The Twins have long been known around baseball for having one of the best relief corps, but over the past couple of years most Twins fans have watched as what was always one of our strengths had quickly turned into an Achilles heel.
Going into this season, the loss of our most consistent bullpen presence -- Joe Nathan -- left many of us wondering what kind of mess we'd be late in games once again. Arbitrarily, the role of "closer" was handed to Jon Rauch out of Spring Training, presumably because he had what was known as "closing experience", but most likely because he was just so tall he looked terrifying.
Amazingly enough, the Twins bullpen has made a resurgence this year to claim its once heralded place among the best in baseball. Going into today our bullpen is statistically dominant -- 2nd in MLB ERA with 3.11 behind only the Padres, 3rd in WHIP with (1.22) and a commanding 1st in fewest walks allowed: 82 -- the next closest being Tampa Bay with 88.
Despite all of our success in late game pitching this year, as a fanbase we've come to mistrust our team's bullpen management. The Save has become a statistic so meaningless and yet always sought after that we've thrown our most valuable trading piece away after the hope of gaining one or two more "saves". Players with numbers and track records screaming for recognition continue to sit in the minors while those we view as overrated or on the decline continued to pitch with the major league club.
But despite all this, our bullpen is in an amazing place -- and there's no way our manager or anyone else can mess this up.
The most consistent annual criticism of Gardy's bullpen management has been his reliance on having a closer and confining him to a role at the backend of the bullpen, despite the need to use him elsewhere. Understandably this is vexing and it was vexing for many years. But the only way that can be considered bad is when it's your best reliever is given this limited closer's role.
In 2010 any fan would be hard pressed to say who our best reliever is. I think even the team's management would have a hard time determining that. Without the presence of someone so statistically dominant in every category, our manager has just arbitrarily handed the role of closer over to someone with experience.
The only pitching category that Jon Rauch or now Matt Capps is more distinguished in than the rest of our bullpen is that of the Save. And the Save is a completely meaningless statistic.
Jose Mijares has the best ERA of any reliever on our team.
Matt Guerrier has the best WHIP.
Mahay and Mijares have the fewest free passes.
Capps only has one more strikeout than Jesse Crain.
Essentially the Twins have a bullpen full of quality pitchers, none of whom really have such overwhelming dominance that everyone in a room could point to them and say "Him. He's the closer. Put him in at the end of games." So while this might be a conundrum for someone like Gardy who has to have that anchor he only uses at the end of games, for fans that means that we'll always see someone reliable at the end of the game but that there are many other equally reliable options being trotted out there before him.