Minnesota Twins 2017 Season in Review: Relief Pitchers

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 22: Matt Belisle
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 22: Matt Belisle /

With the season complete, it’s time to look back on the 2017 Minnesota Twins season. Let’s take a look at the team, position-by-position, moving today to the bullpen.

The Minnesota Twins have completed their season, and it’s now time to take a look back at what was an exciting ride for Twins fans!

Puckett’s Pond staff are reviewing the 2017 Minnesota Twins season. We started with the season by month, and you can find April, May, June, July, August, or September by clicking on those months.

We’ve now moved on to our positional review series on the 2017 season. So far we’ve looked at catchers, infielders, outfielders, and starting pitchers. Today, we’ll take a look at the relief pitchers.

Closer: Brandon Kintzler, Matt Belisle

When talking about bullpens, discussing the flame-thrower who closes down games is usually what gets us all excited. We also know that the Twins have gone a long time without said flame-thrower to shut down games. Coming into 2017 the Twins lack of a shut-down closer was identified as a big weakness, but somehow through the season Kintzler and Belisle were able to get the job done.

Kintzler pitched 45.1 innings for the Twins in 2017, tallying 28 saves and holding a 2.78 ERA before the July 31st trade deadline when the Twins sent him to the Washington Nationals. The ground-ball inducing Kintzler didn’t just get enough attention to be a trade target but also earned himself a spot on the American League All-Star team.

After Kintzler’s departure, the Twins turned to Belisle to close out games. Belisle may not have been the best pitcher in the bullpen, which is traditionally who is handed the closer role, but he was very effective in that role. On the season Belisle appeared in 62 games and had a 4.03 ERA. And once he took over the closer role Belisle tallied 9 saves and recorded a 2.55 ERA.

Set-up Men: Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers

By the end of the season, Hildenberger was clearly being treated as the Twins best reliever. And for good reason. Hildenberger combined the command of his pitches with the deception of his arm angle to regularly get big outs late in games. On the season after being called up from AAA Rochester, Hildenberger held a 3.21 ERA and struck out 44 batters (on a 25.9 strikeout rate) in 42 innings.

After Kintzler’s trade, when Hildenberger’s value was truly seen, he was able to pick up 12 holds and a save. Through the final months of the season, Molitor relied on Hildenberger so much many started to wonder if the rookie would be able to hold up to so much usage. He did hold up and carried the bullpen on the way to a playoff berth.

Rogers also surprised many as a reliable set-up man. While Rogers was the primary set-up man to Kintzler, they were two of the most reliable bullpen arms in major league baseball. As Rogers pitched his way to a 3.07 ERA, 64 strikeouts and 30 holds he did so appearing in the most games by any Twins reliever at 69 games.

The Rest of the ‘Pen: Alan Busenitz, Ryan Pressly, Tyler Duffey, and Buddy Boshers

Busenitz was another surprise contributor to the Twins bullpen. Initially viewed as a secondary piece in the return for starter Ricky Nolasco, he may be the piece from the trade with staying power. Busentiz was able to get some important outs as he threw 31.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and a 1.99 ERA.

There continues to be a lot of promise in the stuff of Ryan Pressly, but the results have continued to be mixed. Pressly struggled early on in the season, but then hit his stride a bit in July and performed much better. While there were improvements the question marks remain for Pressly as he turned in a 4.70 ERA for 2017. Even amongst questions his 61.1 innings (2nd most for a Twins reliever) pitched and 61 strikeouts provide some hope he might turn things around.

In Duffey’s first season in the bullpen, he started out the season strong. For the early part of the season, it looked like he may end up as Rogers’ set-up counterpart. He did falter a bit, still turning in the most innings from any reliever at 71 innings and registered a 4.94 ERA. Boshers found himself in and out as the Twins second lefty in the bullpen as he was moved between the major league and AAA clubs often. He ended the season having pitched 35 innings, a 4.89 ERA, and 28 strikeouts.

Looking to 2018

The Twins bullpen has the opportunity to have a significantly different look to it in 2018. For starters, Belisle is a free agent this season. While Belisle filled an important role for the Twins bullpen at times through the season, it would be a bit shocking to see him back with the Twins for another season.

Ryan Pressly is also up for arbitration this offseason, so a decision needs to be made on him. Considering the small bump in pay Pressly should receive it would seem the Twins will keep him around. Although, if they have decided he doesn’t fit the future of the Twins he could easily be non-tendered to make room for someone else.

So the Twins will have new faces in the bullpen, but where will they come from? They could use the small payroll flexibility they will have to sign a bullpen arm or two in the free agent market. Stay tuned to Puckett’s Pond for some ideas of who the Twins could pursue.

Gabriel Moya got some limited innings to show what he had in the majors this season. After a spectacular minor league campaign and a proven ability to get batters to strikeout, many are wondering if Moya could elevate himself to the level of a set-up man or closer for the Twins. In limited innings in 2017 he didn’t quite show that level of dominance yet.

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The Twins will also get back several arms from injury. Trevor May is one that has major league experience who was expected to fill an important role with the Twins this past season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2016, May worked primarily out of the pen which didn’t yield great results (but what did for the Twins in 2016??), but he did hold a 12.7 strikeout rate per nine innings.

The Twins will also continue to wait and see if flame-throwers Nick Burdi and J.T. Chargois will be able to contribute after both were delayed by injuries this season. Chargois saw limited action in 2016 and didn’t show a lot of hope then, but his stuff is what hope resides in. And Burdi has simply not stayed healthy long enough to make his debut, but as with Chargois, there is hope in Burdi’s stuff.

Next: Minnesota Twins could target a Huge Move

At the end of 2017, the Twins bullpen outperformed expectations. It also did prove that if the Twins want to take the next step in being a World Series contender there need to be some upgrades made in the relief pitching. It will be interesting to see how Derek Falvey and Thad Levine address the bullpen in their first full offseason as the Twins front office leaders.