In 2007, general manager Kenny Williams went in an interesting direction in building his Chicago White Sox bullpen. He chose to load the ‘pen with flamethrowers, thinking that they could just blow away hitters. However, this meant counting on some wild cards, and most of them did not work out. Out of the 7 pitchers to see time in the bullpen that year that averaged 92 MPH or higher with their fastballs,* only their closer Bobby Jenks had a sub-4.50 ERA. That’s right, 6 pitchers that were on the roster specifically because they could throw hard, and only one guy had any amount of success. Jenks did show the results that could come if you harnessed your fastball (2.77 ERA), but clearly everyone else had resorted to chuckin’ and duckin’.
* I omitted Jose Contreras because he had only 2 relief appearances that year.
Look at these names. David Aardsma, Mike MacDougal, Nick Masset, Matt Thornton, Boone Logan, and Ryan Bukvich were the six that amassed 256.2 innings with a 5.75 ERA. Yuck. Absolutely a mess. Most of these pitchers have gone on to have solid years since 2007, but most of them have occurred with a team other than Chicago, excluding Thornton.
The Twins aren’t acting nearly as extreme as the 2007 White Sox, but they seem to be stockpiling some flamethrowers lately. It started with the J.J. Hardy trade, bringing over Jim Hoey. Then there was the Delmon Young trade, which netted Lester Oliveros. Finally, right before the end of the season, the Twins quietly claimed RHP Esmerling Vasquez off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you toss in Glen Perkins, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, and Alex Burnett from this past season, the Twins would have their own seven-man bullpen that can throw 92+ MPH. Plus, wouldn’t you know it that only one pitcher (Perkins) had an ERA under 4 out of this ragtag group, just like the ’07 White Sox?
If the Twins are seriously looking to improve their bullpen by filling it with hard-throwing pitchers, I’m completely fine with that. But those pitchers have to be actually good, something it seemed like the 2007 White Sox ignored and I’m afraid the Twins will do as well. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jim Hoey non-tendered this offseason, but I’m willing to bet that Oliveros and Vasquez will be looked upon to join Perkins, Burnett, and maybe Nathan in the bullpen for 2012.
If this does work out, it could be a great help in fixing the disastrous relief corp from this past season. However, typically with mid-90s fastballs comes plenty of walks, and that could make 2012 just as ugly to watch as this year. So here’s my plea to the Minnesota Twins: Go and amass as many flamethrowers as you want, but make sure they’ll work first before you start depending on them.