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Starter in the Pen

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Jesse has just run off with The Vixen again and is gong to be pretty busy lately.  Thanks to my constant pestering him, I've been granted access as a main page contributor, joining the esteemed ranks of John, cmath, and ubelmann, as well as Jesse himself.  I'm very excited for the opportunity!

Wednesday, after Baker's poor start in which he allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in three innings, four pitchers from the Twins bullpen combined to no hit the White Sox over the last six innings an allowing nothing but a pair of walks.  Matt Guerrier, in particular, pitched very well, collecting two strikeouts and one walk in a 2.1 inning, 29 pitch affair.

Jesse has just run off with The Vixen again and is gong to be pretty busy lately.  Thanks to my constant pestering him, I've been granted access as a main page contributor, joining the esteemed ranks of John, cmath, and ubelmann, as well as Jesse himself.  I'm very excited for the opportunity!

Wednesday, after Baker's poor start in which he allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in three innings, four pitchers from the Twins bullpen combined to no hit the White Sox over the last six innings an allowing nothing but a pair of walks.  Matt Guerrier, in particular, pitched very well, collecting two strikeouts and one walk in a 2.1 inning, 29 pitch affair.

Despite the poor showings of the now injured Jesse Crain and Denny Reyes to start the year, the Twins still possess one of the finest bullpens in the game this season, ranking only behind the Red Sox in bullpen ERA in the AL.  One critical aspect that has allowed the Twins' bullpen to be near the top of the league the last several years has been the consistency of the starting rotation.  The Twins have always been able to keep the IP of the bullpen down and keep the pitchers fresh.  For the last several years the Twins have ranked, out of fourteen, the following in the AL in bullpen IP and bullpen ERA (team with MOST IP would be ranked 1).


Year      ERA     IP
2006      1       8
2005      2       12
2004      5       9
2003      5       8

The Twins always finished below average in the number of IP by relievers and have sometimes finished even lower.

This season, the Twins are 5th in the American League in reliever IP.  Only one other team among the top seven in RPIP has a team ERA above 9th palace in the AL (the Orioles).  Only one other team in those seven has a bullpen ERA above 9th in the AL (the Rangers).  With Crain out for the season and Reyes struggling and hurt, the Twins have been forced to rely on four relievers to shoulder most of the load.  With Rincon struggling, three pitchers have been saddled with the majority of the key innings to this point.  No one is being asked to do more that Matt Guerrier.  Guerrier is currently second in the American League in IP in relief with 33.  The 3rd place reliever is Angels workhorse set-up man Scott Shields with 28 IP.  Guerrier is currently on pace for 103 IP this year, a number that last year would have led all of baseball, ahead of even workhorses like Solomon Torres and the Joe-Torre-abused Scott Proctor.  Guerrier has never thrown even so many as 72 major league innings in one season before in his career.

To keep the bullpen fresh, the Twins need to find another arm they can trust to go an inning or two in middle relief in a close game before the team can get to the late inning guys.  We have a number of callups, but with Guerrier taking on a more important role, who is going to be the long-man to absorb the extra inning as the year goes on?

Enter Ramon Ortiz and Scott Baker.

Ortiz has had some limited success in the bullpen in the past.  During the 2004 season, Ortiz struggled much like has this year in the rotation, putting up a 5.47 ERA in 14 starts, but was able to hold a 2.76 ERA in 49 IP over 20 outings as a reliever.  History is littered with failed starters turned reliever, and if Scott Baker continues to struggle in the rotation, I would like to see if Scott Baker could assume a similar role as well.  Either Ortiz or Baker stepping up into that role would help a lot this year, but if Baker tanks in the rotation again he'll have lost all trade value and, unlike Ortiz, Baker could stay in that role for the next several years.  I sincerely hope baker would be sent to the pen to see if he can work out there  if he flunks out of the rotation for Ortiz or Garza.  Baker doesn't probably have the stuff to become a set-up man like Juan Rincon did, but he could certainly become something very much like Mr Guerrier became over the last couple of seasons.  

Either way, whether Ortiz steps up in the pen, Baker finds a permanent role there or one of the Twins relief prospects is able to become a good long man, finding a guy to take over Guerrier's old role of soaking up multiple innings while keeping the game close needs to be assumed by someone or the Twins are at risk of burning out their vaunted bullpen before the rotation stabilizes.