Minnesota’s bullpen is almost a twisted version of a stars and scrubs crew. OK, I guess it’s not even stars and scrubs, since you need bonafide stars for that, but they do at least have two very solid under-the-radar options for use late in games. Unfortunately for their fans, the currently mediocre starting pitching/offense figure to preclude them for having many leads late in games. Even when they do, the rest of their relief crop doesn’t appear helpful, either, being primarily filled with lots of slightly-above replacement level talent, but little else. Fantasy owners should only be interested in a couple names before moving on to other chum in the water.
It took Perkins (one of the favorites of last year’s Bullpen Report crew) a little longer than expected to grab the ninth inning for himself in 2012, but once he did, he took it and ran. The former middling starter has flourished in a relief role after moving to the bullpen full-time in 2011, underscored by his cumulative 3.03 xFIP the last two years. As with many starter-to-reliever transitions, his fastball velocity spiked 3-5 mph and his swinging strike percentage popped from a mediocre near 7% to more robust rates of 11.2% and 13.6% over the last couple seasons. The fact he’s a southpaw might be of some concern to save hunters given Eno Sarris’ look at lefty closers, but Perkins has been relatively unfazed by batter handedness. Some may point to his .306/.219 wOBA RHB/LHB splits from 2012 and say “wait a minute…”, but his career body of work indicates last year’s data point may be an outlier (in fact, Perkins had reverse splits early in his Minnesota tenure). He was only behind Craig Kimbrel, Jason Motte, Addison Reed, and Joe Nathan in first-pitch strike percentage among guys with 15 saves or more last year, so he’s less likely to go through prolonged rough stretches than other walk-prone options. Plus, his sexy 22.1% K-BB% (19th among all MLB relievers in 2012) means he should provide a solid boost in rate categories. While the Twins might not give him enough actual opportunities to be an elite option in the immediate future, he has some of the highest upside of any closers going off the board beyond RP12.
Burton shared the ninth inning job with Perkins for a little while last year when Matt Capps was busy being unavailable (he claimed his shoulder hurt, or roughly something to that effect). Like his aforementioned partner in crime above, Burton does a good job pounding the strike zone early and often, putting up a top-20 F-Strike% (64.5%) in 2012. His 6.5% BB% is well above-average for a reliever (and Bullpen Report readers know arms with single-digit walk rates are men after my fantasy heart) so there’s plenty of WHIP upside to be had. While his K% doesn’t jump off the page (22.5% in 2012, 20.3% career), there’s a lot to like in his above-average SwStr% and upward-trending velocity. Like Perkins and saves, his holds value is a bit undercut by the Twins’ projected record, but he should be targeted late for those in deep leagues looking for a closer handcuff and/or boosts in WHIP/ERA.
It’s a bit of a struggle to discern who else will help out in the seventh and eighth innings on a regular basis, but Fien seems like the best fit right now. His 2.06 ERA last season (35.0 IP) was fantastic (and a bit out of nowhere) but it was also much better than his less-enticing 4.18 xFIP. His (decent) strikeout and (low) walk numbers are eerily similar to Burton’s (that’s good!), but 75% of the balls in play against him last year were line drives (~25%) or fly balls (~50%) (that’s bad!). In fact, the brunt of his 2012 xFIP-ERA split stems from the fact he managed to give up only three homers last year while having such a minuscule groundball percentage. There should be concern that more of those balls hit in the air will leave the park, meaning not-so-nice things for his raw stats.
Duensing is somewhat like the jack-of-all trades for the Twins, making 11 starts but also appearing in 44 games out of the bullpen last year. This has been a theme over his major league tenure, as he racked up at least nine starts and 15 relief appearances every year except for 2011 (28 starts, four “bullpen outings”). He has a rather extreme .360/.251 wOBA RHB/LHB platoon split but the fact he is used in non-LOOGY situations means he is perpetually being exposed to right-handed hitters (career 2.4 RHB/LHB plate appearance split). His career 4.19 xFIP isn’t terrible, but the handedness issue kills his value in fantasy leagues — either he is used in situations where he can rack up innings (good for counting stats, but needs to face righties, torpedoing his rate stats) or he is moved into a more specialist role and sees vastly improved peripherals but becomes unrosterable from a counting stats perspective. About the best you can hope for if you want to use him in fantasy is spot starts against lefty-heavy lineups.
Burnett is baseball’s less exciting “A. Burnett – P”. His mediocre career K% of 14.2% was even lower in 2012 (11.7%), and he actually walks more batters than all of the guys above him on the depth chart. It’s tough to find him rosterable in any (even an immensely hypothetical) fantasy format. The once-highly regarded Roenicke has similar issues, watching his K% decline every year in the majors while still maintaining a double-digit BB%. He’s only been barely above real-life replacement level the last two years. Not good. Formerly one of Minnesota’s top ten prospects, Robertson actually has some stuff (mid-20’s K% in both minors and Minny) but walked way too many guys last year (14 in 25 innings) and also has a big platoon split problem. Wood was signed to a minor league deal in the offseason and actually moved to the 40-man as protection in the Rule 5 draft, meaning he’s got a good shot at the last seat in the bullpen. His career big league rates are downright ugly, however (negative K%-BB% numbers are never good). His AAA are better but he’s going to need to be much closer to those if he wants to keeping seeing big league innings.
Swarzak is out of options but dealing with a rib injury so he’ll likely open the season on the disabled list. He has somewhat better stats than someone like Wood, but not enough to merit fantasy consideration in any form. Looking over the drek in camp for the Twins, Slama seems to have a shot to displace one of the above guys. His strikeout numbers in the minors are solid but (surprise!) control has always been an issue. He isn’t regarded as having eye-popping stuff (even with those minor league K% rates) and he still has options but the Twins seem to like what they’ve seen from him in Fort Myers. Pressly was claimed from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft, but it’s about the only reason he is worth mentioning. His minor league numbers are uninspiring and it’s tough to see him being carried all season unless Minnesota’s staff sees major changes they can make to him as a pitcher to improve his peripherals.
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