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The Bullpen And Being Stretched Out

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The Twins coaching staff touted their desire to have all relievers available for four or more outs on any given night. Has that really happened this year?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was yet another ugly year for the Twins. The starting pitching was horrible, putting plenty of pressure on the relievers as they often had to mop up the messes from the rotation. Frustrating times, really.

When new manager Paul Molitor named Neil Allen as his pitching coach, there were talks that started over having pitchers in the bullpen ready to pitch multiple innings at a time. Under Ron Gardenhire, it seemed typical for pitchers to pitch one inning at a time. It wasn't quite as obvious as Ned Yost's "Kelvin Herrera is the 7th inning guy, Wade Davis is the 8th inning guy, and Greg Holland is the 9th inning guy" playoff mantra, but you could typically count on seeing Jared Burton, Casey Fien, and Glen Perkins for a single inning if a lead was intact.

On the surface, it appears this year that the relief corp has dumped the old philosophy. It hasn't been unusual to see Aaron Thompson or Blaine Boyer pitch more than three outs any given night. J.R. Graham can be used as a long reliever. Tim Stauffer was basically signed to fill that exact role. Even Glen Perkins has already matched his number of 4+ out appearances from last year (it's one, but still).

FanGraphs did post an article on major league bullpen usage through the middle of May and the Twins do rank near the top for multi-inning relief appearances. Now, I'm not sure if that means "two or more innings" or simply "more than three outs," but I did some research on my own regarding the four outs and more appearances. I took a look at last year's bullpen usage for more than three outs and compared it to this year, and the results thus far were a bit surprising.

2014

Pitcher "Four or More" Appearances
A.J. Achter 5
Jared Burton 4
Logan Darnell 2
Samuel Deduno 17
Brian Duensing 10
Casey Fien 2
Matt Guerrier 7
Trevor May 1
Lester Oliveros 2
Glen Perkins 1
Ryan Pressly 8
Anthony Swarzak 23
Caleb Thielbar 8
Aaron Thompson 4
Michael Tonkin 1

Total "Four or More" Appearances: 95

Total Relief Appearances: 491

Percentage: 19.3%

2015

Pitcher "Four or More" Appearances
Blaine Boyer 7
Brian Duensing 1
Casey Fien 2
J.R. Graham 4
Glen Perkins 1
Ryan Pressly 3
Tim Stauffer 4
Caleb Thielbar 1
Aaron Thompson 8
Michael Tonkin 0

Total "Four or More" Appearances: 31

Total Relief Appearances: 122

Percentage: 25.4%

Yes, there has been an increase this year, but I was expecting much more than a 6% increase. At the same time, though, I think it's interesting that one out of every four relief appearances is an appearance that lasts more than a single inning, compared to last year's one out of five.

I'll admit that there may be some reasons in play here. As I mentioned earlier, Tim Stauffer was likely signed to fill Anthony Swarzak's/Samuel Deduno's role from last year. With his injury and ineffectiveness, the Twins have currently lacked a true long reliever and have instead used two relievers to pitch three innings instead of just using Stauffer. Secondly, it seems that Paul Molitor and Neil Allen have been willing to stick with the hot hand on the mound or avoid burning through relievers just to play the match-up game. Just last night, Blaine Boyer came in a sticky situation and immediately induced a double play. Having thrown just two pitches, Boyer was allowed to start the 8th inning despite having only one righty and two lefties (one switch) due up. Granted, the bullpen is also lacking in reliable late inning relievers and Boyer has also been riding a nice scoreless streak.

It will be interesting to see how this changes for the rest of the season. Ervin Santana will eventually return (theoretically a more reliable starting pitcher) and Tim Stauffer will also come off the DL (the true long reliever) so it's possible that 25% will drop as the year progresses. Of course, the Twins could also lose some of their starting pitchers to injuries and regression (I'm looking at you, Mike Pelfrey) which would stretch their bullpen even more. Regardless, at least the relievers knew what was expected from them at the beginning of the year so any adjustments down the road should be relatively minor.