spring Training and see if he can surprise everyone. If nothing else, he could eat a few innings for Rochester, where he managed a 1.15 ERA in 15 innings last year.