• Twins Can Improve Rotation Through Free Agency

    On Thursday, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.com tweeted out a very depressing but all too telling statistic about the Minnesota Twins’ rotation: The bullpen staff has 17 more strikeouts than the starting rotation.

    Sure, it is bleak but it is not as historically awful as it sounds: The current 12.3% strikeout rate by the Twins’ staff ranks 203rd among MLB starting rotations dating back to 1961. The issue, however, is that the Twins are trending in the wrong direction. Since 2008 he game has seen a proliferation of K’s like no other era. In fact, since 2008, the strikeout rate in MLB has been set and broken each season. Meanwhile, this season’s 18.7% league-wide strikeout rate has been the best ever.

    As bats have become more porous or the strike zone has expanded or the ball has become easier to spin, the Twins have failed to collect any pitchers who can capitalize on this growing whiff movement. At the player development level, the organization is slowly bringing along hurlers who have strikeout capabilities but the cavalry is still several years away.

    While developing pitchers is ultimately the best method for long-term success, it is clear in order to improve soon the Twins will have to acquire an arm either by trade or the free agent market.

    As one Twins front office member described to me, the organization has had interest in plenty of free agent starting pitchers but have been eschewed by the players and their agents for competitive reasons. For example, while his season wound up plenty disappointing, the veteran Dan Haren’s interest was to play for a presumed contender in the Washington Nationals. So after what will be a third 90-loss season, the Twins may yet again fall short of being able to lure a pitcher with a similar track record as a Dan Haren.

    Of course, money can change minds and the Twins may be at the point of needing to overpay for talent – at least to appease the dwindling ticket-buying consumers. Here are four strikeout pitchers who should be on the team’s radar:

    Tim Lincecum:

    A two-time Cy Young winner as recently as 2009, the now 29-year-old Lincecum has fallen from elite status as his velocity has dipped and his walk rate swelled. Hitters were able to tee up on both his fastball and change-up in 2012 which dramatically increased his home run rate. What’s interesting about the home run distribution lately is that the vast majority are pulled. Prior to the velocity decrease in 2012, the ones he allowed were to the middle of the park – hitters were not able to yank his offerings. Now, they have turned on the fastball/change as the velo discrepancies shrank significantly.

    Why would the Twins want him? Well, he still misses bats at a very high rate. As it stands right now, the Twins’ bullpen has more strikeouts than the starting rotation. Strikeouts are fascist but this rotation is desperate for a little of that action. Of the soon-to-be free agent starters, Lincecum’s 23.8% strikeout rate over the last three years leads the group. That would be a pretty sexy addition.

    The downside is he walks a ton too and that is the baggage the organization has shied away from. What’s more, Target Field is much more home run friendly than Lincecum’s former home at AT&T Park in San Francisco so in addition to seeing lineups with DH's upon switching from the NL to the AL, he could also be stepping into an environment which will inflate his home run rate.

    Ervin Santana:

    The word is Santana actually likes pitching in Kansas City, which means he may opt to stick around America’s bread basket. That puts the Twins at a disadvantage considering the Royals are actually competitive and the Twins are still in a rebuild. That said, it is possible that the Royals decide to not bring him back and, considering his volatility in recent years, he may be a less desired product than some of the other free agents on the market.

    Whatever he did, he started to throw more strikes and pepper the zone regularly while in a Royals uniform. This translated into fewer walks. He kept the ball down better which resulted in fewer home runs as well, which was a huge change from the previous season. Last year he allowed 39 home runs but has reduced that to 22 so far this year. One interesting note: After allowing 16 home runs up the middle, he has allowed just 7 that direction this year. (Caveat: It is possible that the 39 home runs allowed in 2012 were simply fluky when you consider how many left the park in the furthest reaches of the field.)

    Over the past three years, Santana’s held the second-lowest batting average on balls in play (.240) among free agents. This usually means hitters have a tough time squaring up on a pitcher – which is true for Santana – however he allowed 39 home runs a year ago meaning that a vast majority of balls that would have counted towards that BABIP left the field in a painful way.

    Phil Hughes:

    Baseball America’s fourth overall prospect in 2007. As a major leaguer, Phil Hughes’ career has been inconsistent in New York.

    Part of that may have to do with facing the beasts of the AL East while another half of that is performing in Yankee Stadium with the favorable hitting conditions. How badly has Yankee Stadium victimized him? Since 2000, Hughes’ home run-to-fly ball ratio of 13.1% has been the 14th highest in baseball among those with 300 innings. Meanwhile, away from Yankee Stadium, Hughes has had a 7% home run-to-fly ball ratio, the second-lowest among starting pitchers (only Clayton Kershaw is better). Clearly, moving him away from the Bronx and say moving into a home run suppressing venue like Target Field would be in his best interest.

    In terms of strikeouts, he will not put up gaudy totals. In fact, his rates are surprisingly average in that department. His slider is his only swing-and-miss pitch and that carries just a 12.6% swinging strike rate (below average for a slider).

    Johan Santana:

    Yes, the former Twin has had a rash of dehabilitating injuries in New York and the most recent one offers no guarantee that he will be ready to shoulder an entire season but, when healthy, he’s been a dominating force. He has expressed interest in pitching again in 2013 and will need just a one-year, make good Mike Pelfrey-type of deal. How sweet would it be to see Santana out on the Target Field mound again? (Answer: Very.)

    Beyond just nostalgia, there is a possibility that Santana may actually pitch well too. In 2012, his last healthy season, Santana whiffed 22.3% of batters faced. The velocity certainly isn’t what it used to be, as he now has a DeLorean fastball (88 miles per hour) but that cotton ball of a change-up has still made batters look foolish as hell. The flipside is that both age (34) and numerous surgeries could mean that Santana never recovers and winds up a Rich Harden or Joel Zumaya for the Twins. It would definitely be a low risk but high reward move.

    Plus I want to rock the “Santana” shirsey one last time. Man oh man.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins Can Improve Rotation Through Free Agency started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 124 Comments
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      We know Target Field favors RH pull hitters. If Lincecum is giving up his homers to RH pull hitters, he sure doesn't sound like a very good fit...

      I have a hard time believing that any team (especially the Twins) will be able to sign Ervin away from the Royals without a significant overpay. Some will argue that doesn't matter given our payroll situation.

      I'd rather remember the old Johan than this Johan. His odds of being even effective again are exceptionally low. I'd like to see someone with at least a little more certainty. If he's a third acquisition, it could make some sense.

      Phil Hughes looks like the best option in this group to me.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Hughes could be a good long-term option if the Twins are willing to go 3-5 years and trust their instincts, Johann would be a public relations plus and should be considered...even if he throws no innings, he'd be worth more to the team than Scott Baker last year and Nick Blackburn this year.

      What is truly amazing is how Terry Ryan did doge a bullet with so many of the 2013-class of free agent starters tanking in their own overpaid ways.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      I wouldn't mind signing Hughes and taking a chance on Big Time Timmy Jim and Johan. I would assume Lincecum working with our pitching staff would result in less walks. He would also be someone fans could get excited to see, even if he isn't what he used to be.
    1. SpitefulRabbit617's Avatar
      SpitefulRabbit617 -
      Sign them all except Phil Hughes. We need one pticher to tee off of.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post

      What is truly amazing is how Terry Ryan did doge a bullet with so many of the 2013-class of free agent starters tanking in their own overpaid ways.
      IMO, that's hardly amazing. Terry Ryan would have to actually 'overpay' first before he could get burnt by overpaying.
    1. OldTwinky's Avatar
      OldTwinky -
      The Twins won't even pursue any of these guys. I would bet the farm on it. They will sign a couple bums or maybe only 1 FA starter this off season but they won't be a guy who misses bats at an MLB average or higher. It just won't happen because those guys want $$$. Terry Ryan is simply in a competition with himself to shrink payroll as much as possible, judge him by his actions not his words because they are to completely different things, and that is the only logical reason for his actions since returning to the GM's chair.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      I would be on board with all these guys. Free agency is so long away.....
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Part of that may have to do with facing the beasts of the AL East while another half of that is performing in Yankee Stadium with the favorable hitting conditions. How badly has Yankee Stadium victimized him? Since 2000, Hughes’ home run-to-fly ball ratio of 13.1% has been the 14th highest in baseball among those with 300 innings. Meanwhile, away from Yankee Stadium, Hughes has had a 7% home run-to-fly ball ratio, the second-lowest among starting pitchers (only Clayton Kershaw is better). Clearly, moving him away from the Bronx and say moving into a home run suppressing venue like Target Field would be in his best interest.
      I wonder about this.

      A quick glance at ESPN's HR tracker for 2013 shows a 351 foot "Just enough" home run to right field by Chris Parmelee on July 1:

      ESPN Home Run Tracker :: Player and Field Detail

      This is the shortest home run hit to right field at TF this year.

      Hughes has allowed 2 home runs in Yankee Stadium shorter than that distance this year, of the 23 total he's allowed. And its possible both of those would have hit the wall and gone for doubles at Target Field.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I wonder about this.

      A quick glance at ESPN's HR tracker for 2013 shows a 351 foot "Just enough" home run to right field by Chris Parmelee on July 1:

      ESPN Home Run Tracker :: Player and Field Detail

      This is the shortest home run hit to right field at TF this year.

      Hughes has allowed 2 home runs in Yankee Stadium shorter than that distance this year, of the 23 total he's allowed. And its possible both of those would have hit the wall and gone for doubles at Target Field.
      Without narrowing the sample size down that far, there's plenty of evidence to make it more than reasonable to assume Hughes would give up fewer homers to RF if pitching in TF.

      Park factors provide easy numbers (118 in NY vs 90 in MN). Guts! | FanGraphs Baseball

      Using this with the Target Field overlay provides an easy visual. ESPN Home Run Tracker :: Player and Field Detail

      We also know the walls are both farther and higher in TF and the wind commonly comes in from right field.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      Does anybody have guesses on what kind of $ these guys will demand?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Does anybody have guesses on what kind of $ these guys will demand?
      We will have a complete estimate on all the free agents in our forthcoming GM Handbook, which will come out shortly after the World Series.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      We will have a complete estimate on all the free agents in our forthcoming GM Handbook, which will come out shortly after the World Series.
      Mmmmmmm, salivation.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      IMO, that's hardly amazing. Terry Ryan would have to actually 'overpay' first before he could get burnt by overpaying.
      Ryan gets no credit for knowing what he was doing in picking through the bottom half of the pile. He overpaid on Correia with a 2 year contract.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Ryan gets no credit for knowing what he was doing in picking through the bottom half of the pile. He overpaid on Correia with a 2 year contract.
      Well, Correia has already outplayed this years contract by 1.1M, so we can't really say that.

      In any event, 2yrs/10M is only considered overpaying in the FA market by the cheapest of teams...it's like telling someone they overpaid because they spent 1 dollar when they could have paid 98 cents. It's not even worth bringing up as overpaying....cause it's a dollar.
    1. 2wins87's Avatar
      2wins87 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      Without narrowing the sample size down that far, there's plenty of evidence to make it more than reasonable to assume Hughes would give up fewer homers to RF if pitching in TF. Park factors provide easy numbers (118 in NY vs 90 in MN). Guts! | FanGraphs BaseballUsing this with the Target Field overlay provides an easy visual. ESPN Home Run Tracker :: Player and Field DetailWe also know the walls are both farther and higher in TF and the wind commonly comes in from right field.
      And how about, according to the same ESPN home run tracker, hughes has given up 5 homers in Yankee stadium (all to right field) that would have been a home run in 8 or fewer parks under "normal" conditions (including one that shouldn't have even been a home run in Yankees Stadium). I think it's reasonable to assume that none of those would have been home runs at Target Field.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      He overpaid on Correia with a 2 year contract.
      Depending on how much stock you place on Fangraphs.com's valuation system, Correia has actually outperformed his first year of his contract. He is being paid $4.5M meanwhile he has been valued at $5.6M.

      There is a definite possibility he under-performs the second year of his deal but, so far, it ain't all bad.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Depending on how much stock you place on Fangraphs.com's valuation system, Correia has actually outperformed his first year of his contract. He is being paid $4.5M meanwhile he has been valued at $5.6M.

      There is a definite possibility he under-performs the second year of his deal but, so far, it ain't all bad.
      Even if he does, it's 5.5M...that's nothing for a FA pitcher. No one is going to say, wow, they overpaid him by 2 or 3M over the life of his contract, what an overpay! :-) It would fall under the 'technicality an overpay', but seriously absolutely no big deal at all.
    1. 2wins87's Avatar
      2wins87 -
      Also add Josh Johnson to the list of interesting free agents who can miss bats but is difficult to value.

      Looks like a good "buy low" candidate due to bad luck.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      He may or may not be overpaid, but he's hardly the answer to building a strong rotation as your leader.....that's my issue (and the 2nd year, which I still don't get).
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      On Tanaka today:
      What is your take on the ceiling for Tanaka? Most seem to think he can be a #2, not quite Darvish, but still a high level SP, what say you?
      Klaw (1:44 PM)


      I have not seen him myself. What I have heard from scouts is that he's less than that.
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