• 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. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      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.
      That's the issue though. Why was he looking at the bottom of the pile in the first place when he had yet to grab a needed asset from the middle? Note I didn't say top.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      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.
      He looks like a pretty good value to me. I remember quite a few people advocating for Dempster & Blanton. Jackson got 4/52M. He is 7-15 w/4.91 ERA. Dempster got 2/26.5M. He is 8-9 w/4.79 ERA. Correia @ 2/10 is 9-10 w/4.18 ERA.

      We could also talk about the long list of guys that got contracts for 50-100% more annually who's numbers are worse, in some cases much worse, than Correia.

      It's easy to talk about FA in the abstract and say the Twins refuse to get it done. There a re a few problems with that position. First, there really were only a couple FA SPs that there were highly sought after. If there ever would be a correct time for the Twins to go out and sign a $25M/yr FA SP to a six-year deal, this phase of rebuilding is a s far away from the right time as possible. We also don't have the supporting cast, in other words, we have a bad team and that makes it even harder.

      Sanchez, the other prime taget stayed with his old team. Should we have significantly overpaid for 5 years. Again, not now, at least not on a long-term deal. The vast majority of the others have failed. Nobody expected Feldman and Colon to be great. So, what could they have realistically done?

      How about the top FA position players from last year.
      Josh Hamilton 5/125 - 236 .297 .422 .719

      Michael Bourne 4/48 - 262 .315 .344 .659

      BJ Upton 5/75 - 199 .281 .314 .595

      Nick Swisher 4/48 - 237 .333 .392 .726

      At least Doumit & Willingham were good in the first years of their contracts.
      Doumit 275 .320 .461 .781
      Willingham 3/21 260 .366 .524 .890

      As fans, we have the luxury of complaining when GMs don't go out on a limb and sign high dollar free agents and then also complain when they don't pan out and the team is stuck with their poor performance and anchor contracts.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Would be good with Lincecum or Johnson. Hughes will have to be overpaid to come here. Erwin Santana = no chance and Johan Santana would be a big risk and he still may want to pitch in a major venue. Pelfrey might work as a 4-5 type. Correira will be here along with one of Albers or Diamond. Twins need a front line upgrade for at least one to two years, best chance of that is Johnson. Lincecum might even be qualified with an offer. It is what the state of pitching will be with clubs getting about $25 million in additional revenue next year.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      He looks like a pretty good value to me. I remember quite a few people advocating for Dempster & Blanton. Jackson got 4/52M. He is 7-15 w/4.91 ERA. Dempster got 2/26.5M. He is 8-9 w/4.79 ERA. Correia @ 2/10 is 9-10 w/4.18 ERA.

      We could also talk about the long list of guys that got contracts for 50-100% more annually who's numbers are worse, in some cases much worse, than Correia.

      It's easy to talk about FA in the abstract and say the Twins refuse to get it done. There a re a few problems with that position. First, there really were only a couple FA SPs that there were highly sought after. If there ever would be a correct time for the Twins to go out and sign a $25M/yr FA SP to a six-year deal, this phase of rebuilding is a s far away from the right time as possible. We also don't have the supporting cast, in other words, we have a bad team and that makes it even harder.

      Sanchez, the other prime taget stayed with his old team. Should we have significantly overpaid for 5 years. Again, not now, at least not on a long-term deal. The vast majority of the others have failed. Nobody expected Feldman and Colon to be great. So, what could they have realistically done?
      I agree--this year's class is no better. Lincecum is on a 3 year downtrend. Hughes and Johnson may be worth a gamble--but 3 year 25mill is the max. Don't expect either to be better than 10-12 wins and an ERA of 4.5...pretty much what we got for Corriea...free agency is not the way to go.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      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 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.
      I pulled the HRs hit at Yankees Stadium since 2009. Hughes has allowed 40 HRs that were pulled to the right side (under 90 degree horizontal angle).

      Of these, 10 have a Park # greater than 26. Meaning, 10 would be home runs in TF and 30 would not (using fangraphs' Park Factor for TF, it is the 4th most difficult park for LH HR power). That is 6 HRs per year, on average, which might have been saved playing at TF instead of New Yankee Stadium.

      I admit that's more than I expected, but I'm still skeptical TF would turn Hughes into a substantially better pitcher than the 4.5 ERA guy he's been to this point. Freddy Garcia, another RH flyball guy, managed a 4.5 ERA for the Yankees in two seasons too.

      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5pI...it?usp=sharing
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      That's the issue though. Why was he looking at the bottom of the pile in the first place when he had yet to grab a needed asset from the middle? Note I didn't say top.
      The middle of the pile sucked, too. If you think you can get a player in search of a championship to the Twins with no other additions, then it is pointless to discuss why they did not sign a top level pitcher.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I pulled the HRs hit at Yankees Stadium since 2009. Hughes has allowed 40 HRs that were pulled to the right side (under 90 degree horizontal angle).

      Of these, 10 have a Park # greater than 26. Meaning, 10 would be home runs in TF and 30 would not (using fangraphs' Park Factor for TF, it is the 4th most difficult park for LH HR power). That is 6 HRs per year, on average, which might have been saved playing at TF instead of New Yankee Stadium.

      I admit that's more than I expected, but I'm still skeptical TF would turn Hughes into a substantially better pitcher than the 4.5 ERA guy he's been to this point. Freddy Garcia, another RH flyball guy, managed a 4.5 ERA for the Yankees in two seasons too.

      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5pI...it?usp=sharing
      If we assume all 30 of those HRs would be doubles instead, they are worth .825 runs less a piece and Hughes would have given up 25 fewer runs over the last 5 years. He's pitched 665 innings since 2009 and allowed 323 runs for an ERA of 4.37.

      So, while 25 fewer runs is a 4.03 ERA, it would be even lower if we assumed some of those to be caught as outs instead of doubles. I see a lot to like.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      If we assume all 30 of those HRs would be doubles instead, they are worth .825 runs less a piece and Hughes would have given up 25 fewer runs over the last 5 years. Forgive if this isn't exact not knowing what numbers you used... he's pitched 665 innings since 2009 and allowed 323 runs for an ERA of 4.37. So, while 25 fewer runs is a 4.03 ERA, it would be even lower if we assumed some of those to be caught as outs instead of double.

      I see a lot to like.
      Some might also be triples.

      Let's say he's a 4.00 ERA pitcher at TF. That's an improvement, I guess.

      Not much though.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Some might also be triples.

      Let's say he's a 4.00 ERA pitcher at TF. That's an improvement, I guess.

      Not much though.
      I think you could throw out his 2011 as he was injured (Phil Hughes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) and get that number down a little further. I'm splitting hairs a bit, but I'd maybe call it 3.80.

      I'd be happy to see that in the Twins rotation. That's a solid #3 on a playoff team and the Twins' ace with our current squad.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Hughes has been relatively similar in performance to Jeremy Guthrie. Less track record, but will hit the market at a much younger age (27 vs 33). Guthrie got 3/$25 last offseason. I'd be more than okay with seeing the Twins go 3/$30 or 4/$36.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      The middle of the pile sucked, too. If you think you can get a player in search of a championship to the Twins with no other additions, then it is pointless to discuss why they did not sign a top level pitcher.
      There are at least three four reasons they did not sign a top level reason FA SP. All of them have been discussed here in the past. As a matter of fact, Mackey just discussed this on the air.

      1. There are 12 or 14 teams with significantly more revenue than the Twins. Some of them have waaaay more money than the Twins. Somehow this very parochial concept gets ignored on a consistent basis as fans expect the Twins win a battle in which they are significantly out-gunned. When at least 10 teams with far more revenue, how is it a surprise other teams are able to bid more? The system, not the Twins create this situation. That’s why other team sports have salary caps.
      2. Point two follows point one. Historically, a high percentage of FA SPs turn out to be very poor deals. Some of them from the very start. The even higher probability is that they fail in the last couple of years of these long-term deals. Look back 5 years at the top FA SPs and see how those deals faired over the duration of the contract.
      3. Point three follows points 1&2. The Twins and teams like them in terms of revenue have to get much greater performance per dollar spent and any bad contracts can really limit a team’s options until they are off the books. The effect is even evident in now in teams like the Yankess, Angels, & Blue Jays. Obviously, the Yankees and Angels have a much larger margin of error and are still in trouble as a result of premier free agent acquisitions.
      4. Timing – Even if they were to take the chance, now is the worst possible timing. Premier free agent pitchers receive 5-6 year deals. If we were to take this kind of risk, it would make far more sense when the Twins young talent has been established at the MLB level. They are not going to contend the next couple years and the big name free agents are generally just past their peak. Do you want that contract on the books now so that in 4-6 years that pitcher is very likely nowhere near as effective as they are today? Would it make a lot more sense to acquire such a pitcher when he will likely make you an immediate contender for as long as they can maintain their performance level?
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by OldTwinky View Post
      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. Succintly put.
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      None of these guys excite me. I'm all for the Twins signing some much needed pitching but the FA market is so unimpressive.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      I'd welcome a return of Scott Baker now that he's healthy. I'm also interested in Lincecum, Hughes, Haren, Josh Johnson and Jason Hammel.

      There are some low wattage lefties that might have a season left. Chris Capuano, Barry Zito, Scott Feldman, Scott Kazmir, Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders and Wandy Rodriguez if he gets bought out. Target Field is built for lefties. How much is Jorge De La Rosa going to get paid?

      I see a lot more options this offseason than last. They should have about $100M of room in the budget if they really spent 52% of revenue and weren't just stockpiling money for the Pohlad's tax bill.
    1. ScottyB's Avatar
      ScottyB -
      As they said in ET - This is reality Greg. We are talking the Minnesota Twins here. In over 20 years the only significant free agent pitcher the Twins have signed was Jack Morris - because he wanted to pitch at home. Other than that I would say #2 would be Kenny Rogers. The Twins simply have never taken chances on free agents, period. What's the biggest free agent contract of a non-Twins player ever - it is for Willingham, 3 years, $21 million and that's both the highest cost and longest contract. Of the pitchers mentioned, Phill Hughes is making $7,150,000 - he won't be taking a cut. Ervin Santana is making $13,000,000 - he won't be taking a cut. Tim Lincecum is making $22,250,000 - he is unlikely to take a cut, even if his talent seems to be declining. Johan is making $24,644,708 - he might take a cut, maybe $20,000,000 on a one-year deal. And Josh Johnson - he's making $13,750,000 - he might be a buy low guy because of injury, but he won't take much of a cut and will certainly want a bunch of incentives on a one-year deal to rebuild reputation. All of these guys are already making more than the $7,000,000 a year that Willingham took in.

      Expect Correia back and probably Pelfrey. You might be able to sign a guy like Kazmir, who signed a minor league deal with Cleveland, but at least somewhat re-established himself and might sign a Correia type deal. Hughes might be in play, but I think too many teams with more assets they are willing to use will make offers higher than what Twins will be willing to pay.

      Ryan is more likely to trade. Maybe go after another buy low guy like Jeremy Hellickson who didn't have a great year. I don't know if there is a trade fit there, but it's something to think about. I don't even know if we have any chips available that anyone would want.
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      Would it be wise to sign a fly ball pitcher like Hughes and put some duo of Willingham/ Doumit/ Arcia/ Parmelee on the corners?

      I wonder if defense would be a factor in a pitcher's decision? Maybe only money matters.

      I also wonder if some pitchers might think twice if Mauer isn't going to be the main catcher next year and Doumit looks to get more playing time at catcher.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Pelfrey, Gibson, Deduno, Correia, Albers, Diamond, Hendriks, DeVries. There's your talent pool, folks. The Twins aren't going to bring in Tim Lincecum, who would rather retire than pitch here. Ervin Santana ain't going anywhere, and Johan ain't Johan anymore.

      Keep your fingers crossed that Trevor May learns to stop walking batters and Alex Meyer's shoulder holds up. Maybe Pedro Hernandez will learn to keep his turtle curves lower in the zone.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I can't get this idea out of my head.

      2015 ALCS Game 3

      Min @ NYY
      Hughes VS Sabathia

      7:10 EST
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I can't get this idea out of my head.
      They have pills for that...
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      The buy low guy that interests me is Ubaldo. Velo is dropping but the slider and changeup are still there. If someone fixed that delivery, we'd have an ace.
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