Minnesota Twins' Preseason Questions: Was Craig Breslow's Success a Mirage?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IFebruary 13, 2009

One of the critical pieces to the Twins' 2008 success could probably walk into any restaurant in Minneapolis and still have to buy his own meal.

Does the name Craig Breslow ring any bells? Unless you're an avid Twins fan, and perhaps not even then, you've probably never heard of him or his fancy Yale degree.

Craig Breslow, for those still wondering, saved the Twins' season.

The Twins' bullpen issues last season have been well discussed and digested, but the problem could have been substantially worse, had it not been for a pseudo-trade in mid June.

On Jun. 18, the Twins released the completely ineffective Juan Rincon, who posted a 6.11 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP in 24 games. Rincon eventually resurfaced with the Cleveland Indians, who had released farmhand Craig Breslow a few weeks prior.

The Twins picked up Breslow, thus completing the ersatz trade, and they certainly didn't regret it.

Craig Breslow was exceptionally effective for the Twins and eventually won manager Ron Gardenhire's trust, which helped the bullpen substantially. Instead of carrying Rincon's dead weight, the Twins acquired a key piece of their stretch run.

Breslow gave up no earned runs in both September and June, a total of 18 innings. All told, he put up a 1.63 ERA and .98 WHIP for the Twins. For a bullpen savaged by injury and ineffectiveness, Breslow was a life saver.

The Twins are Breslow's fifth team in four years, and while he seems a lock to make the bullpen out of Spring Training, he remains a question mark.

Breslow's success last season came almost out of the blue. He'd been mediocre in a few of his stops, but even in the minors he was hardly this dominant. There's a healthy skepticism out there that Breslow may not be able to repeat his success this year.

However, there's nothing that looks overly inflated about his peripheral stats.

Was he getting great help from his defense? No, his FIP was 2.51. By comparison, this is just slightly above Brad Lidge's.

Did he give up lots of unearned runs or lots of inherited runners? Not particularly. His run average was a solid 2.09, and just eight of the 42 runners he inherited scored.

Other telling stats, such as BABIP and K/BB, also pass the sniff test. His .261 BABIP is near average and a 2.29 K/BB doesn't portend a drop off in the near future.

While each of these is positive, it doesn't mean the Twins see the exact same Breslow that was nearly untouchable in September. He's still a young pitcher who has fluctuated substantially in his career.

However, Breslow will return to the team he ended the previous season with for just the second time in his career, (AAA Pawtucket was the other) and under the watchful eye of Rick Anderson, Breslow has as good a chance as anyone of posting another great season.

Perhaps the dominant set-up man the Twins spent the offseason looking for was under their nose the entire time.