• 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. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Pitching wins games. Pitching wins pennant races. Pitching wins championships. A true baseball fan enjoys a 2-1 game. Pitching, pitching, pitching. If these guys don't succeed, it one heck of a long season. Fingers crossed for good health and a team SP ERA below 4.00
    1. Zach's Avatar
      Zach -
      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.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Starting pitching is problem 1 for this team, and that's saying something.

      Hard to see how it could happen, but if the starting pitching exceeds reasonable expectations, that'd go a long way towards a return to competitiveness for this season.

      Not to mention I can't even begin to imagine what the rotation will look like on opening day 2013.

      Were I GM, I'd be trying to get Liriano signed to an extension.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      The Twins have 2 #3/#4 in Baker and Liriano. A #5 starter on any other team in Pavano. And 2 guys who have no business being anything other than a AAA starter or a long reliever on a minimum contract in Marquis and Blacky.

      I was looking around the majors to try to find a worse rotation and I only found a couple candidates: Astros (easily better than twins if they hadn't moved Myers to the pen), Royals (much higher potential with Sanchez, Duffy, Montgomery but overall close).

      This is going to be a PATHETIC year. Might as well bring Liam up and let him take his lumps as opposed to give any meaningful innings to bench fodder like Marquis and Blacky.

      THIS HAS A CHANCE TO BE THE WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
    1. Gernzy's Avatar
      Gernzy -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      The Twins have 2 #3/#4 in Baker and Liriano. A #5 starter on any other team in Pavano. And 2 guys who have no business being anything other than a AAA starter or a long reliever on a minimum contract in Marquis and Blacky.

      I was looking around the majors to try to find a worse rotation and I only found a couple candidates: Astros (easily better than twins if they hadn't moved Myers to the pen), Royals (much higher potential with Sanchez, Duffy, Montgomery but overall close).

      This is going to be a PATHETIC year. Might as well bring Liam up and let him take his lumps as opposed to give any meaningful innings to bench fodder like Marquis and Blacky.

      THIS HAS A CHANCE TO BE THE WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
      Worst in history? Really? REALLY? wow. Can you at least wait until the season starts before you rip on the team. Thanks.
    1. woolhouse's Avatar
      woolhouse -
      Hopefully the offensive only improves on it's already decent spring training, because they're going to have to win a lot of 9-8 games...

      It's also a good thing the bullpen will have Duensing and Swarzak, two pitchers who can pitch 3-4 innings every couple of days.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      twinswon1991, this also has a chance to be a pretty good starting rotation. If we're really talking about 'chances,' then there's a chance Liriano will be good this year, finally getting control of his sideways cartwheel delivery. Baker I'm worried about, but he's had early season elbow trouble before and still had a good season. Blackburn appears to be in the best shape physically since his early days. Pavano looks no worse than last year. Marquis, yep, he's a complete question mark, but Liam Hendriks looks ready to fill in as needed, and I think Swarzak is a lot better than some do.

      I'm not claiming anything spectacular for this staff, but the current starters are all veterans, and none of them appear likely to collapse mentally. The two backups appear to be mechanically sound and mentally tough. No Cy Young candidates, unless Liriano catches fire. The rest are #3's and 4's on most teams, but that's how the Twins have designed their team, mostly ground ball pitchers with good defense behind them. This bunch fits that mold pretty well.
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      Twinswon1991,

      Nice accessment and very truthful. Why is everybody just happy with baseball season starting? What the front office did was really unacceptable and it's not on Ryan. This mess is completely on the shoulders of the Pohlad family and their complete refusal to spend even a fraction of money. They did nothing to improve the starting rotation or bullpen. Basically our biggest pitching acquisition was Jason Marquis. Yes, it it true this was their biggest signing. Why other writers/bloggers protect the front office after they cut $15 million from payroll is mind boggling.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      "allowing that much contact in front of a substandard defense led to a league-worst 1,086 hits allowed." They also walked 100 more batters than in 2010. It was just a horrible year all around. However, this is almost the exact same rotation as the team that won 94 games in 2010.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      This staff is not very good, probably. I'd guess it won't be any better than 20th or so, which is criminal in a stadium this unfriendly to hitters.....as a real fan that has been watching baseball since the 60s, I like 6-5 games just as much as 2-1 games, but it sure would be nice if there were more games under 5 runs allowed this year.....
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      The Twins have 2 #3/#4 in Baker and Liriano. A #5 starter on any other team in Pavano. And 2 guys who have no business being anything other than a AAA starter or a long reliever on a minimum contract in Marquis and Blacky.

      I was looking around the majors to try to find a worse rotation and I only found a couple candidates: Astros (easily better than twins if they hadn't moved Myers to the pen), Royals (much higher potential with Sanchez, Duffy, Montgomery but overall close).

      This is going to be a PATHETIC year. Might as well bring Liam up and let him take his lumps as opposed to give any meaningful innings to bench fodder like Marquis and Blacky.

      THIS HAS A CHANCE TO BE THE WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
      Blackburn has been wildly inconsistent. If you look at his career month by month you will see 10 months with ERA above 5.00, 2 moths betwee 4.00 and 5.00 (one would think this is where he would be most months), 6 months with an ERA between 3.00 and 4.00 (which is very good) and 6 months with an ERA below 3.00 which is fabulous. It all combines for a 4.50 ERA which is very good for a back of the rotation MAJOR LEAGUE starter and pretty close to the MAJOR LEAGUE average.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Yes, aces are that difficult to get. According to one of the Strib blogs there only exist 12 aces in all the majors.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinswon1991 View Post
      The Twins have 2 #3/#4 in Baker and Liriano. A #5 starter on any other team in Pavano. And 2 guys who have no business being anything other than a AAA starter or a long reliever on a minimum contract in Marquis and Blacky.

      I was looking around the majors to try to find a worse rotation and I only found a couple candidates: Astros (easily better than twins if they hadn't moved Myers to the pen), Royals (much higher potential with Sanchez, Duffy, Montgomery but overall close).

      This is going to be a PATHETIC year. Might as well bring Liam up and let him take his lumps as opposed to give any meaningful innings to bench fodder like Marquis and Blacky.

      THIS HAS A CHANCE TO BE THE WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
      Baker & Liriano only get discounted if you punish them for inability to stay healthy. On talent, Liriano is a #1, Baker is a #2. Pavano is a 3-4 at this point in his career, but he's not a 5 because he seems to be able to stay healthy and grind out 200+ innings now. I don't understand why you hate Blackburn so much. Healthy he's absolutely a MLB starter. Marquis is the definition of a "veteran presence, back of the rotation" guy, and as a 5th starter he'll be fine if he can keep the ball on the ground. If not, well, he's a 5th starter and we have other options to fill that role with Hendriks, Swarzak, etc.

      Also, if you were able to find a couple of candidates in MLB that could be worse than the Twins rotation, even with your deeply pessimistic and seemingly anti-Twins attitude...how can this be the worst rotation in baseball history? I mean seriously.

      Scott Baker: ERA+ of 128 last season.
      Tim Lincecum: ERA+ of 130 last season.

      Nick Blackburn: ERA+ of 89 last season, with injuries
      Detroit's 2-4 starters last season (Scherzer, Porcello, Penny): 92, 86, 79 respectively
      Still think he's not MLB-worthy?

      The real issue with the Twins rotation is health, not ability. There's enough talent there for this club to compete, but if guys like Liriano, Baker, and Blackburn aren't healthy/can't stay healthy, then the team is going to have problems. But it's hard to bet on health one way or the other. Is Carl Pavano a workhorse or injury-riddled? FLA fans would call him a workhorse, after seeing back-to-back 200+ inning seasons. Yankee fans think of him as an injury-riddled mess with 3 straight seasons where he could get on/stay on the field. Since then he's been back to workhorse mode with 4 straight 200+ inning seasons! (ok, I rounded up a bit; the first 2 of those 4 he was actually at 199 1/3 in each of them) Which should we project/count on?

      The Twins are betting their starters will be healthy enough this season. There's definite risk in that position, especially since Gibson won't be ready to step in this year. I'd feel a lot better about where the starters are if we had BOTH Gibson and Hendriks waiting in AAA if Baker has arm trouble, Marquis is ineffective, or Pavano finally runs out of gas. But it's not an unreasonable risk.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      jmlease, excellent post! And Fanatic Jack, perhaps it isn't a question of us "protecting" the Pohlads. Maybe we disagree with your incredibly negative opinions.

      I recall, in 1987, many negative opinions when they marched out Les Straker as the #3 starter. Les friggin' Straker! I could probably find you a post or two from that spring proclaiming a distinct possibility of that rotation have the potential of going down as the WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
    1. Fanatic Jack's Avatar
      Fanatic Jack -
      Birdwatcher,

      Do you work for the Twins?? Before you criticize my thoughts think about this. Would cutting payroll after losing 99 games be acceptable in NY, Boston, Phily, LA, or even Detroit. The answer is no way in million years. The reason why because fans and sports writers would go after the front office. I just don't understand why fans are not more outraged by a team that did absolutly nothing to improve itself. I guess we should just be happy because the Twins are still in Minnesota. Sorry that is not good enough for me. Welcome to the 90's all over again and the fans are buying it hook, line, and sinker..
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fanatic Jack View Post
      Twinswon1991,

      Nice accessment and very truthful. Why is everybody just happy with baseball season starting? What the front office did was really unacceptable and it's not on Ryan. This mess is completely on the shoulders of the Pohlad family and their complete refusal to spend even a fraction of money. They did nothing to improve the starting rotation or bullpen. Basically our biggest pitching acquisition was Jason Marquis. Yes, it it true this was their biggest signing. Why other writers/bloggers protect the front office after they cut $15 million from payroll is mind boggling.
      Have to agree. Rumor has it that revenue was in excess of $230 million last year. They have historically spent 50% of revenue on payroll, yet now when revenue goes up thanks to a Tax Payer funded stadium, they decide to pocket more of the money. Completely frustrating! I was thinking of buying season tickets this year, but decided since the owners refuse to invest in the team, why should I?
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      Quote Originally Posted by birdwatcher View Post
      jmlease, excellent post! And Fanatic Jack, perhaps it isn't a question of us "protecting" the Pohlads. Maybe we disagree with your incredibly negative opinions.

      I recall, in 1987, many negative opinions when they marched out Les Straker as the #3 starter. Les friggin' Straker! I could probably find you a post or two from that spring proclaiming a distinct possibility of that rotation have the potential of going down as the WORST ROTATION IN BASEBALL HISTORY!!!
      Except in '87 they also had Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. I've seen Viola and Blyleven pitch, my friend, and it's an insult to those men to compare ANY of the current pitchers to those two.
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      This: "
      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."
      is all you need to know. They basically have no plan, but are simply hoping and praying the guys they had are better than they have shown in the past. It may be even worse than last year, when you consider the lack of reinforcements at AAA this year. Other than Hendricks, who are the Twins hoping to get help from if, or rather when a couple of these guys fail or get hurt? Is anyone really comfortable with the fact they are thinking of using Maloney and Swarzak as their 4 and 5 to start the year...making an already questionable bullpen even more questionable?
    1. whydidnt's Avatar
      whydidnt -
      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.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      Baker & Liriano only get discounted if you punish them for inability to stay healthy. On talent, Liriano is a #1, Baker is a #2. Pavano is a 3-4 at this point in his career, but he's not a 5 because he seems to be able to stay healthy and grind out 200+ innings now. I don't understand why you hate Blackburn so much. Healthy he's absolutely a MLB starter. Marquis is the definition of a "veteran presence, back of the rotation" guy, and as a 5th starter he'll be fine if he can keep the ball on the ground. If not, well, he's a 5th starter and we have other options to fill that role with Hendriks, Swarzak, etc.

      Also, if you were able to find a couple of candidates in MLB that could be worse than the Twins rotation, even with your deeply pessimistic and seemingly anti-Twins attitude...how can this be the worst rotation in baseball history? I mean seriously.

      Scott Baker: ERA+ of 128 last season.
      Tim Lincecum: ERA+ of 130 last season.

      Nick Blackburn: ERA+ of 89 last season, with injuries
      Detroit's 2-4 starters last season (Scherzer, Porcello, Penny): 92, 86, 79 respectively
      Still think he's not MLB-worthy?

      The real issue with the Twins rotation is health, not ability. There's enough talent there for this club to compete, but if guys like Liriano, Baker, and Blackburn aren't healthy/can't stay healthy, then the team is going to have problems. But it's hard to bet on health one way or the other. Is Carl Pavano a workhorse or injury-riddled? FLA fans would call him a workhorse, after seeing back-to-back 200+ inning seasons. Yankee fans think of him as an injury-riddled mess with 3 straight seasons where he could get on/stay on the field. Since then he's been back to workhorse mode with 4 straight 200+ inning seasons! (ok, I rounded up a bit; the first 2 of those 4 he was actually at 199 1/3 in each of them) Which should we project/count on?

      The Twins are betting their starters will be healthy enough this season. There's definite risk in that position, especially since Gibson won't be ready to step in this year. I'd feel a lot better about where the starters are if we had BOTH Gibson and Hendriks waiting in AAA if Baker has arm trouble, Marquis is ineffective, or Pavano finally runs out of gas. But it's not an unreasonable risk.
      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
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