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Twins’ Jhoan Duran caps off dominant rookie season

Duran, 24, entered Tuesday with a 4.6 Win Probability Added, a statistic that credits a player for how much his appearance impacted his team’s chance of winning, per Baseball Reference.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Jhoan Duran throws to the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 15, 2022, at Target Field.
Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports
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CHICAGO — When the Minnesota Twins made the decision to convert Jhoan Duran into a reliever ahead of the 2022 season, they didn’t quite know what they would get from him. Duran had thrown just 16 innings in game action a season before, spending much of the year rehabbing a strained elbow.

But shifting him to the bullpen would both cut down his workload and allow his electric stuff to tick up.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with guys unless you actually go through with taking a chance and making a move and putting him in a new role and then seeing what you’ve got,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.

What they’ve got is one of the best relievers in the game, one that is just about to wrap up one of the most dominant seasons by a rookie reliever in decades. Duran, 24, entered Tuesday with a 4.6 Win Probability Added, a statistic that credits a player for how much his appearance impacted his team’s chance of winning, per Baseball Reference. That mark is second among all pitchers this season and first among all relievers.

It’s also second behind just Jonathan Papelbon among rookies since 1990.

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Duran entered Tuesday’s game with a 1.86 earned-run average and a 0.975 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), having struck out 89 batters in 67 2/3 innings. He has converted all eight save opportunities he has had, and he has also spent the season setting and shattering team velocity records left and right. The hardest pitch he threw this season, which came in late September, clocked in at 103.8 miles per hour, one of 10 pitches this season he has thrown at 103.0 mph or harder.

“I think we knew he was going to go out there and throw hard. That is basically just a small part of what he does, though,” Baldelli said. “And we knew we had a big guy with a good arm and a pretty good head on his shoulders. His ability to pitch and his ability to spin the breaking ball and command his pitches and the presence and all those things, I had no concept of that, of what was to come. He has been nothing but impressive.”

And most importantly for the Twins, who became heavily reliant on the rookie after he quickly became their highest-leverage reliever, he has been healthy all season, a tribute, he said, to the work he put in during the offseason.

When he heads into this offseason, Duran said he’s planning on preparing the same way he did last year, though he does have some things he wants to focus on during his winter, which he said will be spent partially in Fort Myers, Fla., before heading home to the Dominican Republic.

“We all have things to learn on a daily basis,” Duran said. “I still have a lot of things to learn. It’s my first year, but I think this offseason, I’m going to concentrate on going in depth with all my pitches, in a sense, like when they’re not on mechanically or whatever the case might be, why is that happening? So I can understand myself better with all my pitches and then go back stronger next year.”

And he’s also, finally, going to let the season and everything he was able to accomplish as a rookie soak in.

“I’ve enjoyed those moments. But I don’t bring those to the field because then it’s going to take away from what I still need to do,” Duran said. “ … But I enjoy it with my family more than anything, my wife, my kids, and now and during the offseason, when I go home, I’m going to enjoy it with my parents, woo, and kind of like think about all the good things I went through this year.”

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