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)
- 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....