Thoughts about the Twins rotation

The Twins have just finished their annual interleague series, with results that did not fulfill expectations, posting an overall losing record, for the first time since 2005. This fact, in addition to an 11-game winning streak by the White Sox and a decent interleague performance by the Tigers, which brought these 2 teams one-and-a-half and half a game respectively, behind the Twins in the standing, has triggered a lot of speculation about the team with most fingers pointing towards the starting rotation. Trade speculation that will bring in pitchers like Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt to the Twins has been rampart, and in the national media as well.

I am attempting to examine the performance of the Twins starting pitchers, compare it to that of a few pitchers, including Lee's and Oswalt's, and will share my thoughts.

I will use 2 criteria to look at pitching performance:

  • Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP)

  • and
  • Expected Pitching Efficiency (xPE). I do like (and prefer) using PE, (K/9*K/BB)/WHIP, and xPE, PE*(BABIP/.295), as pitching performance indicators, but I am adding the more widely used xFIP

Here is the performance of Twins' starters, the AL average starters and a couple of other pitchers, including some historic data:

  • Clearly (esp, as far as xPE is concerned, and xFIP pretty much agrees), the Twins have four above average pitchers in their rotation, and a fifth, Nick Blackburn, which is pitching at about replacement level. A quick look at the BABIP of the Twins' pitchers, will show that, with the exception of Pavano, it has been extremely high, and it is due for a correction that would result in more success, in terms of ERA and W-L, for the Twins starters. However, Blackburn's peripherals, esp. K/9 and K/BB are extremely low to make him a league average pitcher, even with the BABIP correction. I have criticized the contract extension and my reasoning was that (because of his conditionally low PE) he projects as a number 5 starter in a competitive team, and you do not lock your number five starter long term.

  • Replacing Blackburn in the rotation, is pretty much imperative at this point. One of the arguments for bringing in Lee or Oswalt is that "the Twins lack a true Ace" and the newcomer will be that ace for the Twins' run in the post-season. If you look at Liriano's performance, both as far as xPE and (mostly) as far as xFIP is concerned, he is an Ace. His performance has been better than that of Johan Santana's in his last year with the Twins and that of both Lee (his 2010 xPE is off the charts, because of low BB/9) and Oswalt in both of their last 2 season. So, myth debunked: The Twins do have an ace, and his name is Fransisco Liriano.

  • I think that unless Lee divides the clubhouse (and there have been a lot of questions about both his clubhouse presence and his character, and some indications of that were obvious to the Twins' fans with the infamous Gomez incident in 2008), I think that he will be a worthwhile addition, paired with Fransisco Liriano (a fellow lefty) on the top of the rotation. What will it take to pry Lee from the Mariners. There was a report that a trade was made involving Ramos, Duensing and an outfield prospect, which fell through because of Ramos oblique injury. I do not believe this trade rumor, mainly because it will be overpaying for the Twins. I think that Ramos will be the centerpiece in any package. Reportedly, Seattle wants "young outfielders" (is it because the Twins have many of those?) in addition to a young catcher. The Twins could really fit that bill with players like Benson and Roberts, but adding players like Hicks, Revere and Angel Morales will be overpaying. Personally I would like to see both Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn go to the Mariners (the Twins might have to pay some of Blackburn's ill-advised contract), because it will be win-win situation for anyone involved: The Twins open 3 spots (Ramos' as well) on their 40-man roster, enabling them to add players like Waldrop and Slama, and a spot on the 25-man roster. The Mariners get two pitchers who had relative success in the majors in the past and they can resurrect their careers in a new environment in the Mariners' large ballpark.

  • Oswalt on the other hand, would be better than Blackburn (not a tall order, Duensing will be better than Blackburn at this point) but not a top of the rotation starter. He never pitched in the AL before and all pitchers that made the NL to AL move later in their careers have not been able to translate NL success to AL success.

  • How about Slowey? Disappointing season so far. In the last 3 games his velocity fell by about 2 mph (both average FB velocity and max FB velocity). I hope that he is not having injury problems and it is an adjustment that he is making that results in the decreased velocity. To be noted: Opponents hit for a 1.208 OPS off Slowey (and 1.341 OPS off Blackburn) when paired with Drew Butera vs. a .780 OPS off Slowey (and .953 off Blackburn) when paired with Joe Mauer. Slowey should always pitch at Mauer. Gardenhire, could adjusts Mauer's days off to coincide with the pitching days of Pavano (.663 oOPS with Mauer and .601 oOPS with Butera) or even Baker (.845 oOPS with Mauer and .740 oOPS with Butera.) There is no reason that Butera should not be Pavano's "personal catcher". That concept (the back up catcher catching one pitcher who has been successful with him as a catcher, unless there are injuries) has been a very wide spread practice and should be applied in this situation. I have been calling for Butera to go to AAA and be replaced by Morales since Morales was healthy, but it seems that there is a mis-understanding between Gardenhire and Morales at this point... Regardless, Butera has no business catching Slowey.

  • The Twins are starting a critical 3 game series at home against Detroit today. Sweeping Detroit might make things a lot better, but, still, some changes (replacing Blackburn and selective use of Butera) should be in the Twins' future, as far as the starting rotation is concerned....


On the road with.... said...

I agree on Liriano being an ace. I looked at the numbers on fangraphs yesterday and generally think most of the guys have been unlucky. Some of this is due to bad D probably, the D doesn't improve, some of the "unluck" continues. As far as trading for Lee goes. I'm for it, but I'd rather trade Revere than Benson. I think Benson just has so much more of a skill-set than Revere ever will.

thrylos98 said...


Agreed, the BABIP shows the unluckiness... I suspect that Butera has part to do with some of that. As far as Revere goes, I like him a lot as the Twins future second baseman :) Were he transitioned in second base, right now he would be on of the top 5 middle infield prospects in whole baseball. If I were to pick 2 out of Benson, Hicks and Morales, I would pick the latter two. With Cuddyer gone soon and hopefully Delmon signed to a long term contract sooner, there is only one position for a starter at the OF, and I rather have Span move to the left and have a real CF up (like Hicks). So there is probably only one or 2 positions left in the OF for the foreseeable future and many good prospects. Some have to go.

On the road with.... said...

If they'd move Revere to 2b, I'd agree

Marv said...

Hicks is in A ball. That doesn't bode well for being MLB ready all that soon except that his plate discipline is said to be unusually excellent. If he is everything 'sane' says he is he should be untouchable as far as any trade talks go.
Seems that everyone would like to see Revere at 2nd base. We've all thought it at one time or another. They must see something about him that suggests that will never work. Speed like that would be nice, but given his 'average' arm, if he doesn't hit .300+ he is a mediocre outfielder, regardless of his fielding.
I also think Duensing is too much to give up if Ramos is already part of the package. That part bothered me when I first saw it. The Twins let Manship start a game rather than Duensing. Again, they see something I don't see, but I like the way Duensing threw for us last fall.

The real surprise to me is how fortunate we were that the Twins signed Pavano. With Liriano, Pavano and Lee or Oswalt I believe the Twins get a much better chance at winning the division (easier on the bullpen) and a real shot in post season play.

Thanks thry. This is exactly what I asked for.