Minnesota Twins: Grading each Reliever’s 2021 Season
Since I started writing at Puckett’s Pond, I’ve concluded each season by grading every Minnesota Twins player’s individual season performance. In each of the past two seasons, I’ve had the ability to give out solid grades, but this year, very few people are going to earn passing marks.
After a tough season, one group stands alone in terms of having relative success: the bullpen. After giving okay grades to the infield and tough grades to the outfield, it’s time to grade the relievers, who wind up with much nicer grades (for the most part).
As with the other sections, there are requirements. No pitcher who appeared in less than 10 games will appear on this list. This cuts out Derek Law, Nick Vincent, Edgar Garcia, Beau Burrows, Shaun Anderson, Jovani Moran, Ian Gibaut, Devin Smeltzer, Brandon Waddle, and Willians Astudillo (who we already graded).
That thins out a group that saw 35 players take the mound in the season. We’ll thin that group out even further by not including Randy Dobnak, Matt Shoemaker, Charlie Barnes, and Jon Gant, who we’ll add to the starter category.
The Minnesota Twins bullpen had an overall solid year, earning them good grades.
There weren’t really any injuries for the bullpen outside of Taylor Rogers, and Rogers still pitched in the sixth most games this year so we don’t ding him or any other relievers for that, but there are the usual performance vs. expectations taken into account.
An obvious example of this is Alex Colome and Jorge Alcala. Both pitchers had very similar stat lines but will receive very different grades. Colome was paid $6.25 million and was expected to be a stud close for a contender. Alcala was expected to expand his role in the bullpen and handle middle inning relief. Only one did their job, so only one gets a good grade.
With those qualifications out of the way, we’ll jump into the bullpen, splitting the group up three ways: High-leverage relievers, middle relievers, and blowout pitchers (low-leverage relievers). We’ll start with that third group, as they don’t take much time to go over.
Minnesota Twins Low-Leverage Relievers
Kyle Barraclough appeared in just 10 games and allowed a 5.71 ERA (6.71 FIP) and a 1.538 WHIP in 13 innings. His 18 strikeouts were good, but his 5.5 BB/9 rate was the second-worst of any pitcher who played in 10 games. He only avoids an F because he struck out batters at a good clip and he cost virtually nothing. Grade: D-.
Cody Stashak’s injury-plagued 2021 was the worst season of his career by far, and though his FIP of 3.62 and 14.9 K/9 rate suggested he was better than expected, it’s hard to view this year as anything other than a disappointment. Hopefully he can bounce back in 2022. Grade: D.
Claimed off of waivers from the Houston Astros, Ralph Garza pitched a 3.26 ERA (4.88 FIP) and 1.034 WHIP over 18 games in 2021. His 15-7 K/BB ratio over 19.1 innings wasn’t good, but for a waiver claims inning-eater, he was good. He’s not a long-term piece, but that doesn’t change his grade here. Grade: B-.
Luke Farrell was one of the better relievers in the team’s bullpen after he was an MiLB signing in the offseason until he was shelled for 10 runs in 4 innings to end the year. Those four games removed, Farrell pitched to a 1.31 ERA with a 21-8 K/BB ratio. He might not be a long-term piece, but he had a very good year overall. Grade: B+.
Danny Coulombe was the best low-leverage reliever the Twins used in 2021. A low-strikeout guy, Coulombe managed just a 8.7 K/9 rate but paired it with a 1.8 BB/9 rate that was one of the best in the Twins’ bullpen.
He limited runs with a solid 3.67 ERA (3.75 FIP) despite a 9.2 H/9 rate and managed to be a reliable pitcher when the Twins needed him. He’s definitely in the conversation to be back next year in a similar role. Grade: B.
Minnesota Twins Middle Relievers
Another reliever the Twins signed to an MiLB deal to begin the year, very few people expected Juan Minaya to finish the year as the Twins’ seventh-most used reliever. But when asked to deliver, he did, pitching to a 2.48 ERA (3.97 FIP) and a 9.7 K/9 rate.
He gave up a lot of walks (4.5 BB/9), but he limited hits for a WHIP of 1.175. He’s got good velocity and solid spin and has been in the organization for two years now. He’s earned a shot at the bullpen for next season. Grade: B+.
Though he was traded before the end of the season, we’ve still got a grade for Hansel Robles too. Robles started off the season well, looking like he was going to be a solid bargain bin signing, posting 2.76 ERA (3.72 FIP) through June 20th with a 34-19 K/BB ratio and 6 saves.
The wheels fell off from there, and Robles wrapped his time in a Minnesota Twins jersey with a 4.91 ERA (4.83 FIP) and a career-low mark of 8.8 K/9. He improved after his July trade to Boston, but that doesn’t save his grade here. Grade: D+.
As we mentioned earlier, Jorge Alcala came off a 60-game season where he looked like one of the most promising young relievers in baseball. Regression was expected, but the Twins still thought Alcala would be a key piece. Let’s compare the two seasons:
- 2020: 16 G, 2.63 ERA (3.57 FIP), 1.208 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
- 2021: 59 G, 3.92 ERA (4.06 FIP), 0.972 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
While some of Alcala’s stats regressed a little bit, he greatly improved what was one of the biggest issues he had as a prospect: his control. He dropped his BB/9 rate by a whole walk and took .236 off of his WHIP.
He allowed more runs because he attacked the zone more, but he showed promising progress through a lot of ups and downs. Expect the 26-year-old to take another step forward in 2022 after another promising season. Grade: B.
Minnesota Twins High-Leverage Relievers
A first-time All-Star in 2021, Taylor Rogers was in the middle of another strong season before a finger injury cut his season short in late July. Rogers ERA was once again higher than his FIP, which was a career low 2.13. He matched that career best number with another one, a 13.2 K/9 rate that finished second on the team.
He earned nine saves, kept his walks low, and posted another very good WHIP of 1.140. The injury tanks his grade a bit, but don’t get it confused. Rogers was the Minnesota Twins’ best reliever in 2021. Grade: A-.
It was clear that Tyler Duffey took a clear step back in 2021, as one of baseball’s best setup men from the past two years looked merely very good in 64 games this year. Look at his stats for the past three seasons:
- 2019: 58 G, 2.50 ERA (3.06 FIP), 1.006 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
- 2020: 22 G, 1.88 ERA (2.57 FIP), .792 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
- 2021: 64 G, 3.18 ERA (3.49 FIP), 1.219 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.0 BB.9
Duffey still had very good numbers, but he walked more batters than he ever had before and posted some of his worst analytic numbers since 2018. He’s due an estimated $3.7 million in his last year of arbitration before free agency in 2023. This year will be a big one for him. Regardless, his high expectations knock him down a grade. Grade: B.
Caleb Thielbar broke out in 2020, posting a sparkling 2.25 ERA (2.34 FIP) and the best K/BB ratio of his career in a shortened season. The Minnesota native quickly became a key piece of the team’s bullpen and a go-to guy. Similar to with Duffey, regression was expected, but Thielbar actually got a lot better in several areas.
He posted a career best 10.8 K/9 rate and lowered his walks from 4.1 in 2020 to 2.8 in 2021. He got hit a lot more, leading Thielbar’s ERA (3.23 (3.47 FIP)) to jump up almost a full run and his WHIP to increase slightly, but he still was the most consistent reliever for the Minnesota Twins all year. His grade reflects that. Grade: A.
The final pitcher on our list was brought into this season with the expectation that he would become the team’s closer and lock down the ninth inning. He did not. Alex Colomé immediately fell apart for the Twins in 2021, and though he recovered a little bit, he simply wasn’t an effective pitcher.
Any time a pitcher makes $6.25 million and posts a 4.15 ERA (4.23 FIP), you shouldn’t want to bring that pitcher back next year. His good July and August don’t fix the rest, especially not the April that earned his grade. Grade: D+.