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By Dan Cook
Every Friday at 5:45 p.m. on WCCO Radio, John Williams has his weekly “Bright Side of Life” segment, where callers tell us what’s making them happy this week.
That might sound a little hokey, but as John always says, “it’s guaranteed leave you smiling,” and even for someone as cynical as yours truly, it generally does.
It’s difficult to find many things to smile about when the Twins are 9-24 overall in 2012, and 1-8 on games where I’ve been out at the ballpark.
But in the spirit of The John Williams Show, I’ll attempt to find something in this dreadful season to be happy about … namely the bullpen.
As a whole, the Twins relievers have logged 111 innings pitched this season which is the fourth highest total in baseball. Given the starting pitchers’ struggles (6.57 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 4.91 K/9), you’d expect the relievers to be putting in a lot of innings.
What you might not expect is that they’ve held opponents to a .227 average (5th in the AL), with a 3.49 ERA (6th in the AL), and 1.10 WHIP (2nd in the AL). They’re not striking many batters out (6.41 K/9), but they’re not walking many either as evidenced by their 2.72 K/BB ratio (4th in the AL).
Individually, there are few guys who are having notable seasons so far in 2012.
Let’s start with Jared Burton. The six-year veteran was signed by the Twins in the off-season to a one-year, $750,000 contract. Not an extravagant expense, nor should it have been for a guy who appeared in only 10 games over the last two seasons.
But he’s been nothing short of brilliant for the Twins so far this season. In 13 innings he has a 2.08 ERA, 0.385 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9. In his last 11 appearances (11.1 IP) he’s allowed nary a hit nor a run. That stretch actually goes to 11.2 innings if you count the last appearance where he did give up a hit. Opposing batters are just 3-for-41 off of him this season. The resulting .073 Batting Average Against is second-lowest in the American League for qualifying relievers, trailing only Oakland’s Ryan Cook (no relation).
Burton’s hot-streak may be the top highlight for Twins relievers this season, but it’s not the only one.
Jeff Gray was acquired by the Twins this past October after the Seattle Mariners made him available via waivers. So far in 2012 the fifth-year reliever has held opponents to a .200 batting-average in his 15 appearances. He’s thrown scoreless frames in 12 of those outings. In the last eight games in which he’s pitched, he’s allowed only one run on six hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. Not bad for a $485K investment by Minnesota.
Brian Duensing is in his fourth year with the Twins, and is quietly putting up solid numbers as well. He’s surrendered runs in only two of his 15 appearances so far, and has held opponents hitless in seven of his last nine games. His 2.16 ERA and 0.90 WHIP would both easily qualify as career-bests if he stays at that rate for the rest of the season.
Prior to Saturday’s game, manager Ron Gardenhire described Duensing as one of his more valuable relievers since he’s able to go two or three innings per appearance and is stretched out making him available for a spot start if needed.
Glen Perkins isn’t putting up numbers quite as eye-popping as last season, but is still more than effective as a lefty out of the bullpen. And say what you will about Matt Capps (and judging by the way Twitter explodes every time he comes into the game, you can say a lot), but he’s six-for-six in save opportunities this season.
All in all, the bullpen has been one of the few bright sides in an otherwise dismal year for the Twins. Which may make the pitchers I’ve talked about nothing more than trade bait come June. But still, we can enjoy their talents while they last right?
I think John Williams would be proud.