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  • Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

    Last year, the rotation was an utter disaster, with Twins starters ranking 26th in the majors in ERA and WHIP. Short outings taxed an already ill-equipped bullpen and frequently put games out of reach before the offense had much of a say.

    It's not hard to see why these pitchers struggled so badly. Beyond injuries that hindered performance, the starting corps posted a lower strikeout rate than any other AL club; allowing that much contact in front of a substandard defense led to a league-worst 1,086 hits allowed.

    The front office didn't focus much on adding reinforcements during the offseason, signing only one new player who figures to be the fifth starter. Instead, they'll rely on improved health, effectiveness and accountability from the incumbents.

    Carl Pavano
    2011 Stats: 222 IP, 9-13, 4.30 ERA, 102/40 K/BB, 1.36 WHIP

    While he's technically the team's No. 1 starter since he'll pitch on Opening Day, Pavano hardly fits the profile of a staff ace. At age 36, he is what he is; a veteran strike-thrower with a mature approach and an extremely hittable fastball. The best you can realistically hope for from Pavano is around 200 innings of serviceable performance. That's not without value, but it's also not what you want matching up against the top starters for contending clubs.

    Francisco Liriano
    2011 Stats: 134.1 IP, 9-10, 5.09 ERA, 112/75 K/BB, 1.49 WHIP

    The mercurial left-hander has been alternately dazzling and maddening over the years and is a perennial spring wild card. If he's on his game he completely changes the complexion of the Twins' rotation, providing a legitimate front-end talent to change the pace for a group that generally survives on sleekness rather than stuff. Following an abysmal 2011 campaign, Liriano has shown plenty of positive signs this spring, coming to camp in shape and delivering a 23-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 18 innings while showing improved velocity and command. Of course, until the season gets underway, we won't really know which Frankie we're dealing with.

    Nick Blackburn
    2011 Stats: 148.1 IP, 7-10, 4.49 ERA, 76/54 K/BB, 1.60 WHIP

    Last year marked the second consecutive season in which Blackburn pitched well enough early on but battled forearm issues, watched his performance deteriorate as the summer progressed and required arm surgery in the fall. His most recent procedure was more significant, and the hope is that it will finally enable him to return to the level of productivity that made him a solid mid-rotation innings-eater back in 2008 and 2009. Like Liriano, Blackburn is enjoying an excellent spring (1.50 ERA in three starts) and is actually missing more bats than we're accustomed to seeing. That all bodes well, but the right-hander needs to prove that he can keep his arm intact all year.

    Scott Baker
    2011 Stats: 134.2 IP, 8-6, 3.14 ERA, 123/32 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP

    With the rest of the starters scuffling along, Baker enjoyed a career year in 2011, standing out from the contact-heavy staff by averaging 8.2 whiffs per nine. That mark would've ranked him among the league leaders if he had enough innings to qualify, which he of course did not as arm problems limited the righty to 24 frames after the All-Star break. It was the second straight season in which he's been slowed by elbow soreness, and the issue has already reemerged this spring, feeding the belief that he won't be ready for the start of the year. If Baker can't go, it seems likely that either Anthony Swarzak or Liam Hendriks would occupy his spot in the rotation. Those are decent enough fill-ins, capable of Kevin Slowey type production, but either would represent a sizable drop-off from Baker in his element.

    Jason Marquis
    2011 Stats: 132 IP, 8-6, 4.43 ERA, 76/43 K/BB, 1.49 WHIP

    The lone newcomer in this year's starting pitching equation, Marquis has a track record that screams "mediocre at best." Historically, he hasn't racked up many strikeouts and hasn't limited hits or walks particularly well. He's also spent his entire career in the more pitcher-friendly National League. The nice thing about the 33-year-old hurler is that if he can hang in there and keep his sinker over the plate, he gives the Twins a fourth rotation member (along with Pavano, Liriano and Blackburn) who tends to induce ground balls at a steady clip. Hopefully, this will reduce the number of drives landing in the gaps and over the fence at Target Field. Unfortunately, with Marquis looking beyond shaky in his early spring performances and currently away from the team indefinitely to tend to a serious family matter, he can't be counted on for much at this point.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      Quote Originally Posted by whydidnt View Post
      I'll take this a step further, if the Twins had been willing to spend even couple million more they could have landed someone like Eric Bedard, or Chis Capuano instead of Jason Marquis. Both are injury risks (just like Marquis) but both have a much higher upside. I'd go so far as to say they would have been better off adding the 2 million they spent on Carroll to what they spent on Marquis and sticking with Dozier at SS. Oh, by the way Colon signed for 1.5 million. The Twins couldn't have "stretched" to give him 2 million? Sure he's a risk, but he was also darn effective last year.

      My gripe is that if they hadn't been so married to the guys that have proved to be questionable or ineffective in the past, they could have certainly improved. It's almost as if they didn't try.
      Marquis should have never recieved a major league deal but clueless Terry Ryan went ahead and bid against himself and wasted precious dollars that couldve went towards useful assets. The Twins couldve signed Marquis to a minor league deal and I wouldve said good job as no other teams would offer this bum a guaranteed mlb deal. As they say all you have to find is one sucker and Marquis's agent found Terry Ryan.
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -

      I would just be happy with signing Michael Wuertz but apparently he is worth too much. Glad we spent $850.000 on a injury prone reliever who had not pitched in two years. The concept this year should be more open and transparent but instead it's all about HOPE. Hope does you no good when the talent is not there.
    1. kevinlillie's Avatar
      kevinlillie -
      here's a scary thought.. i heard on 1500 this morning that blackburn is the only pitcher that is signed through the end of this season... we are gonna need to do a lot of shopping this offseason
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      There are so many reasons to be concerned here. Baker and Liriano are the only two out of the 5 that even have the POTENTIAL to miss bats. Baker is already quasi-hurt, and Liriano was hittable and erratic again last year. Apart from Pavano, the 2 through 5 starters didn't make it to 150 innings last year, due to injury.

      In other words, even if you were satisfied with these 5 guys (I'm not), they're not going to all be available by June or July, maybe even earlier. And given that there's no up and coming stud in the entire upper levels of the organization ready to step in like we thought Gibson might last year (before his injury), those innings are going to end up going to batting practice guys like Hendricks, Swarzak, and Wimmers. Look out...

      @kevinlillie - That thought would frighten me more if we had 5 guys (or even 3) worth keeping. Baker and Liriano are intriguing, but guys off the waiver wire/trade heap could do roughly the same as the other guys we throw out there.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      Huh??????? Comparing Baker to Lincecum??? Comparing Blacky to Detroit's pitching?? Do you honestly think Leland would even bother to have cannon fodder like Blacky pitch for him? I am a Baker fan when on the field which is never.

      The pathetic thing about these pitchers is they make half their starts in the most fly ball friendly park in the league and still produce below mediocre numbers.

      You should tell Terry Ryan to call Sabean and offer Baker for Lincecum because your cute little stat says they are equal pitchers. HaHaHa
      Well, since ERA+ accounts for park factors, it's a pretty reasonable stat to look at general value. Try to keep in mind, Tim Lincecum hasn't been the same pitcher the last 2 seasons as those 2 Cy Young years, mmmkay? No, Sabean's not going to deal the guy for Baker (who is 2 years older and has trouble staying healthy), but last season they were fairly comparable until Baker got hurt. And Baker's numbers show pretty clearly that he's capable for being a nice #2 starter if healthy.

      I think Jim Leland would have been happy to have a guy like Blackburn pitching for him last season, again, before Blackie got hurt. If Nick Blackburn is your 2nd or 3rd guy, that's not good. If he's your 4th or 5th guy, that's not bad at all.

      I'd rather use stats to look at how good our pitching staff is or can be, than rely on memory. If you're remembering those games at the end of July when he went back-to-back giving up a gazillion hits, runs in bunches, and couldn't get through more than 3-4 innings...yeah, you'll think he stinks. If you remember May when he went 5 straight starts pitching into the 7th inning including a complete game, never giving up more than 2 ER, then you probably think he's a really good pitcher. The truth lies somewhere in between: healthy, Nick Blackburn should be the 4th or 5th starter on a decent pitching staff.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      Quote Originally Posted by kevinlillie View Post
      here's a scary thought.. i heard on 1500 this morning that blackburn is the only pitcher that is signed through the end of this season... we are gonna need to do a lot of shopping this offseason
      According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Twins do have an option on Baker for 2013. For $9.25 million. That may or may not make you feel better.
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      Does an outfield of Willingham, Span, and Plouffe strike anyone as being an improvement defensively over last year? Willingham in left has the potential to make Delmon Young seem mercurial by comparison and Plouffe has only handled 30 more chances as an outfielder than I have.

      The pitching staff is going to have to be content with whatever defensive improvement Jamey Carroll provides on his lonesome* over last year's Nishioka/Plouffe/Casilla/Tolbert consipracy.

      *I estimate Carroll's impact to be a 20 run improvement based on last year's Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average. Considering Carroll was 5 runs below average in a third of a season at SS for the Dodgers, how sad was our 2011 bunch? (-36 runs)
    1. Higuys's Avatar
      Higuys -
      Quote Originally Posted by Zach View Post
      I cant understad how the twins have been without an ace for so long. Santana left 5 years ago now, and I feel we havent seen any real dominant starter since. How has starting pitching been left so obviously mediocre? Are aces that difficult to get? Are any potential phenoms on the way through the farm? thanks for your thoughts all.
      Kyle Gibson was a lefty in our Triple-A system that had the potential to be a good 3rd starter in any rotation but didn't pitch at all during the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Higuys View Post
      Kyle Gibson was a lefty in our Triple-A system that had the potential to be a good 3rd starter in any rotation but didn't pitch at all during the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery.
      Gibson is actually a lefty? No wonder he needed TJ surgery! When I saw him pitch he was throwing with his right arm, which is very unhealthy for a lefty.

      And for the person comparing Baker to Lincecum, take a deep breath. Baker is a fine pitcher when healthy, but the Lincecum comparison is a stretch. FIP is a better yardstick than ERA+, and to almost no one's surprise but yours, lincecum led Baker by nearly a run and nearly a half run over the past two seasons respectively.

      And that's not even allowing for the strong possibility that Baker's entirely new level of performance in 2011 may be unsustainable for 200+ innings. The injury bug may catch up to Lincecum, but so far he's been an unbreakable workhorse, averaging about 220 innings over the past 4 seasons. Baker is 30 and has yet to exceed 200.
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