Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Minnesota Twins - Looking at the Rotation

The Minnesota Twins have been less than stellar so far to say the least. Ron Gardenhire’s club has been woefully underperforming what could have been expected of them. That isn’t to say that they have some star studded starting rotation like we’ve seen underperforming in Boston and New York but it is to say that very few, myself included expected them to have the worst starting ERA in the majors. So far they’ve used 6 starters, having Anthony Swarzak fill the role that was destined for Jason Marquis as he spent time with his family after a freak accident left his daughter hospitalized.

The Twins have what at first glance would be seen as a somewhat below league average rotation, but we’re now staring at a team where we must accept that Carl Pavano is their ace. That thought for anyone who supports the pinstripes is one that is sure to make you cringe, but somehow after 4 years of injury and, when available, mediocrity Pavano has managed to put together 3 full years (now working on his 4th) where the Twins have only had to endure mediocrity. While I’m all for analysing stats there’s very little to say here. Pavano’s career ERA+ of 97 (currently 83 for the season) says it all, he’s okay, but he’s not performing like an ace now by any stretch of the imagination, which tells you exactly what you need to know about the rest of Minnesota’s rotation.

Nick Blackburn has been some shade of awful so far. He’s another guy with a career ERA+ hovering in the 90s (92 to be exact) but he’s underperforming that line pretty heartily so far this year. His BABIP is very high (.324) but it’s only 2 points above last season’s mark and his stat sheet looked notably better one year ago. He’s not giving up any more home runs, and is actually giving up fewer walks, but he’s not seeing batters pop out this season, and he’s giving up a lot of extra base hits (44% of hits against him). which is going to lead to a lot of runs in a hurry. of the 27 hits against Blackburn so far he’s given up 9 doubles and 3 homers. say what you want about sample size, and by all means I don’t expect this to continue through the whole season, but these are ugly numbers in a small sample size, but he’s given up just about ⅓ of the doubles he gave up last year (in less than 1/6th the number of starts), while not having the benefit of a single double play behind him. I can’t imagine him having the worst year of his career this season, but he’s certainly not looking to put up his 08 or 09 numbers again either (for what it’s worth, they’re only slightly better than league average).

Anthony Swarzak is looking at perhaps his first full season in the majors, and is off to a rocky start. While he looks better than he did in 09 in a 12 start audition, a 2.2 inning drumming at the hands of the Yankees seem to have been his undoing. Swarzak’s stat line will tell you that he’s been getting relatively lucky with fly balls not leaving the yard getting about 2 ground outs to every 3 air outs so far. He is inducing more ground balls than last year but not at any astounding rate either. Being hidden in the middle/late innings Swarzak has been able to soak up 5 mop up innings without any trouble against the Red Sox and Tampa Bay but given how young he is, there’s no real telling whether or not he’ll be able to start developing the strikeout and groundball numbers that would help him become a rotation mainstay in the future.

Liam Hendriks isn’t looking any better this season than he did in a 4 start audition last year. So far, Hendriks isn’t walking any more batters than he did last year but he’s fooling fewer, having only struck out 8 batters over 15 and ⅔ innings. His BABIP is lower, but he’s giving up a 24% line drive rate, and while that is somewhat subjective, his  GB/FB rate is .59 or less than 6 ground balls to every 10 fly balls. Outside of the NL west, that kind of fly ball pitching just isn’t going to work.

Jason Marquis has found some success but has only been reliably league average in the national league, and in his move to the AL he’s not showing us anything new to make anyone think he’s going to somehow have a year reminiscent of 2004 with the Cardinals. So far his BABIP and his WHIP are higher than they have been in the past but given that he’s not going to be seeing any pitchers batting any time soon, I wouldn’t expect to be seeing them drop any time soon. His groundball to flyball rate is pretty much right in line with his career, so that’s kind of a plus for him. While he’s not walking just about anyone, he isn’t striking many out either, just 7 strikeouts over 17.1 innings. I would expect those numbers to normalize a bit, though probably less so on the strikeout front. Overall, Marquis was a fine 4 or 5 starter in the National League, but his debut in the American League hasn’t started well, and doesn’t necessarily look to get better.

Francisco Liriano has been exactly what I said he needed to avoid becoming so far this season having already walked 13 batters in only 16 and ⅓ innings of work so far. On a positive note he’s paired that with 12 strikeouts, but there’s no defense for the walk and he’s not doing himself any favors at the moment. His WHIP is sitting at a very beefy 2.327 and he is not keeping the ball down. he’s allowing batters to put the ball in the air more than twice as often as he gives up a ground ball and somewhat remarkably has induced 3 double plays so far. Liriano’s a mess right now, only marginally better than Freddy Garcia has been so far. Liriano needs to work on his mechanics, allowing batters to put the ball in play is fine if it’s on the ground, but letting opponents loft the ball into the outfield, you’re going to allow sac flies, and you’re going to see a lot of extra base hits. If he has any options left, it would behoove the twins to send him to double or triple A to really get his mechanics straightened out without killing the big league club every 5th day.

At this point it almost doesn’t matter how the Twins lineup performs, the only thing that could keep them out of the cellar in the AL Central is possibly the near equally inept Kansas City Royals.

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