• 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. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      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.
      Darvish is arguably the best pitcher in baseball and put up gawdier strikeout numbers in Japan.

      Tanaka's peripherals look more like Kuroda's and Iwakuma's, with one notable distinction: fewer dingers.
    1. Vervehound's Avatar
      Vervehound -
      Quote Originally Posted by 2wins87 View Post
      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.
      that's a very good candidate, imo. it's not every year that we can learn from the pirates but with reclamation projects like burnett and liriano leading they way this year, they've found the right buy-low types.
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScottyB View Post
      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. .
      The Twins were also near the bottom of the leauge in revenue for most of the past 20 years until Target field came along. Has Oakland or Tampa Bay signed an elite FA SP? Maybe they have but I don't remember that happening. What I remember is them trading alot of premier talent away because they could not afford to keep them. The Twins could not have afforded to keep Mauer in the dome days.

      The St. Louis model or perhaps a modified form of the Rays model is what the Twins will need to follow. Has St. Louis signed a premier FA SP? I am asking in earnest. I really don't follow the NL much.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      The Twins were also near the bottom of the leauge in revenue for most of the past 20 years until Target field came along. Has Oakland or Tampa Bay signed an elite FA SP? Maybe they have but I don't remember that happening. What I remember is them trading alot of premier talent away because they could not afford to keep them. The Twins could not have afforded to keep Mauer in the dome days.

      The St. Louis model or perhaps a modified form of the Rays model is what the Twins will need to follow. Has St. Louis signed a premier FA SP? I am asking in earnest. I really don't follow the NL much.
      Oakland and TB know how to target quality pitching by trade or draft...and they are good at developing pitching. Why would they go buy pitching? When we can do THAT, people might not push to go get it elsewhere.

      BTW, as payroll sits now, the Metrodome could have handled it...
    1. Jack Torse's Avatar
      Jack Torse -
      Seeing is believing and until I see them sign a single high or evn quasi high caliber FA pitcher/player, where they have to outbid other clubs, I can't dream of them signing any player other than those who have lost all interest from other ML clubs. The Pohlads are shameful in their cheap approach and I care less about the club because of it.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      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
      2. Point two follows point one. Historically, a high percentage of FA SPs turn out to be very poor deals.
      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.
      4. Timing
      This is the same Phil Mackey that predicted an improved rotation?

      I can't disagree with what you say outright, but there are finer points that could be looked at.

      1. The Twins have far more payroll flexibility now than ever. They have one significant contract. It wouldn't hurt them to take a shot at a higher upside guy than those they've recently gone after by opening up the pocketbook a bit. That doesn't mean they need to go $100M for 5 years...but something...

      2. Sure to some extent. But, we need to get past the idea of overpaying. You can rarely expect to get dollar value on FA. You might have to overpay to actually get better. This is especially true of the Twins as they (as you say) are not the Rays or A's and haven't been able to do more with less. The alternative is to continue to be terrible.

      3. Follows point 1 and 2. The Twins have limited options in other methods. They haven't done a good job of drafting or developing starting pitching, so they've been terrible. This also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Twins keep losing, they'll lose revenue and then have less room to assume risk.

      4. Teams can suddenly get better and there's nothing wrong with simply making a team better. I'm not in the boat that says wait because you might be waiting forever. Trying to time picking up FA on prospects that might never make it is just as high risk.


      The bottom line for me is that the Twins haven't done a good job with whatever they're doing right now, especially with regards to starting pitching. You keep mentioning that other they are in the same boat as other teams, but there are other teams that are doing it better than they are with the same or less.

      They really have left themselves only one option in the near future for improvement and I think they should use it because I'd like to see a more competitive team next year.

      I'm at the point where I'd like to see them at least attempt to improve and fail (which doesn't have to mean a stupid signing, but a bit more risk would go a long way).
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      The St. Louis model or perhaps a modified form of the Rays model is what the Twins will need to follow. Has St. Louis signed a premier FA SP? I am asking in earnest. I really don't follow the NL much.
      Depends on what you consider Wainwright. They locked him up before he became a FA for 5 years to the tune of 19.5M per year. So, no they didn't sign him as a FA, but they are paying a premier pitcher top dollar.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      I would be interested in Lincecum or Josh Johnson especially. He seems like an ideal buy low bounce back candidate. I would be OK with Phil Hughes on a 3 year contract but he is going to command much more than that. He is a #4 pitcher in a championship rotation.

      Instead of most of the rest I would be more interested in throwing big money at a 1 year contract with the hopes of flipping at the deadline (of course eating a bunch of that salary). Kuroda, Colon and Baker are options.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I guess Girardi demoted Hughes to the bullpen on Wednesday

      New York Yankees demote Phil Hughes to bullpen - ESPN New York

      Yep, should fit in perfectly around here.
    1. Trevor0333's Avatar
      Trevor0333 -
      The article says the Twins CAN improve the rotation through free agency but then down plays the possibility of any of the listed players coming to the team. How does that help improve the rotation?

      The 3 likely rotation locks going forward. Deduno, Corriea, & Gibson leaving 2 spots open. Corriea is on the last year so that opens up another spot by 2015 or even Sept 2014. I expect Alex Meyer to come in by mid season, given his missed time this season I suspect the team to want to start him off in AAA next year.

      That still leaves 2 rotation spots that need to be filled. The Albers & Hendriks need to be in AAA & only injury replacements at best. May is more in the 2015 picture IMO. Realistically you want 2 pitchers to bridge a 2 year gap. The 2 SP I hope the Twins will go for, Tim Hudson & Colby Lewis.

      Hudson will preffer to stay in Atlanta but they will atleast wait on him and feel the market out. 2/20 would be enough to ward them off and the 2nd guaranteed year should entice him to sign. 10 mill a year is steep but the payroll will be low until raises for some of these younger players kick in and he will be off the books in time for that. Hudson was very good until breaking his ankle on that freak play.

      Lewis missing this year mainly due to hip issues that required surgery will be another year removed from that elbow surgery leaving his arm strong & primed for a rebound next year. Given what Texas gave up for Garza I would imagine they will focus on resigning him & hopefully taking their attention away from Lewis. A 2 year 15-20 mill range deal should be enough to bring him to MN.

      Both these deals are overpay but they give you the short years that you want when the young talented pitchers finally coming through the system are established.

      2014: Hudson; Lewis; Deduno; Corriea; Gibson with Meyer being a injury callup or taking Corrieas place possibly mid season.
      2015: Hudson; Lewis; Deduno; Meyer; Gibson with May filling the same role Meyer did the previous year.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      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.
      Right, but as you already acknowledged, I did not say top, I said middle. And if the middle tier pitchers won't come to Minnesota because they are not showing a stronger desire to win based on their commitment to the free agent market, well there is a clear solution for that.

      I would be zero disappointed in Ryan right now if he had shown some guts and signed a pitcher with upside who ended up failing. Every indication is that Ryan thinks making a mistake on a decent sized free agent deal will be the end of the organization. It won't, and not even close. Just do it damn it. Once. Now. So what if you miss, it cannot possibly harm the club any more than the inaction has harmed it. At least most of us would applaud the effort.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Deduno's injury is a serious concern and I'd definitely avoid locking him into a rotation spot -- sadly for him personally as well as for Twins' fans since he's been our best pitcher.
    1. beckmt's Avatar
      beckmt -
      Deduno may be a surgery candidate and I am not counting on him. That is why we need 2 very good FA pitchers and 1 filler type(Pelfrey might work here).
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      1. The Twins have far more payroll flexibility now than ever. They have one significant contract. It wouldn't hurt them to take a shot at a higher upside guy than those they've recently gone after by opening up the pocketbook a bit. That doesn't mean they need to go $100M for 5 years...but something...
      The talent in the organization is in position players who won't be arbitration-eligible until 2016+.

      1b: Open (Parm? Colabello? Mauer? Free agent?)
      2b: Dozier: arb, 2016; free agent 2019; Rosario: 2017+
      ss: Florimon: 2016; 2019
      3b: Sano: 2017+
      Rf: Arcia: 2016; 2019
      Cf: Hicks: 2016; 2019; Presley: 2015; 2018
      Lf: Buxton: 2017+
      C: Pinto: 2017+; Herrmann; 2016; 2019.

      So, I wouldn't be surprised if Terry Ryan goes after two more Correia/Pelfrey-level arms for 2014-15 ($20-30 M). Or, perhaps a deeper push for a Johnson, Hughes, Lincecum, Santana-level pitcher who could emerge as an ace.

      With the $ he has saved: (a) with Blackburn and Morneau off the payroll, and (b) with Willingham and Doumit due to go by the end of next year, or via trade--Ryan is due to spend some dough.

      By 2015 we can hope that May, Meyer, Berrios, Gibson, etc... will take command, but the time is now to roll the dice on one or two more free agent starters. Financially, there is more to lose by NOT entering into the free agent market--in order to put a marketable team on the field. As my old man said, "You've got to crack some eggs in order to make an omelet."
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      This is the same Phil Mackey that predicted an improved rotation?

      I can't disagree with what you say outright, but there are finer points that could be looked at.

      1. The Twins have far more payroll flexibility now than ever. They have one significant contract. It wouldn't hurt them to take a shot at a higher upside guy than those they've recently gone after by opening up the pocketbook a bit. That doesn't mean they need to go $100M for 5 years...but something...

      2. Sure to some extent. But, we need to get past the idea of overpaying. You can rarely expect to get dollar value on FA. You might have to overpay to actually get better. This is especially true of the Twins as they (as you say) are not the Rays or A's and haven't been able to do more with less. The alternative is to continue to be terrible.

      3. Follows point 1 and 2. The Twins have limited options in other methods. They haven't done a good job of drafting or developing starting pitching, so they've been terrible. This also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Twins keep losing, they'll lose revenue and then have less room to assume risk.

      4. Teams can suddenly get better and there's nothing wrong with simply making a team better. I'm not in the boat that says wait because you might be waiting forever. Trying to time picking up FA on prospects that might never make it is just as high risk.


      The bottom line for me is that the Twins haven't done a good job with whatever they're doing right now, especially with regards to starting pitching. You keep mentioning that other they are in the same boat as other teams, but there are other teams that are doing it better than they are with the same or less.

      They really have left themselves only one option in the near future for improvement and I think they should use it because I'd like to see a more competitive team next year.

      I'm at the point where I'd like to see them at least attempt to improve and fail (which doesn't have to mean a stupid signing, but a bit more risk would go a long way).
      I think we are on the same page but I probably did not leave that impression. I could not agree more they have the room and need to get something done. The only distinction is I believe it would be a big mistake do go beyond 4 years right now and 3 would definitely be preferable. That is going to rule out any elite FA SPs. In theory, a Dempster type deal would fit our needs right now. Of course, he has not been very good this year but that risk will always be present with FA SPs a bit past their prime. Some continue to get done like Kyle Lohse, others slide.

      I could get behind the acquisition of a top FA if we were KCs position right now. To put that in Twins perspective, lets just say that Sano, Buxton, and Arcia pan out as expected. Let's say just for fun that Dozier continues to play like he has in the 2nd half, Hicks becomes the solid but not spectacular offensive player we believe he can be and Florimon improves a bit to hit 250. That would be the time to go out and take a chance on an elite FA SP. We could also pick-up a Peavy type deal without giving away the farm.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      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.
      Fangraphs only uses the contracts of free agents signed this year to determine what is player value. Any players signed to an extension are not put into the value computations. Many large contracts are not performing well this year so your value goes up. Remember also I said the problem was he got a second year, not dollar per year.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Right, but as you already acknowledged, I did not say top, I said middle. And if the middle tier pitchers won't come to Minnesota because they are not showing a stronger desire to win based on their commitment to the free agent market, well there is a clear solution for that.

      I would be zero disappointed in Ryan right now if he had shown some guts and signed a pitcher with upside who ended up failing. Every indication is that Ryan thinks making a mistake on a decent sized free agent deal will be the end of the organization. It won't, and not even close. Just do it damn it. Once. Now. So what if you miss, it cannot possibly harm the club any more than the inaction has harmed it. At least most of us would applaud the effort.
      The Twins are supposed to have scouts smart enough to recommend to not sign "upside" players that fail. Gauging upside is what they are paid to do. You may see upside in a player based on what they did in years past. The scouts don't see the player making those pitches enough anymore. Why sign them?
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      We are uselessly torturing ourselves if we think any top line pitcher is going to sign with the Twins. It won't happen unless the Twins are a winning team. It won't happen in a free market system because a better team will ALWAYS match a Twins offer on a good pitcher. It hasn't happened and it won't happen unless some future player wants to play here for sentimental reasons and gives the Twins a home town discount. I am sorry this is so, but it is easier to accept it. To get a top line pitcher we will have to get lucky or lose one of our precious prospects in a trade.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      The Twins are supposed to have scouts smart enough to recommend to not sign "upside" players that fail. Gauging upside is what they are paid to do. You may see upside in a player based on what they did in years past. The scouts don't see the player making those pitches enough anymore. Why sign them?
      So are you saying the scouts saw upside in Correia and Pelfrey, or they saw no upside in any free agents? Either way they were wrong. Time to hire a data team comparable to the rest of the league so free agent reliance isn't nearly 100% on the scouts.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      I could get behind the acquisition of a top FA if we were KCs position right now.
      KC couldn't afford to sign top of the rotation help this offseason that's why they had to trade for it. The Twins will most likely (hopefully?) be in the same position a few years from now. When a mid-market team has a young core that is "ready" it can no longer afford to sign that elite FA because it can't pay for it in the out years and still resign all of the young core. This is something that the "wait until we're ready" crowd never seems to address.
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