Thursday, December 12, 2013

State of the Minnesota Twins starting rotation

The starting rotation has been the most scrutinized and discussed part of the Twins team over the past few seasons.  A strong rotation is vital to a team's success and the Twins have not achieved much success over the past three seasons.  This off-season brings hope of a turnaround.  The Twins have invested heavily into their rotation, adding two young, talented pieces who will be around for three or more seasons.  In fact, the Twins have spent more money on pitching this off-season than any other team in baseball thus far. 

I want to analyze the starters that the Twins have right now and try to figure out the rotation for 2014.  I count as many as 14 potential starters for the Twins next season, so I put them in tiers for organizational purposes. 

You call that a knife? - Liam Hendriks

I don't really understand why Hendriks was DFA'ed.  I don't think he's great, but he's better than some of the other options on the 40-man roster.  Plus, he's really young and he kind of looks like a koala bear.  This has nothing to do with Hendriks and koalas being from Australia, it's just a fact.  I'd have just cut Kris Johnson, but I'm a heartless b-word.  In fact...

THIS is a knife - Kris Johnson, Andrew Albers and Logan Darnell

I don't see much of an avenue for long-term success for any of these three.  I don't hold any ill-will toward Johnson, Albers or Darnell.  Please don't think that I do!  I'm most interested in Albers, as his walk rates are a lot more impressive and he actually had the best strikeout rate of the three at AAA last season.  Plus, he's had some MLB success.  I think that these three will make up 3/5ths of a really fine Rochester rotation.

Troll and Troll 2 - Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak

The Twins have gotten good production from these two players as relievers.  The Twins have plenty of mediocre starting pitching options.  The Twins are trolling us when they leak that these two could start next year.  It's all just meant to drum up the opposite of enthusiasm.  I'm not sure why, but the Terry Ryan who wears a leather jacket likes to pick on nerds.

2014 or BUST! - Vance Worley and Scott Diamond

This is the first tier that contains pitchers I would be interested in seeing the Twins rotation in 2014.  In fact, if Worley and Diamond don't make the rotation (or bullpen I suppose), the Twins will risk losing them for nothing.  Both of these pitchers are out of options and need to be on the MLB roster next season, or risk being exposed to every other team via waivers.  I think that's how it works. 

Diamond's 2012 was not a fluke.  He rode pinpoint command and a great ground ball rate to a really good season.  Diamond's command that season was a fluke.  He never had that level of command and it seems unlikely that he'll get it back.  His ground ball rate looks like a fluke too.  It spiked about six points.  If these two things hold true going forward, we have a soft-tossing lefty with no options who doesn't really profile well for the bullpen.  If push comes to shove, I'd have no problem with the Twins exposing Diamond to the rest of the league.

Worley is another story.  I want Worley to seize his possibly last opportunity and get back to the success that he had in 2011.  Worley is a year younger than Diamond and had more MLB success.  His 2011 season was not a fluke.  He did bump his strikeout rate compared with his MiLB history, but the rest was pretty in line with who he always was.  His 2012 season was worse, but acceptable because he traded some strikeouts for more ground balls.  His 2013 season was a disaster.  He averaged fewer than five innings per start and got annexed to AAA, using his last option year. 

Now, in 2013 Worley achieved the trifecta of unlucky pitching stats.  His strand rate dropped nearly 10 points.  His home run to fly ball ratio jumped about six points.  His BABIP was .401.  .401!!!!  There is no way he replicates that number.  Now, his strikeout rate dipped about 8 points too, so part of his bad performance was actual bad performance.  However, if Worley made 10 starts in April and May of 2014 and had an ERA around 4, I wouldn't be shocked. 

I know there is a push to add a lefty to the rotation, but I'd prefer the Twins go with their five most talented starters, so I prefer Worley to Diamond, regardless of what hand he throws with.

The Guy with Options - Kyle Gibson

Going solely on talent, Gibson is far more likely than Worley or Diamond to be a part of the next good Twins team.  However, Gibson has options left on his deal and can be sent to AAA without remorse.  The Twins can easily use his poor performance with the Twins in 2013 as a reason to send him back to AAA in 2014 for more delicious seasoning.  I can't imagine a scenario where Gibson spends all of 2014 with AAA, but I'll bet dollars to donuts (is that a phrase?) that Gibson is a Red Wing in April. 

The Peoples' Champ - Sam Deduno

When Deduno is eligible, he will be elected to the Twins Hall of Fame.  He is popular with a capital P.  I get it.  He's fun to watch.  Well, he's fun to watch in the same way that a high-speed chase is fun to watch.  He's unpredictable, he's dangerous, and in the long run, something is going to end up on fire. 

Deduno improved his walk rate in 2013 and he had already boasted a ridiculous ground ball rate.  That combo helped him to some real success, evidenced by a 4.04 xFIP.  Of course, Deduno also missed a lot of time due to groin and shoulder injuries.  I'm fine with the Twins using Deduno as a fifth starter while he's cheap.  However, I wake up in a cold sweat at least once a week after dreaming that the Twins have signed Deduno to a long-term extension. 

He deserves to be in the 2014 rotation.  However, if he stumbles, the Twins have to be ready to jettison him for a younger, more projectable player like Gibson. 

Each of these players will need to wear a MasterLock around their neck next season.  Unless they get injured, these three will be in the rotation to start 2014 and likely to finish.  I'd guess that Nolasco and Hughes will get a full season no matter how they perform.  Luckily, I think each pitcher will be an upgrade over everyone used last season. 

It's possible that the Twins could trade Correia in July or August as he is only signed through next season.  However, I don't think the return for Correia would be that great and the only way I see the Twins moving him is if they absolutely need to open up a spot in the rotation for...

The Young Studs - Alex Meyer and Trevor May

I would say that there is a 0% chance that either Meyer or May are in the rotation to start 2014.  Neither pitcher has reached AAA and each has things to work on.  Meyer is obviously the more impressive prospect and long-term building block.  It would be great to see Meyer improve his walk rate (9.7% with New Britain in 2013), but his strikeout rate (28.1%) could help to minimize the damage from those walks.  This is evident in his 3.21 ERA with AA last season.  Meyer only threw 70 innings for New Britain, but got some work in the AFL.  He needs more time in the Minors.

It seems that some are ready to toss Trevor May aside.  I can admit to frustration with his performance last season.  He repeated AA and merely improved, but didn't dominate.  He raised his strikeout rate from 22.9% to 24.1% and he lowered his walk rate from 11.8% to 10.2%.  Repeating the level may have been part of his improvement, but it could be that he is developing slowly.  My favorite May stat - 82.  May has made 82 starts over the past three seasons.  Basically, he takes the ball when it's his turn.  Durability is an underrated measure in young pitchers.  We could be looking at a potential 200-inning number 4 or 5 starter, with upside.  Don't toss him aside, but don't expect him to be ready in 2014. 

I'd bet the rotation will look like this to start 2014 (assuming health):

Kevin Correia
Ricky Nolasco
Phil Hughes
Sam Deduno
Scott Diamond

I prefer Worley to Diamond, but the lefty-righty thing is real.  I also think the Twins could use Worley in the bullpen and he'd be more effective than Diamond would be.  That said, I don't trust Deduno or Diamond, and I think the rotation will look like this come September:

Kevin Correia
Ricky Nolasco
Phil Hughes
Kyle Gibson
Alex Meyer

Of course, the way things have gone the last few seasons, this will probably be the rotation in September:

Kevin Correia
Mike Pelfrey (acquired mid-season)
Logan Darnell
Terry Mullholland
Contest Winner

Since more depth is better than less depth, I hope the Twins sign one more starter this off-season.  I only consider Nolasco, Hughes and Gibson as worthy of holding a spot for.  Tomorrow, I'll revisit my free agent starting pitching target and outline who I would target as that final guy.  Wait patiently, you're only 24 hours or so away!


  1. Replies
    1. Agreed. I'd rather watch him at age 51 than some of the guys who have started for the Twins the past few seasons.