With another failed Twins' season nearly, mercifully, behind us it's time to look at next season and speculate on how the Twins' will suck next year. Actually it's pretty obvious, and it's once again starting pitching. A remarkable twelve pitchers made starts for the Twins this season, and with Pavano hopefully gone via free agency, Nick Blackburn and Jason Marquis thankfully let go, and Francisco Liriano traded it's mostly a murky future. Scott Diamond is the only Twin right now who is assured a place in the starting rotation next year, so I figured why not look at this other dorks and try to speculate on next season's horrid rotation?
I'm going to leave aside a few candidates, like Scott Baker (who, if he resigns here is certainly going to be the #1 guy), Anthony Swarzak (only made a handful of starts and is pretty clearly a bullpen arm at this point), the guys who pitched this year out of the pen but have some starting experience in their past (Jeff Manship, etc.), the minor league guys (Kyle Gibson, etc.), free agents (Derek Lowe, who is practically destined to become a Twin, etc.) and the guy I've never even heard of (Esmerling Valdez) and instead concentrate on the five guys who have already been given an extended audition this season (Sam Deduno, P.J. Walters, Cole Devries, Liam Hendriks, and Brian Duensing). A quick primer on some stats I'll be referencing:
ERA - duh
WHIP - also duh
FIP - Fielding Independent Pitching. Stat which measures a pitcher's effectiveness based on the things he can control (strikeouts, walks, home runs). Think of it as what a pitcher's ERA should be if all things (fielding, luck, ballpark) were equal across the league.
xFIP - Expected Fielding Independent Pitching - Same thing, but if you assume home runs are out of the pitcher's control and looks at it as if all pitchers allowed the same number of home runs per fly ball hit off them.
BABIP - Batting Average on Balls in Play. Exactly what it sounds like. An attempt to quantify a pitcher's bad luck. League average is around .300, so anything substantially higher or lower than that is usually an indicator of some good or bad luck for the pitcher.
xBABIP - Expected BABIP. Based off of line drives, ground balls, fly balls, and pop-ups allowed. Used to compare to BABIP because let's face it, a high BABIP could be because of bad luck or it could be because the pitcher is just throwing meat balls and getting laced all over the yard (*cough* Nick Blackburn *cough). If xBABIP and BABIP differ significantly it's a better indicator of luck than straight BABIP.
Got it, nerds? And we're off (stats as of 9/12 when I started this post).
BRIAN DUENSING (5.03 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 4.05 FIP, 4.51 xFIP, .319 BABIP, xBABIP .315)
Duensing's the guy we're most familiar with given that he's appeared in (158) and started (61) more games than the other guys on this list combined (note: I didn't actually add this up, I'm assuming), and what you see is what you get: a soft-tossing lefty who supplements that by not being particularly crafty. He's been an effective reliever in his career (ERA 3.19) and pretty bad as a starter (ERA 4.57). This, in large part, is due to his complete ineptitude against right-handed batters. He has actually been very good against lefties in his career, and would be most effectively used as a late inning lefty-specialist guy and that's where he belongs. If Duensing is in the rotation for any significant length of time in 2013 the season is probably already a failure.
SAMUEL DEDUNO (3.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 5.06 FIP, 4.65 xFIP, .257 BABIP, xBABIP .326)
An interesting case since he's a 28-year old rookie who never really flashed any significant potential until putting up a 2.14 ERA in 9 starts at Rochester this year, Deduno has shown some signs of brilliance but balanced it out by getting destroyed at times as well. I like the kid because he actually has shown some ability to strike people out, as evidenced by his putting up better than a K and inning in four different minor league stints throughout his career and in his six prior career major league appearances (all in relief). Of course, he balances that out by not being able to consistently throw strikes with a ridiculous 5.5 BB/9 and the fewest percentage of thrown strikes of any Twin still in the rotation (with the exception of this Esmerling guy) - although he also generates the most swings and misses. And it's not as if his control issues are anything new, he's struggled with them throughout his minor league career. Still, he shows some promise and if he can get the walks at least a little bit under or control (or get his K rate back up to his minor league numbers) he could end up being a passable #4 starter. Cautiously optimistic, but he has gotten significantly lucky on balls hit this year, so he has some serious potential to put up a +6 ERA.
P.J. WALTERS (6.05 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 5.98 FIP, 4.62 xFIP, .302 BABIP, xBABIP .352)
Plenty of warning flags with Walters, starting with the fact that he's a 27-year old on his third team who has only once posted a sub-4.00 ERA above A ball in at least 7 starts. That's a really oddly written sentence but the point is he was traded after 5 years in the minors with the Cardinals and then the Blue Jays just plain old let him go before the Twins grabbed him off the trash heap and none of that speaks well for his future. He doesn't strike anybody out and walks too many guys to balance that out, and his best seasons in the minors were in A ball when he was pitching out of the pen. In retrospect, maybe the most amazing feat of the season was when he pitched that complete game 5-hitter against the White Sox all the way back in May in his third start making everyone think "Hey, maybe we have something here." Sadly, we do not. That was Walters season high in innings (9) and strikeouts (8), and only once would he allow fewer than five hits again and that was the game where he didn't get out of the first against Philly. If you can't tell, I am not a fan of him or his stupid name.
COLE DEVRIES (4.11 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 4.90 FIP, 4.73 xFIP, .262 BABIP, xBABIP .330)
Devries has been fortunate to find a lot of the same good luck Deduno has (which is sad really considering both of their mediocre numbers), but a lot of nerd stats also say he's been the best starter other than Diamond (which is also kind of sad). I put Devries a step above Walters because he's at least actually shown some flashes of ability here and there and his K/BB ratio is a bit more palatable. Of course he doesn't actually strike many people out, but he doesn't walk many either which, combined with being from Minnesota, means the Twins are going to give him more chances than Blackburn to win a spot in the rotation. He's a soft-tosser for sure, but he does at least have four pitches, and one (slider) actually rates as statistically quite good (second best pitch of all the starters listed here on the team behind Deduno's slider which I'm pretty sure is actually a curve). His fastball is so-so and his curve and change get ripped pretty good, but it's his first season in the big league's so let's see. He also misses more bats than anybody other than Deduno, so that's promising. I'm not particularly encouraged that it took him to 27 to actually reach the majors, but I guess out of this group he's actually one of the better options. Yuck.
LIAM HENDRIKS (6.20 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 5.49 FIP, 4.70 xFIP, .344 BABIP, xBABIP .354)
Hendriks' traditional numbers look far worse than the other guys, but he hasn't had the good luck Deduno, Walters, and Devries have and his advanced metrics put him right in line with everybody else here. That being said, I don't really hold out much hope for Hendriks unless he can figure out a breaking pitch. His fastball and change are right around league average, but both his curve and slider get absolutely pounded to the point where are those are the two of the three worst pitches on the team (along with Duensing's fastball). However, unlike guys like Devries and Walters, Hendriks is only 23 and as such is likely not a finished product. Where the older guys are likely locked in to "what you see is what you get" mode, Hendriks still has time to develop one of those breaking pitches (or something else). The complete game 3-hitter he tossed against Seattle flashed some of his potential and his minor league numbers have been outstanding (2.65 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 5 seasons) so with Hendriks patience is probably the key. Hopefully he wins a spot in the rotation coming out of training camp next year which would be a clear sign he's continuing to improve. If he starts the season at AAA next year it's probably a sign we can give up on him as a starter. Although with the Twins' management in charge, maybe we actually can't get any useful info out of that.
So, to sum up:
Duensing: left-handed bullpen option
Deduno: could be a back of the rotation starter if he gets his walks under control
Walters: totally sucks
Devries: back of the rotation starter
Hendriks: most potential of the group, could develop into a middle of the rotation guy
Man. It's very possible the Twins' break camp with this rotation: Diamond, Devries, Deduno, Hendriks, and Walters. How many games would that team win in a season? 40? 50? I have no idea how they managed to paint themselves into this corner.
Help us, Kyle Gibson. You're our only hope.