Who is winning the bullpen battle?


Another day, another four relief pitchers on the mound. Even with about three dozen pitchers in Fort Myers, we’re getting plenty of opportunities to watch (or listen to) their performances. Most of those pitchers are fighting for bullpen slots, so let’s have a quick recap on the bullpen situation. Right-handed closer Matt Capps and lefties Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing are probably guaranteed slots. The Twins usually like to carry 12 relievers on the roster, so that means there should be space left for one more lefty and three righties.

It’s starting to look like the lefty slot will go to Matt Maloney. The 28 year old shut down the Marlins for the last two innings to pick up the win Saturday, allowing just a ninth inning single to Aaron Rowand before a game-ending double play. With two punchouts in that effort, he now has eight in 7.1 scoreless innings. Maloney has some big league experience with the Reds, and that will be another plus. True, his numbers with the Reds were hardly inspiring (5.40 career ERA), but he has been a little better as a reliever than as a starter, racking up 7.9 K/9 and a somewhat lower 4.88 ERA out of the ‘pen. The numbers also hint that he’d make a decent LOOGY: lefties have a batting average .68 points lower against Maloney than right-handed hitters.

Kyle Waldrop has been impressive as well, matching Maloney’s 0.00 ERA through four innings. Parker Hageman of Twins Daily analyzed Waldrop’s mechanics earlier this week and concluded that his high release point makes Waldrop a potentially effective pitcher in the mold of Jon Rauch (but with a better sinker). Waldrop will never be a strikeout threat – he whiffed just 5.0 per nine at AAA last year – but he has to be near the top of the list of contenders so far this spring. Interestingly, Waldrop came from the first round of the 2004 draft, the same round where Minnesota selected Glen Perkins and Trevor Plouffe. The Twins had five picks in the first and supplemental rounds (Jay Rainville and Matt Fox were the others), but until very recently that draft was looking like a complete bust. Now we might wonder if they’re all just late bloomers. If Waldrop and Plouffe could have a breakout season in 2012 as Perkins did in 2011, the 2004 draft starts looking a lot better.

If the season began today, I have to believe that Maloney and Waldrop would win jobs. The rest of the contenders do not stand out as starkly, though there are a few who have done well. Casey Fein has allowed just one baserunner in 3.1 innings. Jeff Manship lowered his ERA to 1.69 Saturday, and he has eight strikeouts. Jared Burton was lights out until running into some trouble Friday. And Luis Perdomo has impressed some with his blazing fastball.

Several other relievers have been roughed up, and they’ll need to turn it around quickly if they want to win a spot. Alex Burnett, Terry Doyle, and Jason Bulger all have WHIPs over 3.00, which is the kind of comically exaggerated stat you can only find in Spring Training or Little League. Bulger has actually settled down in his last couple of outings, but he still has an ERA of 22.50. Anthony Swarzak, whose performance as a long reliever and spot starter in 2011 made him an early favorite for a bullpen slot, has been hit hard as well.

The good news for those players is that we still have a couple more weeks of Spring Training, so there’s time to turn it around. The same cannot be said for Tyler Robertson, Deolis Guerra, Lester Oliveros, Scott Diamond, or Aaron Thompson, who were cut and sent to the minor league camp earlier this week. More cuts are sure to follow soon, so we’ll have a little better idea of what the Twins bullpen will look like after that.