There are so many examples of the Twins letting go of a reliever only to have them turn around and be effective after struggling, seemingly interminably with Minnesota. Zack Littell wasn’t at Target Field for very long, but certainly long enough for people to remember him, and bristle when they see his raw numbers in San Francisco.
Every player and every situation is different, and when a player leaves town after picking up an injury, it tends to fly under the radar. Nobody thought anything of it at the time, but now, seeing Littell pitch in the NLDS, all anyone remembers is that he left without any return, and is now better with another team than he was with the Twins.
That appears to be the case, anyways. He was dinged up last year, cutting his season short and ending his tenure in Minnesota, but compared to his last full season in Minnesota, he’s not any better than he was then. In fact, his raw ERA in 2019 was better than in 2021, and his peripheral numbers suggest the same quality now, versus then.
His FIP and xFIP are a hair worse this year (xFIP in particular is nearly exactly the same change, from 4.11 to 4.10) and all show that he has out pitched his peripherals. It appears, if nothing else, that he has bounced back to where he was in 2019, which is good, but is not great, like sometimes it might seem.
There are two things at work here. The Twins were almost certainly thrown by Littell’s 2020, which was terribly and plagued by injury. Second, if Littell’s even deeper peripherals hadn’t changed, a bounce back didn’t seem likely. But they did. Littell was once a fly ball pitcher, but his ground ball rate went from 38.5% to 46.9% this year. His strike out rate also hopped up from 7.78 k/9 to 9.19 k/9, a not insignificant jump.
He found something else in San Francisco, that’s for sure. His walk rate in the Bay is higher, enough that his projected numbers work out to about the same as his best work in Minnesota, so different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Still, “the same” would have been a good asset to have been retained.