Jhoan Duran Is a Miracle – Twins – Twins Daily

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By Nick Nelson
He’s been so consistently amazing at what he does that it’s become easy to take for granted. Been when you consider where Jhoan Durán came from, what he’s been through, and what’s he’s doing – especially within the context of the Twins franchise and its history – the right-hander’s rookie season is worth taking a step back to appreciate.
When the Twins acquired a relief pitcher by the name of Juan Morillo in 2009, it was considered a big deal. “New Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Juan Morillo can throw 96 mph” remarked the headline for a Phil Miller story in the Pioneer Press at the time. Quaint as that number seems by today’s standards, it turns out the headline was underselling the newcomer’s velocity.
Although Morillo ended up throwing only two innings for the Twins, and was done as a big-leaguer after that, his name hung around as a quirky bit of trivia – he became the first Twins pitcher to ever touch 100 MPH, a distinction he held up until Brusdar Graterol came through more than a decade later.
Minnesota infamously lagged way behind in Major League Baseball’s pitching velocity movement, which makes it all the more noteworthy they now have three relievers in their bullpen who have touched triple-digits this year. The leader of that pack is a rookie who has quickly emerged as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball – a consistently reliable performer in a bullpen that’s been volatile and erratic around him. 
This certainly hasn’t been true of all flame-throwing pitchers – with Morillo being a great example – but Jhoan Durán has translated his premium velocity into true dominance on the field. Through 53 ⅔ innings, he has a 2.01 ERA, 2.86 FIP, and 0.99 WHIP. His 70 strikeouts and 12 walks are good for a 5.83 K/BB ratio, putting him in the range of a prime Joe Nathan. 
He’s been an essential outlier in a bullpen that has rarely risen to the occasion, ranking third among MLB relievers in Win Probability Added behind only David Robertson and Emmanuel Clase. If you take away Durán’s contribution, the Twins bullpen as a whole drops from ranking 17th in the majors in WPA to ranking 27th. 
According to the statistic Championship Win Probability Added (cWPA), which is designed to measure “how a player impacts their team’s chances of winning the World Series,” Durán ranks #1 in all of baseball.
This astounding level of success is made all the more impressive by these three facts:
He’s pitching in relief for the first time. 
Usually, even the eventual success stories for starters-turned-relievers take a little time to reach fruition. Durán’s transition was sharp and seamless. When he got the ball in the fifth inning of a close game on Opening Day, he looked like he’d been doing it for years, notching four strikeouts over two scoreless frames. It was very much a sign of things to come.
Not only has Durán acclimated instantly to the change of routine and altered dynamics of pumping it up for one-inning stints, he’s also handled the rigors of regularly pitching in extreme high-leverage spots with aplomb. Recognizing his greatness, Rocco Baldelli quickly placed Durán atop his bullpen hierarchy – the go-to option when games are truly on the line. That’d be a tall order for most rookies but Durán has thrived under pressure, as evidenced by his nearly unrivaled impact among relievers on winning games.
 
He threw only 16 innings over the past two seasons.
It’s easy to forget now, but Durán’s health was a huge concern coming into this season. After getting no official game action in 2020, with the minor-league season canceled, he made only five appearances last year and didn’t pitch after June 15th due to an elbow strain that the team trusted to heal up without surgery.
That approach hasn’t always worked, as we are all painfully aware, but so far it’s paying dividends with Durán. While reaching new heights with his velocity and accruing more relief innings than any Twin, sans Griffin Jax, Durán has remained healthy and strong all year long, with not a whisper of any physical issues.  
He was acquired for two months of Eduardo Escobar.
Back in 2018, the Twins were going nowhere at the deadline so they dealt a few veterans, including Escobar who was an impending free agent. In that deal they got back three prospects: outfielders Ernie De La Trinidad and Gabriel Maciel, and Durán. 
La Trinidad and Maciel never did much of note, and are now gone from the organization. But Durán alone is enough to make that trade a slam-dunk. Between this and last year’s acquisition of Joe Ryan for Nelson Cruz, the front office has certainly made the most of its opportunities to add young impact pitching when in a seller position in its two non-competitive seasons.
Both pitchers have played integral roles in keeping this one from turning into a non-competitive season, and in Durán’s case it’s especially impressive once you zoom out and look at the state of his position across the league. We’ve been reminded this year of just how quickly things can turn for top relievers and closers across the league.
Guys like Taylor Rogers, Josh Hader, and Clay Holmes were amazing until they very quickly weren’t. These are established, respected names and All-Stars. The rarity of Durán’s unyielding steadiness becomes all the more distinct against this backdrop.
Even with the likes of Jorge López and Michael Fulmer aboard, Durán remains the heart and soul of this bullpen, enjoying one of the better seasons we’ve seen from a Twins reliever and doing it in a way that leaves little room for doubt or skepticism. This team has had some great relief pitchers over the years, but never someone so visibly, obviously, undeniably dominant as the imposing 6’5″ hardest thrower in franchise history.
If the Twins going to find a way to pull it together and win this division, they’re going to need their miraculous rookie sensation to be the gift that keeps on giving.
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By Steve Lein
12 hours ago
By Ted Schwerzler
1 hour ago
Posted Monday at 01:15 PM
Great analysis, Nick.  Duran is clearly one of the best relievers in baseball and actually looks to be getting better as the year progresses.  I think he should be “the” closer if the Twins settle on such a designation.  I think Lopez as the set up guy would be perfect. Hopefully, Rocco will let starters go a little deeper into games so that Duran and Lopez are not overused. Looking ahead, IF Acala gets healthy, having Duran, Lopez, Jax and Acala in the bullpen would be a good start next year.  
Posted Monday at 01:33 PM
Thanks Nick for another great read.
Is this the best Twins related story this year?  With Lopez returning for at least two years and hopefully, a healthy Alcala in 2023, the pen could be awesome with just one or two more adds.  No question had the bullpen been better the first couple months of the season the Twins would have a comfortable lead in the Central.
Posted Monday at 01:59 PM
He has been a godsend especially because he has been used in different situations. I hope he works on the splinker and can use it again. This is also an interesting story because he didn’t always tear it up in the minors. 
Posted Monday at 03:08 PM
Great article. Very timely and well written. Thanks Nick.
Posted Monday at 05:02 PM
Duran wants to start. His manager? Condescendingly and dismissively jokes about it. I love the supportive attitude, especially after management took a pie to the face from their best starting pitcher just a couple days ago and then immediately after, yanked another starter who had a shutout going at 71 pitches just to have the reliever cough up a run in a game the Twins lost.
I think Duran should be given the opportunity to start next year as his innings have ramped up nicely this year and he’s been able to handle the workload. He was always a starter in the minors and he can dial it back from 103 to 99 and be effective. You’re talking about the potential of having an ace under long term team control for cheap. The first truly legitimate ace developed in the minors by this organization since… ummm Viola? Duran is worth about 3x more to the team as a starter.

Duran has been everything and more than I expected. I didn’t have high hopes for him based on last years walk rate and getting so used to prospects being highly praised for “stuff” that just didn’t translate with results in the minors only to discover it got even worse at the majors. Duran’s had poise, shown command and control and wipeout pitches which have totally owned opponents and this is his rookie season. He could continue to get better.
Posted Monday at 05:42 PM
Duran wants to start. His manager? Condescendingly and dismissively jokes about it. I love the supportive attitude, especially after management took a pie to the face from their best starting pitcher just a couple days ago and then immediately after, yanked another starter who had a shutout going at 71 pitches just to have the reliever cough up a run in a game the Twins lost.
I think Duran should be given the opportunity to start next year as his innings have ramped up nicely this year and he’s been able to handle the workload. He was always a starter in the minors and he can dial it back from 103 to 99 and be effective. You’re talking about the potential of having an ace under long term team control for cheap. The first truly legitimate ace developed in the minors by this organization since… ummm Viola? Duran is worth about 3x more to the team as a starter.

Duran has been everything and more than I expected. I didn’t have high hopes for him based on last years walk rate and getting so used to prospects being highly praised for “stuff” that just didn’t translate with results in the minors only to discover it got even worse at the majors. Duran’s had poise, shown command and control and wipeout pitches which have totally owned opponents and this is his rookie season. He could continue to get better.
I agree with everything you said but until there is a significant change in philosophy, it won’t happen. 
Posted Monday at 07:33 PM
We’ve developed Josh Winder, Bailey Ober, and Randy Dobnak.  Those are the pitchers who have even come close to staying on as major league starting pitchers.  Ober and Dobnak were completely off the radar for those who don’t follow the minors.  Dobnak definitely looks to be bullpen, say he even comes back to help at all.  Varland is seemingly close to defying the Falvine odds of a minor league starter making a big league rotation.  I know they only took over in late 2016, but developing starting pitching, thus far, hasn’t been Falvine’s forte.  However, Developing a Major League bullpen?  My hat’s off.  It’s their blessing and curse.  In my amateur mind, they’re giving up on top of the rotation talent far too early, to a point where they barely get to sniff out a chance after getting all the way to AAA as a starter.  Then, they must see something they don’t like, but love in the short innings.  So they chuck them in the pen and they do great.
Long story short, LOVE Duran, but for the love of PETE, please develop us a TOP OF THE ROTATION STARTER!!!
 
Posted Monday at 07:58 PM
A nice contract extension for Duran could convince him to stay in the pen.  I mean who wouldn’t want a 6 year multi-million extension with a few option years added.  
Posted Monday at 09:06 PM
Agree with Bean. At the end of the season the FO should ask Duran what he wants to do next. If he wants to start, then he can spend the winter getting his body ready for the long haul, and prepare to pace himself for six innings. He appears to have better than average command, even at 103. Can he be a better than average starter? If he backs off a whisker on his heater, can he spot it around the zone? 
As a long-term Twins fan, I don’t mind these experiments
Posted Monday at 11:43 PM
A nice contract extension for Duran could convince him to stay in the pen.  I mean who wouldn’t want a 6 year multi-million extension with a few option years added.  
No, it really can’t if Duran is committed to wanting a shot to start. Starters get contracts 2-3x as long as relievers and the annual value is 2-3x greater. Forcing Duran to pitch out the pen when he hasn’t had a chance to start and wants to will not only cripple Duran’s potential career earnings, it will severely damage the Twins’ relationship with the pitcher while utterly gutting the potential on field value to the franchise. It’s a totally different story if Duran comes to the conclusion he pitches best out of the pen and grows comfortable there like Trevor May did. 

Largest reliever contract in history? 5yrs $86MM to Aroldis Chapman.
Largest starter contract in MLB history? 9yrs $324MM to Gerrit Cole.

Highest Reliever AAV? $18MM to Liam Hendricks
Highest Starter AAV? $43MM to Max Scherzer

Recent HoF inductees.
Highest Starter bWAR? Greg Maddux 107 bWAR mean avg 4.7 bWAR
Highest Reliever bWAR? Mariano Rivera 56 bWAR mean avg 3.0 bWAR
Posted yesterday at 01:33 AM
It’s not what I want to point out, and they’re too different people, but Kopech is making the transition this year.  Had a fantastic year as a fireballer out of the pen last year.  Huge strikeout numbers, 4/1 walk to K ratio, but really wanted to be a starter yet.  His fastball took a big hit, his K numbers went from 100 in 70 innings to 98 in 110 innings, and his injury history is much different.  Big difference is their secondary pitchers.  Fast to slider for Kopech and fastball to curveball/splitter for Duran.
I am big on allowing starters to prove they’re starters until they can’t, but man Duran is special out of the pen.  Truly special.
Posted yesterday at 01:43 AM
I’ll be pretty surprised if they try to make Duran a starter again, and hugely disappointed. 
Don’t mess with success.
Posted yesterday at 02:35 AM
Kopech is a perfect example. He was exclusively a starter through the minors, had to have UCL surgery and returned as a reliever due to the innings and pitch limits. He then shifted back into a starter role this year.
Kopech has not been as dominant as a starter, but he’s certainly shown promise and periods of dominance.
2021 – 0.8 bWAR, 1.7 fWAR
2022 – 1.8 bWAR, 1.2 fWAR with probably 5 starts left

Even if Kopech pitches the same down the stretch as he has overall this year, he’ll match his fWAR from last year and greatly exceed his bWAR.
Posted yesterday at 05:36 AM
You do know you can find one example to prove almost anything. Let’s let the FO handle this one. 
I was responding to the post above mine. Thanks, but I think I’ll continue to have an opinion.
Posted yesterday at 03:55 PM
Really a tough decision for the FO and for Duran. If we assume that a great starter is more valuable that a great reliever, and if we assume Duran wants to start, the Twins can factor in durability of starters vs. durability of relievers and factor in that the philosophy of this organization is currently to pull starters after 5-6 innings, if all goes well with the start (which may, or may not, apply to a true ace starter), then this is quite the conundrum. My gut tells me a starter has more potential value than a reliever, therefore I would hope the many variables at play here would be decided in favor of allowing Duran to become a starter. A caveat: The Twins must spend more money on quality (not quantity) relievers.
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