• Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

    If ever there was a clear culprit for a ruined season, it was the Twins' starting pitching corps in 2012. While reasonably decent in the lineup and bullpen, the team stood no chance of competing thanks to an outrageously bad year from the rotation.

    Pinpointing exactly what went wrong within that unit is more complicated. When you're talking about a group that ranked last in the AL in ERA, hits allowed and opponent OPS, there are obviously a multitude of factors in play. But if you had to narrow the staff's troubles down to three principal issues, they'd probably be: 1) injuries, 2) lack of exceptional talent, and 3) heavy contact tendencies backed by a questionable defense.

    Heading into the new campaign, it's hard to feel a whole lot better about any of those areas.

    The injury bug has already bit, with the planned Opening Day starter (Scott Diamond) on the shelf and the most buzzworthy rotation contender (Samuel Deduno) also sidelined.

    When it comes to talent available at the major-league level, it's not clear the Twins upgraded significantly in the offseason by swapping out Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Carl Pavano in exchange for Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley.

    And none of those new names are renowned for missing bats, a quality was sorely lacking in the 2012 season. Twins starters averaged 5.53 strikeouts per nine innings – the lowest figure for any MLB team's rotation since 2009. Considering that the Twins traded away arguably their two best defenders during the offseason, another endless barrage of balls in play doesn't bode especially well.

    The downside is harrowing, but this unit is not without its glimmers of upside and intriguing storylines. Let's take a quick look at the five pitchers who will likely comprise the rotation when the season kicks off next week, as well as the various hurlers who will be lined up to step in when certain members inevitably falter.

    1. Vance Worley, RHP
    2012 Stats: 133 IP, 6-9, 4.20 ERA, 107/47 K/BB, 1.51 WHIP



    Acquired from Philly in the Ben Revere trade, Worley goes from being a back-end arm living in the shadows of Halladay, Hamels and Lee to Opening Day starter for the Twins. He draws that assignment largely because of circumstance, but he is the club's best hope for a legitimate rotation-fronter. He's still only 25, and his 3.50 career ERA is impressive. However, that success has come in the National League and now he must adjust to the more relentless AL format, with designated boppers replacing pitchers in opposing lineups. This transition, along with a surgically repaired elbow that bogged him down in the latter part of the '12 season, could prevent him from achieving the same type of results.

    2. Kevin Correia, RHP
    2012 Stats: 171 IP, 12-11, 4.21 ERA, 89/46 K/BB, 1.30 WHIP


    If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say nothing at all. Moving on…

    3. Mike Pelfrey, RHP
    2012 Stats: 19.2 IP, 0-0, 2.29 ERA, 13/4 K/BB, 1.42 WHIP


    An imposing presence on the mound at 6'7" and 250 lbs, with velocity to match, Pelfrey had his ups and downs while playing for the Mets. A strong and resilient arm enabled him to make 31-plus starts in four straight seasons before his elbow gave out early last year, and now he'll test that arm to the max as he seeks to return to the mound in the opening week, which would give him the fastest Tommy John recovery for a starting pitcher, ever. What's more: most pitchers who have come back anywhere near this timeframe have done so late in a season, tossing a few innings and then resting up over the winter. Pelfrey is attempting to come back after 11 months and take on a full season's workload, which is basically unheard of. I'll be wishing him the best but expecting plenty of bumps early on, especially since it sounds like his velocity still isn't close to pre-surgery norms.

    4. Liam Hendriks, RHP
    2012 Stats: 85.1 IP, 1-8, 5.59 ERA, 50/26 K/BB, 1.55 WHIP


    In spite of his tremendous production in the minor leagues, Hendriks has looked out of place pitching in the majors, timidly going after hitters with a repertoire that simply hasn't been effective at the highest level. In 85 innings spread across 16 starts last year, the right-hander coughed up 106 hits, including 17 home runs. He pitched well enough this spring to justifiably earn a job but was far from dominant. His superb track record while rising through the Twins' system is deserving of a long look this year, particularly with the dearth of other quality options, but if his results are similar he may have a hard time finding such an opportunity.

    5. Cole De Vries, RHP
    2012 Stats: 87.2 IP, 5-5, 4.11 ERA, 58/18 K/BB, 1.21 WHIP


    De Vries is in the same boat as Hendriks in that he lacks outstanding stuff -- in fact, he has less velocity and his secondary pitches produce less bite, from my view -- but he managed to garner much better results in a similar sample size last year and the same was true this spring. De Vries carries a shiny 0.64 ERA and has been almost unhittable in Grapefruit League action, but it will take a lot more than that to prove that the 28-year-old longtime farmhand belongs in a big-league rotation. As a Minnesota native, a former Gopher and by all accounts a nice guy, I'm rooting for him. But I can't help feeling that his presence in the rotation is a major indictment of where this team is at as the season gets underway.

    ... That's how the rotation will shape up at the start of the season, and it's without question going to be worst group the league has to offer, on paper. The best hope for the Twins is that some of the pitchers listed below will replace weak links over the course of the summer, allowing this unit to get stronger as the season goes on.

    Scott Diamond, LHP: He opens the season on the DL, since recovery from a minor offseason elbow surgery has dragged on longer than expected, but he's on pace to return in mid-April and will probably unseat the worse performer between Hendriks and De Vries.

    Samuel Deduno, RHP: After an electric performance for Team Dominicana in the World Baseball Classic, Deduno was ready to jump into the rotation with a head full of steam. Unfortunately, a groin injury will delay his opportunity to transfer the preseason success to meaningful MLB games, but when he finally takes the mound for Minnesota he'll be doing so with the most confidence of his career. Deduno is one to watch.

    Kyle Gibson, RHP: The Twins left the door open for Gibson to win a spot in the rotation, but some ugly bouts with command this spring confirmed that he's not quite ready yet. Chances are good that he will be after sharpening up for a month or two in Triple-A, and at that point he could immediately become the team's best starter.

    P.J. Walters, RHP: Walters is always going to be interesting because he spins a dynamite breaking ball, but unfortunately the nasty hook comes coupled with a fastball that falls blatantly short of major-league quality. Still, if you need a spot starter in a pinch, he's not the worst guy to have on hand. He had some nice moments last year.

    Rich Harden, RHP: He's worth mentioning here, because in a mix that lacks exciting upside he's the one guy who has been a top-flight MLB pitcher at one point in his career. He probably won't be an option until June at the earliest, but if Harden returns to the mound and is throwing well, he should have an easy path back to the majors.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I wouldn't put Diamond's or Deduno's injuries in the same class with Baker's torn UCL or Pavano's bruised labrum. In the case of Diamond, we're talking bout a two-week stay on the DL, tops. Deduno should have a shorter layoff. By May, they'll both be 100%. You could not say that about Baker or Pavano last year.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Great article.

      I am very hopeful that Worley, Correia and Pelfrey will be an upgrade compared with what Liriano, Baker and Pavano produced last year.

      In 2012, Liriano had a BB/9 of 5 and an ERA of 5.31 in 100 IP. Baker was injured all season. Pavano had an ERA of 6.00 in 63 innings. This is not a high bar to exceed.

      Also, it seems to me that the loss of the defense of Span and Revere will be largely offset by the presence of Hicks.

      Finally, I think that it is at least possible that Blackburn will produce at a higher level than either Pavano or Liriano produced last year.
    1. mako83's Avatar
      mako83 -
      It these hold there Eras to around four we could break 70wins and give someone some trouble. I dont think anyone here can flame out as bad as marquis and blackburn did. Still believe Devries and Deduno are as mad as the rest of us about correria signing.
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      Even if these guys don't produce a lot better than the group they're replacing. At least they're trying a different group this time.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Scary that I'm asking this, but is there any word on how Blackburn looks this spring? Or is he hurt? I'm just surprised he hasn't been heard from at all.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Han Joelo View Post
      Scary that I'm asking this, but is there any word on how Blackburn looks this spring? Or is he hurt? I'm just surprised he hasn't been heard from at all.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Han Joelo View Post
      Scary that I'm asking this, but is there any word on how Blackburn looks this spring? Or is he hurt? I'm just surprised he hasn't been heard from at all.
      Injured. (I think coming off yet another surgery...)
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      It's kinda weird when the five guys "lined up to step in" would be a better rotation than the five that are currently IN the rotation.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      It's kinda weird when the five guys "lined up to step in" would be a better rotation than the five that are currently IN the rotation.
      Save for Worley, I was kind of thinking the same thing. I'd love to see Hendriks figure it out, De Vries continue his (to me inexplicable) streak of solid pitching, Pelfrey recover in record time, and Correia actually be serviceable, but realistically guys like Gibson, Harden, and Diamond are probably just better.

      Then again, that's a good problem to have. Talent pushing upwards from Rochester (regardless of how marginal some may think that talent is) is something we didn't have any of last year.

      And in any case, improving on Marquis and Blackburn, as well as fringe-starter Liriano, hopelessly injured Pavano, and lost-season Baker really isn't that difficult. The "production" from our 2012 projected starting lineup was historically bad. We won't be good in 2013, but we won't be worse.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      Actually, just out of curiosity, I did some back of the envelope math on our 5 projected starters going in to 2012: Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, and Marquis.

      In terms of expectations for an average starting 5 rotation, you'd be looking at something like a 4.50 ERA over 800-ish innings. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - I didn't look up the averages.)

      Our starting 5 gave us a 6.52 ERA over 296 innings.

      This includes Baker, which may not be fair, but I know a lot of us were counting on him going into that year. Has there been a rotation that bad in recent memory? Where does it rank all-time?
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by mako83 View Post
      It these hold there Eras to around four we could break 70wins and give someone some trouble.
      Who does a 75-win team give trouble to, except the GM and manager?
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I think Nick's most apt comment was about this staff's floor. Yes, there are glimmers of hope. But my god, reading what we have at our disposal all in one place really reinforces how tenuous this groups hold is on being any better than last year. This could get really, really rough.
    1. Dave T's Avatar
      Dave T -
      Nah, don't look at it that way. This could be really, really rough in April. We'll be fine once the real starters show up.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Doable goal for the starting rotation is to have a sub 5 ERA. That gets us into 70 wins area. A doable goal for most years should be a sub 4.5 ERA from the rotation, which helps get into the 80 wins area and a good pitching staff should aim for a sub 4 ERA (for the good to elite rotations) which helps get you into the 90 wins area (potentially-- of course on all these wins by an average or better offense).

      Therefore, I'm just hoping for a sub 5 ERA from the rotation and a sub 4 ERA from the pen -- which could get us in 70s and maybe up to 80 wins area. I think the offense is capable of averaging 4.5 runs/game (was 4.33 in 2012), so as long as the pitching and defense allow runs against of sub 4.5 (runs allowed per game in 2012 was 5.14), we are playing .500 baseball (this is the pythagorean W/L stat right?) This is my hope, but will aim for 75 wins as an attainable goal.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      With a rotation of Worley, Worely, Wroely, Vance, and Vanimal, names I have seen bandied about here and elsewhere, the Twins have a chance of having pretty good starting pitching.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      A .500 record is something to wish for in 2013. It means the rotation has some stability. It means the top of the order provides some runs. It means the middle infield fields the ball. It means the relief pitchers provide some relief. It means some fun for 2013 and some hope for 2014. I am so ready for this season to start.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      What the heck? Why not pretend these guys are better while we still can?
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      What the heck? Why not pretend these guys are better while we still can?
      Even on paper it takes some real mental gymnastics to achieve optimism.
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