Minnesota Twins Rotation Should Be Far Improved This Season

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Updated: February 10, 2014
©2010 Charlie Lyons-Pardue, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

©2010 Charlie Lyons-Pardue, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

After being forces in the American League Central for years, the Minnesota Twins have fallen on some tough times. Gone are the days of names like Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse forming a formidable top of the rotation, and in their place was last year’s largely disappointing trio of Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Mike Pelfrey.

Those three started the season as the 1-2-3 of the Twins staff and, as you can imagine, things really didn’t go too well. They ranked as the worst starting rotation in the league by quite a long shot, with a 5.26 ERA compared to the second worst Toronto Blue Jays staff ERA of 4.86.

Changes had to be made this offseason, that was for sure, but the two moves they made were generally considered as underwhelming, at least on the surface. The signing of Ricky Nolasco brought some fanfare, as he is coming off of the best season of his career, and at age 31, should still be in his prime.

The other deal took the bulk of criticism. The team inked former Yankee Phil Hughes to a 3-year, $24 million deal which seemed like quite an overpay for a player who has regularly failed to live up to expectations. Sure, he’s played in a hitter’s haven in New York, but there just didn’t seem to be any reason to pay him that kind of money when he’s never pitched up to that level (outside of the 2009 and 2010 seasons).

So to summarize this, the team that had the worst starting rotation in all of baseball last season made two signings that didn’t really shake the world. With that in mind, you’d probably think that they’d be candidates to repeat as the worst rotation in baseball, right?

Wrong.

A big problem with the rotation last year, and the team as a whole, was injuries. Pelfrey, Worley and Samuel Deduno all missed portions of last season due to injury, and that very well could have impacted their performance, especially in the case of Worley.

He was relying on his fastball more than ever last season and, to be frank, it was getting tattooed. He was giving up more home runs than he had throughout his entire career, and it just seemed as if he was incapable of getting anyone out. This was a completely different pitcher than the one we had seen pitch well in Philadelphia just one year prior.

If you look at his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) he had been known to be a little bit luckier than most. His ERA was almost always lower than his FIP, and it was likely that he would eventually regress a bit to get down to where he should be. Last year wouldn’t even be qualified as a regression in my opinion, because he simply just fell off the map. He was striking less men out, and was allowing more on base than ever before, so it was really just a combination for disaster.

I don’t expect him to be a front-line starting pitcher, but what we saw last year should not be considered the norm for him (as evidenced by a BABIP around .400). I think he’ll settle in to the number 5 spot in the rotation and be a capable innings-eater, much like we saw with the Phillies. To get to that point, though, he’ll need to focus on keeping his pitches down to avoid the long ball, as well as mixing in more off speed stuff.

Next up is Pelfrey, who was a new acquisition last year. In 29 starts, he was 5-13 with an ERA over 5, but remained in the rotation because of a lack of other options. These numbers would be considered below-average at best, but I think we’ll also be seeing a much better 2014 season out of him just because of a quick glance at his peripherals.

His FIP was much lower than his ERA, and actually was right around average at 3.99 (average is 4.00). On top of that, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) was also well above average, at .337. With improved defense behind him, these numbers should start to regress back to the mean and, in turn, make Pelfrey a league-average pitcher once again.

The big acquisition of the offseason, Nolasco, is the one that should have the biggest impact on the staff. He’s currently slotted as the Opening Day starter, and for good reason. A look at his stats over his career may give the impression that he’s just around average, but if he had any luck (or a solid defense) on his side, he’d be much better than what he’s produced to this point.

His FIP was well below his ERA, and sat at a great number of 3.34. Given that the Twins defense is stronger than both the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers (Nolasco’s teams last season) we should expect to see his ERA be much closer to his FIP, which in this case is good news for the Twins.

Deduno and Correia both were around where they should have been according to the advanced numbers, so what you saw out of them last year is just about what you’re going to get this year, with some improvement from Deduno a possibility. In the case of Correia, that’s not too bad of news given that he’s the projected number three starter.

What all of these numbers point to is that the Twins should see a big improvement in their rotation’s production from last year to this one. They probably won’t be in contention for a playoff spot, but they certainly aren’t going to be the pushovers that they have been over the past couple of seasons.

Thanks for reading.

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