I've tried to break my habit of getting worked up every time a big-time national writer overlooks or slights the Twins in an article. It happens so often, with ESPN especially. I came across another instance over at ESPN.com yesterday, where Sean McAdam wrote an article discussing the new and improved Atlanta Braves relief corps. At the bottom of the article, he ranks the top five bullpens in baseball outside of Atlanta. Thankfully, the Twins do place on this list, but they're all the way down at No. 5. Ahead of them? The Tigers, the Angels, the Mets and the Padres.
One might think that I'm just being whiney here. After all, McAdams did put the Twins on the list, so what am I complaining about? The fact of the matter is that ranking five teams ahead of the Twins is ridiculous and ignorant. Let's take a look at the facts here.
Last season, the Twins bullpen ranked No. 1 in the major leagues in ERA, by a wide margin. Twins relievers combined to post a phenomenal 2.91 ERA, with the next best corps in baseball being the Mets at 3.25. The Twins bullpen also led the majors in opponent OPS, save percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio. That stellar group lost zero members in the offseason (save for Willie Eyre, its weakest member), and all of the pitchers are young enough that no regression should be expected.
Those five teams McAdams ranks ahead of the Twins must have a lot going for them to beat that, huh? Well, an argument could at least be made for the Braves and the Angels, so I'll let those two go. The other three are absurd. As an example, I'll take a look at the Tigers bullpen, which McAdams rates as the best in baseball behind the Braves. Well, first you have their closer, Todd Jones, who is arguably one of the worst closers in the American League. At 38, he posted a 3.94 ERA last year while allowing opposing batters to hit .276 off of him. Jones struck out only 28 batters in 64 innings and blew six saves. Compare those numbers to Joe Nathan, who in 2006 posted a 1.58 ERA and .158 BAA, while striking out 95 hitters in 68 1/3 innings and blowing just two saves (neither of which resulted in a loss).
With such a gigantic disadvantage at closer, you'd think the Tigers must have a real edge on the rest of the Twins bullpen to rank four slots higher than them on McAdams' list. Not the case. There's the fireball-throwing Joel Zumaya, who is very good but can struggle to throw strikes and is not all durable, generally being limited to one inning per game. There's Fernando Rodney, who is pretty good but nothing too special. And then there's the latest addition to the crew, Jose Mesa, who McAdams hails as a "veteran presence." Yeah, an inconsistent veteran presence with a mediocre 4.27 career ERA and horrendous control. Mesa struck out 39 and walked 36 in 72 1/3 innings for the Rockies last year. I'll take the Twins' group of Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier over those guys eight days a week.
The funny thing is that I'm not even all that high on the Twins bullpen this year. I think that Rincon and Reyes will see their numbers decline a bit, and in general the group is going to have some difficulties late in the season as a result of being overworked for the first couple months. Still, there is almost no argument that can be made that the Twins are not at least among the top three bullpens in the league. Ranking them sixth is silly and shows a complete lack of research and/or baseball knowledge.
It seems to me that McAdams created this list by taking a look at the top two or three relievers on each team, without paying any attention to depth, which in the grand scheme of things ends up being the most important factor in a good bullpen over the course of a season. I have half a mind to write McAdams an e-mail and let him know what I think of his list, but what good would it do? Like most national writers, McAdams has simply pieced together a list without much research, ignorantly sticking the small-market team behind all the big-market clubs. It is a constant occurrence on sites like ESPN.com, but with no one to hold these writers accountable, it's not something that's likely to change any time soon.