What if I told you that the Minnesota Twins had an elite, shutdown late-inning reliever … and his name wasn’t closer Glen Perkins?
Baseball world, meet Casey Fien. While there’s a good chance that the majority of folks outside of the Twins fan base haven’t been acquainted with this name, Minnesota can rest easy knowing that the right-hander is their secret weapon for now. The way that he’s letting his numbers do the talking, that may not stay that way for very long.
Actually, perhaps shouting is the more apt word here. How else would you describe two earned runs over his last 25.2 innings, and a 2.76/0.85 ERA/WHIP on the season?
Yes, Perkins may have the edge here in ERA (2.14) and HR/9 (0.64 vs. 0.79), but Fien is less hittable (.195 BAA vs. .201) with better control (1.58 BB/9 to 2.14); and unlike fellow relief phenomenon Caleb Thielbar, he owns a double-digit strikeout rate too at 10.05 K/9.
Put that all together, and it’s no wonder why he’s tied with Perkins at the top of the Twins’ bullpen with 1.3 fWAR.
So just where did the Fien’s emergence in his age-29 season come from? Is he just a classic late-bloomer? Well, if PITCHf/x is to be believed, the key to his success may have come from a dramatic change in his repertoire.
While he’s toned down the velocity on his fastball (90.6 mph average vs. 91.5 in 2012), he’s also using it a whole lot less, throwing it just 35.7 percent of the time in 2013 compared to 65.2 last season. In place of that he’s put more focus on his slider (22.9 percent vs. 19.9 percent), really started to use his changeup regularly (26.5 percent vs. 5.2 percent) and even introduced a curveball, using it 7.3 percent of the time.
In short, this is basically a completely different pitcher than what opposing batters saw last season, which might explain why they’re flailing away at his offerings at a 14.3 percent swinging strike rate.
But some new, shiny toys aren’t the only things Fien is bringing to the table this season either. Having more flexibility in the types of weapons he can attack batters with seems to have given him more confidence in really going after them, as his first strike percentage (67.4 percent to 56.7 in 2013) and pitches thrown in the zone (55.7 percent to 54.5 percent) are both career-highs.
With a regular late-inning role now part of his routine, it’s clear that the Twins know what kind of impact he can have for the team. At this rate, it won’t be long before Fien can stop being associated with the word “underrated”.