Monday, March 30, 2009

Twins rotation outlook

Damn, the baseball season is finally almost here...it feels like Spring Training has been going for months. The Twins hype machine is fully operational though, someone on the radio broadcast said the team has a good chance of having multiple 20-game winners this season. The last guy to do it was Santana, who only managed to do it once despite being the best pitcher in baseball his last three years with the team. Seems a little hyperbolic to me, but let's take a look at the fortunately-Livan-free rotation from top to bottom.

Scott Baker
Key 2008 stats
3.45 ERA
4.25 xFIP
7.4 K/9
2.2 BB/9

Positives: Nearly every meaningful category improved in his second full season in the rotation. Held left-handed hitters in check. Only turns 27 this season. Pitched well enough to get Bert to shut up about keeping the ball down.

Red flags: Gives up a ton of fly balls, how many fly over the fence is variable and could cause an ERA spike. Stranded an above-average number of baserunners last year, that's tough to duplicate.

Useless Sidler Projection (USP): Pitches like a #1/2 starter and could be a fringe All-Star, but won't match last year's ERA.

Kevin Slowey
Key 2008 stats
3.99 ERA
4.14 xFIP
1.15 WHIP
6.9 K/9
1.3 BB/9

Positives: Began to show the promise his killer minor league stats suggested. Posted some of the best control numbers in the league while picking up 0.55 K/9 compared to 2007.

Red flags: Lefties combined to hit like Justin Morneau against him. HR rate was a little low, and like Baker, Slowey gives up a lot of fly balls.

USP: Bill James' projection system is a big fan of Slowey, and so am I. Slowey will be the best starter this year and put up better numbers than last year.

Francisco Liriano
Key 2008 stats
3.91 ERA
4.40 xFIP
1.39 WHIP
7.9 K/9
3.8 BB/9

Positives: It was a tale of two seasons for Liriano, and the second half--a 2.74 ERA speaks for itself. He's been a ground ball machine in Spring Training and the infield defense should be improved this season with Crede-Punto-Casilla providing + defense at their positions.

Red flags: He has control issues. Still learning how to pitch after Tommy John surgery.

USP: I might take that Slowey prediction back...a healthy, confident Liriano is the best starter in the division.

Nick Blackburn
Key 2008 stats
4.05 ERA
4.55 xFIP
1.36 WHIP
4.47 K/9
1.8 BB/9

Positives: Solid debut, awesome sideburns. Great control, solid groundball rate. HR rate well above his minor league performance. No extreme platoon splits. Improved infield defense will help him, too.

Red flags: Doesn't strike out many batters. 4.68 ERA after the All-Star break. Reminds me of Carlos Silva, performance could vary wildly throughout career.

USP: Won't match last year's ERA but will still be a reliable starter, especially for someone in the #4 starter slot.

Glen Perkins
4.41 ERA
5.05 xFIP
1.47 WHIP
4.41 K/9
2.3 BB/9

Positives: Much-improved walk rate compared to his minor league track record. Right-handed hitters performed worse than LH hitters.

Red flags: Horrible away from the Dome. LH hitters weren't phased by him throwing with his left hand, RH hitters knocked the crap out of the ball when they got a hit. High number of stranded runners. Doesn't strike out many hitters but lacks great control or a high groundball rate to make up for it.

USP: Perkins plants one foot in the bullpen by putting up a ~5.00 ERA this season. One of the many solid AAA arms in the Twins system will be pushing for the #5 spot by the All-Star break.


Wow, I didn't realize I was so optimistic about the Twins rotation this season. I'm not going to look around at other rosters, but I don't think many teams can match the Twins' 1-3 starters. With a potentially-improved defense behind them, the pitchers could lead the way to a big improvement in the team's run prevention (#16 last year). I think they'll need it, since the offense will be hard-pressed to match last year's performance...more on that later.