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The Twins’ best and worst relief pitcher

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Let me introduce Ryan Pressly—the reliever who has been absolutely dreadful, but has also pitched quite well this season.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

If I told you that the Twins had a reliever that was striking out over 25% of his batters faced this season and is just shy of averaging 96 MPH with his fastball while throwing 90 MPH with his slider, you might think of J.T. Chargois or Nick Burdi tearing up the minor leagues. However, this same pitcher has averaged two home runs per nine innings pitched this season, has allowed opponents to hit .294, and carries an ERA above 8. Now you might be thinking that this mystery pitcher cannot be trusted with a lead and should never see the late innings.

Though I was vague with whom I was talking about, from the picture at the top it’s pretty clear that I was talking about Ryan Pressly. The relief pitcher acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the 2012 Rule 5 draft has steadily developed into a solid hurler. Never having an ERA over 4 through the first four seasons of his career, Pressly has evolved from pitching to contact (struck out a career-low 11.5% of hitters in 2013) to a prototypical power pitcher, striking out the aforementioned 25% of batters faced thus far this season. Just as impressive is that Pressly has added several ticks to his fastball, debuting with an average fastball around 93 MPH but now throwing more than 2 MPH harder since then.

Yet in spite of this improvement, this has also arguably been Pressly’s worst season of his career. Coupled with the high home run rate and penchant for giving up hits, one of his weapons has evaporated. The last two seasons, Pressly had shown the ability to induce popups over 11% of the time. With those being turned into outs nearly 100% of the time, those served to be just as effective as striking a hitter out. However, he has not allowed a single infield fly this entire season. That, along with a 40% hard hit rate, have been big reasons why he hasn’t been as effective this season as in years past.

It’s not all bleak though, as some of these numbers are unsustainable. Pressly’s .353 BABIP will certainly come down, as will his 21.4% HR/fly ball rate. ERA estimators such as xFIP (3.63) and SIERA (3.25) both agree that his process has not been properly rewarded. These are reasons why the Twins have chosen to keep Pressly on the active roster through his struggles, because it appears that it’s been more a case of bad luck rather than due to poor pitching.

Hopefully Pressly is able to turn it around quickly, because Matt Belisle should not be regarded as a worthwhile right-handed option in the late innings. With his stuff, though, better fortunes should be just around the corner for Pressly.