Glen Perkins: Strikeout leader or Twins' deadline savior?

Mike McGinnis

The closer is having himself a season, but it might make more sense for the Twins if he has it elsewhere.

Man, I hate myself for even writing this column; not because I don't believe it, but because the thought of it kind of makes me sick. I have loved watching Glen Perkins go from broken starter to elite, shutdown reliever over the last three seasons. More importantly, the more I've come to know him through his consistently interesting interviews and profiles, the more I like him on a personal level. Glen Perkins just seems like a good guy, even before we get into the fact that he's interested in advanced statistics, which is honey in a trap to a nerd like me. I try my best not to get emotionally invested in ballplayers these days, given the nature of the business and how often they disappoint us on a personal level. But I can't help it: I love me some Glen Perkins.

Join our Twins community, Twinkie Town

On the field, he's been tremendous as well. In raising his strikeout rate for the third straight season, Perkins has clearly become, in my mind, one of the ten best relief pitchers in baseball. He's actually punched out more than 40 percent of the batters he's faced in 2013, which is second in the American League among pitchers with more than 20 innings under their belt, while limiting walks and home runs at better than league average rates.

That all sounds good, but it brings us to a depressing fact: Despite getting very little work, Perkins leads the Minnesota Twins in strikeouts. Let me say that again. Through exactly one-third of the season, Glen Perkins, the closer for the Minnesota Twins -- who has pitched just 20-2/3 innings in 2013 -- leads his team in strikeouts by four (33 to 29) over Kevin Correia, who has three-and-a-half times the number of batters faced as Perkins. While it's hard to count on Perkins to keep that pace up, what he's doing would be unprecedented in this era of bullpen usage. Thanks to Baseball Reference's new Splits Finder on their incredible Play Index function (aka the best money a baseball fan can spend on anything that isn't tickets to a game), we can tell the leaders in strikeouts in relief. Based on that, here's the list of relief pitchers who have led their teams in strikeouts in a given season:

Name

Year

Team

Ks

Innings

Dick Radatz

1964

Red Sox

181

157

Goose Gossage

1977

Pirates

151

133

Mark Eichorn

1986

Blue Jays

166

157

Rob Dibble

1989

Reds

141

99

Duane Ward

1991

Blue Jays

132

107.1

Those are, without a doubt, some of the greatest relief seasons of all time. The worst ERA+ in the group belongs to Ward, at 151. All of these guys were absolutely dominant. But you'll note that all of them, except Dibble, did it in more than 100 innings (and Dibble just one inning short of that). Glen Perkins is on pace to throw 62 innings and still lead his club in strikeouts. That's unheard of, and I would have said impossible when teams are only using their closers for an inning at a time, holding them back for save situations only.

While Perkins' dominance should not be understated, neither should we forget how much of this projected achievement is the result of the Twins' unmitigated institutional failure to develop or add any starters worth a tinker's damn to the rotation. While American League pitchers have struck out more than 20 percent of the batters they've faced, the Twins have collectively whiffed just 15 percent. They are last in the American League by more than 50 strikeouts, well back of even the Astros. Not coincidentally, they are 12th in the AL in runs allowed per game.

It's this horrendous pitching staff that, in spite of their recent run in which they've won six of seven, is going to continue to hold the Twins back this year. Aside from adding Kyle Gibson, who is currently 66 innings into a team-mandated 130 inning limit this year at Triple-A, there is no mechanism to allow the Twins to add any better pitching this year. They have already dug down to bring up Samuel Deduno and P.J. Walters, replacement-level starters who were rightfully considered emergency options -- with Vance Worley sporting a 7.21 ERA and the fifth rotation spot in disarray, the Twins had an emergency and broke glass, and now they're stuck. Even as they sit less than five games back of the Tigers and only four games under .500, it's almost impossible to see how they can do any better.

Once again, the Twins will be reluctant sellers at this year's trade deadline, and, like in previous seasons, they probably won't have much to offer. Indeed, the recent struggles of both Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham will make moving either of them for something worthwhile difficult. In the last calendar year, Morneau has hit just 12 home runs and slugged .405 at a position that demands power production. He's also on the last year of his contract, which pays him $14 million. Willingham came off of a career year last year to hit .211/.356/.440 so far at 34 years old, while playing adventurous defense in left field. Since May 1, he's hitting .187/.328/.374. While hardly a death sentence on his career, that drop in production only hurts his trade value as well. At this point, it's impossible to imagine a team giving up a prospect of note for either of them.

But for Perkins? For one of the 10 best relievers in baseball? Who is underutilized in his current role and really superfluous on a team that is still potentially on track for a 90 loss season? Who is under team control for very reasonable rates until 2016? Well, that's a return that could be more useful. In the last five seasons, there have been several in-season trades that featured major-league relievers. The team selling off components has had a good deal of fortune in a lot of them. Of course, there's the Twins famously dealing Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos in 2010. But Bill Smith hasn't been the only GM out there willing to give up talent for an elite -- or even a mediocre --bullpen arm.

In 2011, the Orioles dealt Koji Uehara, then sporting a 1.72 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 47 innings, to the Rangers for Chris Davis (who is currently leading the AL in homers, slugging percentage, and OPS) and Tommy Hunter (who's sporting a 1.74 ERA in the O's bullpen). That same year, the Rangers also gave up two strong pitching prospects, Robbie Erlin (currently 22 and the Padres' 10th-best prospect in a stacked system according to Baseball America) and Joe Wieland (elbow injury, 60 day DL, eighth-best prospect according to BA) for Mike Adams. In 2010, the panicking Dodgers gave the Pirates James McDonald, along with a talented young outfielder in Andrew Lambo, in exchange for Octavio Dotel. In 2008, the Diamondbacks gave up Emilio Bonifacio for Jon Rauch. The Pirates used Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to get themselves Jose Tabata, Daniel McCutchen, and Jeff Karstens in 2008 as well. Other top prospects like Zach Cox, Brandon Allen, and Josh Bell changed hands before flaming out.

None of this is to say that the Twins should deal Perkins. After all, it's hard to get fair value in a deal for a relief pitcher. The cases I mentioned above are definitely the outliers, as clubs more often than not take fliers on A-ball arms that don't pan out. Given that Perkins is under contract for another three seasons, there's no urgency to deal him now. But at this point, it's also likely that he's the most valuable trade piece on the Twins roster, and the club's best hope to improve their long-term outlook this year.

More from SB Nation:

Josh Hamilton's 365-day slump

Neyer: Mike Mathney's wrong on this one

The Rotation: The most inept performances

Are the best players former prospects?

Interview: Fay Vincent on the never-ending steroid era

MLB draft: Key pitchers to know | Key hitters

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.