Scoggins: Former All-Star Perkins finds value in Twins’ new bullpen approach

Glen Perkins made three AL All-Star teams based on his ability to shut down opponents in the ninth inning. As the Twins closer, he knew the ninth inning was his baby, and he enjoyed the usual nature of his role.

He knew when to stretch and when to start warming up his left arm. It was bullpen clockwork.

Perkins isn’t sure how he would grasp a system with less defined roles favored by his former team and others around Major League Baseball, but he likes the idea of ​​using the best relievers in the most stressful moments, regardless of inning.

“The game has changed more in the last five years than it changed in the previous 30,” he said during a conversation at Target Field this weekend. “They’re not playing the same game. That’s not a bad thing at all.”

The Twins don’t have a set closer after trading Taylor Rogers to San Diego. The arrival of flamethrowing rookie Jhoan Duran has fueled visions of him ascending into that role — perhaps this season — because his 100-plus mile-per-hour fastball fits the profile of a closer. In baseball parlance, he has nasty “stuff.”

Asked Saturday which pitcher would get the ninth inning in a close game, manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t commit to one.

“I think we have three or four guys that could end up pitching the ninth,” he said.

Perkins’ final season with the Twins was 2017. He has witnessed dramatic change inside the analytics (r)evolution in those five years, but he believes one stat will keep the ninth inning specialist from becoming obsolete — the save.

“If that stat didn’t exist, you would say, ‘Who is our best reliever?’ Perkins said. “It’s Jhoan Duran. He throws 102 and he’s got a 95-mile-per-hour splitter. When is he going to pitch? Well, let’s let him face the three best guys in the lineup. That’s how you would do it logically. But people get fixed on the save stat, that you can only save the game in the ninth inning.”

Baldelli adhered to high-leverage flexibility by using Duran to face the 2-3-4 batters in the seventh inning of a 1-0 victory at Kansas City on Thursday.

That was the most stressful part of the Royals lineup. If the Twins lost the lead with a different reliever, what good is it to save Duran for the ninth?

That theory only makes sense if there are other shutdown options available to pitch the eighth and ninth innings. But a strategy that doesn’t lock relievers into predetermined roles or innings acknowledges that saving the most dominant pitcher for the ninth can get short-circuited before he has a chance to enter the game.

“You can’t worry about what’s going to happen in the ninth inning in the seventh when you need to get 3-4-5 out,” Perkins said.

Two counterarguments to this less-traditional approach: Money and closer’s mentality.

Saves bring value to closers. The more saves, the better their contract. That works both ways, which is why Perkins hopes that bargaining chip goes away in salary arbitration if teams employ a closer rotation, thus reducing save opportunities.

“I would hope that if Jhoan Duran is the Twins’ best reliever for the next four years that he gets paid as the best reliever and not as the closer,” he said. “That’s the direction that contracts are headed anyway.”

Perkins consumes analytics and understands the shift toward data-driven decisions. He also knows from personal experience that pitching in the ninth inning is just different.

A reliever might face a critical situation in the seventh inning, but closing a tight game is never a stress-free stroll to the mound. Not every pitcher can handle that pressure, even if his repertoire is A-plus.

“No guy that’s ever thrown the ninth inning will say it’s easier to throw in the ninth than the seventh,” he said. “I would rather face Miguel Cabrera in a one-run game in the seventh than the ninth. If I give up a home run, the game isn’t over.”

Perkins believes Twins relievers know before the game who they will face in the lineup, just not which inning because that is impossible to know beforehand. He doesn’t think inning uncertainty is a big deal to them, especially young relievers.

“They grew up in this new game,” he said.

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