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The Matt Belisle revival

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Once synonymous with the phrase “designated for assignment,” Matt Belisle has quietly become the reliable reliever the Twins desired.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, the Twins looked for a veteran presence on the roster to help with all of the young talent. Jason Castro, Chris Gimenez, Matt Belisle, and Craig Breslow were all signed to mentor the rest of the team, and the results had been a mixed bag throughout the year. By the numbers, Castro and Gimenez have been adequate on offense and their framing has been an improvement over what we’ve seen in the past. Breslow started out well with a 1.47 ERA through May 28th, but striking out just 12.3% of batters suggested he was getting lucky, though his 10.66 ERA and 6.46 FIP from May 29th until his final Twins appearance on July 23rd was far worse than what anyone expected.

As for Belisle, he’s been on even more of a rollercoaster than Breslow. Continuing with arbitrary endpoints, the first three weeks went well as he had a 2.16 ERA, 2.78 FIP, and .167 batting average against, but like Breslow, it wasn’t all rosy. Belisle was walking 11.4% of batters faced (as often as Jason Castro has walked this season) which combined with failing to allow a single home run meant that his xFIP was 4.70. Long story short, it was expected that he would start struggling, and that’s precisely what happened. A 12.51 ERA, 1.032 OPS allowed, 6.87 FIP, and more walks than strikeouts from April 26th to June 11th had fans clamoring for Belisle’s removal off the roster.

However, the Twins stuck with Belisle and it’s paid off as he’s suddenly become the closer following the trade of Brandon Kintzler. It can be tough to believe after that rough stretch earlier this season, but Belisle has suddenly rattled off 13 consecutive scoreless outings. Since June 14th, he has a 0.40 ERA (1 earned run, but officially 5 runs allowed), and 2.83 FIP, thanks to striking out about one-fifth of batters faced while walking less than 6% of them (with 3 of his 5 walks being of the intentional variety over that time).

His numbers of late have certainly earned him the right to be the new closer, but for what it’s worth, even that poor stretch from late April to mid-June was wrecked by just four appearances.

Belisle Poor Outings

Date Opponent Innings Earned Runs
Date Opponent Innings Earned Runs
4/26 @Texas 2/3 5
5/7 Boston 1/3 6
5/29 Houston 1/3 3
6/11 @San Francisco 2/3 4

A combined 18 earned runs over 2 innings, compared with 4 earned runs over 42 23 innings for the remainder of the season. Though his overall numbers don’t show it, Belisle has more often than not been the reliever the Twins expected when he was signed.

Regardless, it hasn’t been just luck-based for Belisle this year. Through the first two months of the season, he was strictly a three-pitch pitcher, mixing in a straight fastball, slider/cutter, and a sweeping curveball, though he did toss in some two-seam fastballs from time to time.

Over that time frame, Belisle had a 36.2% groundball rate and was allowing line drives 24.6% of the time. The lack of grounders can be tolerated if it coincides with a high number of infield pop-ups (which it did as Belisle generated them 22.2% of the time), but that high line drive rate was a cause for concern. Compare that to his turnaround starting with his June 14th appearance.

More two-seamers, fewer four-seamers, a groundball rate at 50.8%, and the line drives dropped to 19.7%, better than the league average of 20.3%. A simple tweak of the repertoire has helped Belisle return to his past success and now he finds himself entrusted with the 9th inning. Whether the Twins can gain more ground in the Wild Card race will determine if he remains in Minnesota beyond the August 31st waiver trade deadline, but through his perseverance and some patience from the front office, Belisle has become a valuable member of the bullpen once again.