After the Twins chose (failed?) to trade Fernando Rodney at the July 31st trade deadline, it appeared that they might have switched course, choosing to have him close games in 2019 as well. With a club option for $4.5 million, he would have been a relatively cheap veteran option for the 9th inning. However, a swap with the Oakland Athletics last week seemingly came out of nowhere and suddenly the back end of the bullpen had been thrown into turmoil.
Since the trade, Paul Molitor handed the team’s two save opportunities to Trevor Hildenberger. He has been a solid pitcher through his brief major league career, but has been scuffling of late and his problems continued against the Tigers when he gave up a 2-run homer to former Twin Niko Goodrum, though his second attempt on Tuesday night against the Pirates was much cleaner.
Molitor still hasn’t named a single reliever as the new closer. While a “closer by committee” has been championed in analytical circles for years now, few teams have actually put it into practice. While the Twins might not explicitly name a new closer for the rest of the season, I’m sure someone will arise as the primary option over the last month and a half. Below, I’ll take a look at the various options in the organization.
He is not the prototypical closer with his sidearm delivery and sinking fastball that tops out at around 91 MPH, but his change-up neutralizes lefthanded hitters and he would be an adequate choice to continue closing for the rest of the year. He was having a pretty solid season until his last four outings, allowing a home run and at least two earned runs in each appearance as his ERA ballooned from 3.54 to 4.74. He might be tiring from overuse, perhaps the league has figured him out, he’s tipping his pitches, or he’s being too predictable. Or, there’s nothing we can do because relievers are volatile and this was going to inevitably happen. Eat Arby’s.
After the signings of Rodney and Reed, we weren’t fully sure which pitcher would close until it was revealed that Reed was okay with remaining a setup reliever. Now, no one’s questioning if Reed will be the closer as he’s had a disastrous 2018. He’s posted career worsts in ERA (4.74), strikeout rate (20.2%, career average near 25%), and batting average allowed (.291). His struggles may have been injury-related as he hit the disabled list in July with tightness in his right triceps, but it’s too early to tell if the time off fixed him as he’s tossed just 2 2⁄3 innings since being activated in late July. He’d be my top pick if he shows a resurgence, but he’s running out of time this season.
As the owner of one of my favorite baseball quotes of all time...
Twins rookie reliever Gabriel Moya on his mentality: "The reality is when I go out to the mound my goal is to eat the batter alive."— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) September 20, 2017
... there’s no questioning that he has the mentality that you’d like to see out of a closer. Acquired in the trade that shipped John Ryan Murphy to Arizona, his minor league numbers scream dominance but he hasn’t quite shown that excellence in the majors yet. The primary reason has been due to an abundance of homers, which is odd because he didn’t struggle with them in the minors. Like Hildenberger, he also doesn’t throw hard and relies on a good change-up to get hitters out. He might also endear us with his herky-jerky, spastic mannerisms on the mound, or that he’s declared that his nickname is “Little Guardado.”
Typically pitchers have some growing pains when they return to the mound after Tommy John surgery. Impressively, May has returned and he almost seems better than ever. His fastball is already hitting the mid- to high-90s, his pitches are just as crisp as before, and he’s even adding velocity to his slider (nearly 3 MPH faster than in 2016). Since his promotion, he’s thrown 4 2⁄3 dominant innings while striking out over a third of the batters he’s faced. It appears that the only obstacle is that he hasn’t pitched two days in a row. I feel May should be the “primary” closer with someone else being the “secondary” closer if Molitor wants to avoid using him in back-to-back games. Regardless, I fully expect for September to come around and The Trevor May Experience becomes a thing. I’ve even found his closer’s video. Get pumped up.
Taylor Rogers probably doesn’t get enough press for his work in the Twins bullpen but his inability to retire righties means that he’s a LOOGY. On the surface, Matt Magill has the stuff to close (mid-90s fastball, sharp breaking curve and slider) but his numbers play better as a middle reliever. Oliver Drake has good secondary numbers, but after playing on six teams in the past two years and having a career 4.88 ERA, he’s not getting handed the 9th inning. As for Matt Belisle, if he comes off the disabled list and gets handed the closing role, we’ll know the Twins are fully embracing the tanking of this season.