Minnesota Twins positional recap and predictions, part 9- Relief pitchers
By Matt Smith
Here we wrap up our overview of the 2018 Minnesota Twins season by looking at how the bullpen fared, as well as some predictions for the future.
We’ve made it to the final installment of this series! We’ve been recapping the Minnesota Twins‘ 2018 season position by position, as well as investigating what each position may look like in 2019 and beyond. Before we cover our last section of the team, the relievers, here’s how you can get caught up with previous positions:
At last, we’ve made it to the bullpen. Keeping in line with the past few seasons, the Minnesota Twins used a ton of different relief pitchers this year- 27, to be precise. Rather than list them all here as we have done with previous positions and waste valuable space on your screen, we’ll just dive right into the 2018 recap and go from there.
Let’s start off with a few of the most important pieces of the long term bullpen- Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, and Trevor Hildenberger. Rogers had a fantastic, career best season, posting a 2.63 ERA over 68.1 innings. He was just-alright to solid in the first half, totaling a 3.86 ERA in 39.2 innings pitched, but then he flat out dominated in the second half. Over his final 28.2 innings, he allowed just 3 runs, earning a sparking 2nd-half ERA of 0.94. Rogers has gotten consistently better each of his 3 MLB seasons, giving Twins fans reason to expect another good season out of him in 2019.
It was great to see Trevor May back in action at the major league level after missing a year due to Tommy John surgery. His return to the big leagues was a great success, as he allowed runs in just 5 of his 24 appearances. The Minnesota Twins used May in a few different ways, first as a generic reliever, then as an opener, then back to a standard reliever, and finally as a closer for the last few weeks of the year. May looked great and finished the season with a 3.20 ERA. With no established closer on the roster, he could get another audition at the job next year.
Another very important piece for the Twins’ long term bullpen, Trevor Hildenberger. He had an overall disappointing sophomore season in 2018. Control was an issue for Hildy, as his BB/9 jumped from 1.3 in 2017 to 3.2 in 2018. His season ERA ended above 5.00, but it wasn’t all bad for Hildenberger. He had a few stretches where he pitched fantastically, most notably from the beginning of May to the last few days of June, a 24-game, 26.1 inning stretch where he allowed just 3 runs, good for a 1.03 ERA over that span. There were, however, a couple of poor stretches as well where Hildenberger gave up runs in several appearances in a row, and all in all it wasn’t as good of a season as we hoped to see from him.
The next group of relievers we’ll check in on includes Matt Magill, Ryan Pressly, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke. I’m grouping these players together because they all had fairly similar seasons in terms of success. Each of these players had solid seasons, not quite lights out, but certainly better than mediocre as well. Their ERAs with the Minnesota Twins range from 3.09 to 3.81, and each threw between 35 and 55 innings for the team.
Despite their similar, solid seasons, their backgrounds range a bit. Magill was perhaps the best find for the Twins this season. After signing a minor league contract with the team in late January, he spent the first few weeks of the season in AAA before getting a call to the big leagues and never looking back.
Pressly was a veteran heading into the 2018 season with 5 years under his belt, while Duke and Rodney had 28 years of experience between them. Pressly, Duke, and Rodney all would find themselves traded in the middle of the season. Pressly by far performed the best of the trio after being sent to the Houston Astros and posting a dazzling 0.77 ERA over 23.1 innings.
Another veteran the Minnesota Twins had on hand heading into the year was Addison Reed. He was a nice addition to the bullpen out of free agency, agreeing to a 2-year, $16.75 million contract. He brought a career 3.40 ERA to the franchise and was right in line with that through June 28th, sitting at a 3.38 ERA at that point.
Then, however, he had a few poor outings before going down with an injury that kept him out for a few weeks in July. He returned on July 31st and quietly pitched well for the rest of the season, putting up a 3.60 ERA over his final 15 innings across 14 games. His short poor stretch in the middle of the year ruined his season-long ERA, inflating it to 4.50, but that’s really much worse than it seems. He was pitching well leading up to when he got injured, and he pitched well after coming back from it, so it’s reasonable to think that part of his poor stretch could be attributed to the injury.
2018 brought an extended look for Gabriel Moya in the big leagues. Despite a final ERA of 4.71, Moya showed a lot of promise as a big league reliever. He got off to a rough start, giving up 6 runs in 5 innings in March and April before being sent down to the minors. He would return for good in late July, though, and finish the year with a 3.99 ERA from then on. Moya found himself as the go-to option as an opener, mainly for Stephen Gonsalves and Kohl Stewart, and he excelled in the role, pitching 6 innings while totaling 1 hit, 1 run, and 2 walks to 3 strikeouts in his last 5 starts as an opener. His herky-jerky delivery looks like it would be hard to pull consistent results from, but Moya was able to show a lot of improvements throughout 2018.
We’ll round out or 2018 recap by finishing on a few guys that didn’t have the best of seasons- Tyler Duffey and Matt Belisle. Neither found a whole lot of success this year, finishing with ERAs above 7.00. It did make sense to give both players a shot, however. Duffey has shown some really great stuff at times in his career and has pitched very well in the minor leagues.
Belisle, on the other hand, was brought back in the 2nd half of the season to help guide what was suddenly a very young and inexperienced bullpen after Pressly, Rodney, and Duke were all traded. While Duffey is likely to remain with the organization in some aspect, be it in the minors or another chance at the big league level, Belisle’s contract is up and he is unlikely to be back next season.
All in all, it was a mixed bag of results from the Minnesota Twins bullpen in 2018. Rogers and May put together great seasons while Hildenberger, Duffey, and Belisle struggled. Moya showed improvements as the year went on, while Reed had an up and down season disrupted by an injury, Three big pillars in the pen in Pressly, Rodney, and Duke were all traded away after strong first halves, opening the door for several young and inexperienced pitchers to all get some big-league reps.