Monday, March 28, 2011

How Does the Twins Starting Rotation Stack Up?

I was reading another excellent piece by Nick Nelson, a summary of the Twins Starting Pitchers, and then I read the comments...I should probably stop reading comments in blogs, but I saw them and now I can't help myself. This was comment...

"You ask, "Can we compete without top-of-the line pitching?"
The answer is: Within our mediocre division, yes; with the rest of the league, no. Same answer for the past 10 years or so."

The comment's owner is Ed Bast, a faithful commenter on many blogs (which we all appreciate!) and while there is nothing that bothers me about that comment, I just happen to disagree and wahlah, this post was for that Ed, I thank you.

Nowhere in Nick's article did he suggest that the Twins' starting pitching was anything less than "top-of-the-line", in fact he called it the club's "strongest and deepest position." And I agree with that, their starting pitching, particularly the depth they have at the position, is easily their greatest strength. Like I said though, the comment got me thinking and so I want to compare the Twins 5 starters with other top rotations in the American League, just to see how they stack up. For argument's sake, I'm going to use each pitcher's 2010 stats, and for the Twins, I'll rank 1-5 as I see them actually slotted in terms of talent, not in the order Gardenhire elected each one this Spring. For review:

Francisco Liriano (ace)
191.2 IP     (14-10)     3.62/2.66 ERA/FIP     1.26 WHIP     201/58 K/BB
Carl Pavano
221.0 IP     (17-10)     3.75/4.02 ERA/FIP     1.19 WHIP     117/37 K/BB
Scott Baker
170.1 IP     (12-9)     4.49/3.96 ERA/FIP     1.34 WHIP     148/43 K/BB
Brian Duensing
130.2 IP     (10-3)     2.62/3.85 ERA/FIP     1.20 WHIP     78/35 K/BB
Nick Blackburn
161.0 IP     (10-12)     5.42/5.07 ERA/FIP     1.45 WHIP     68/40 K/BB

I've been hearing the most buzz about the Red Sox, so let's start there.

Jon Lester (ace)
208.0 IP     (19-9)     3.25/3.13 ERA/FIP     1.20 WHIP     225/83 K/BB
Clay Buchholz
173.2 IP     (17-7)     2.33/3.61 ERA/FIP     1.20 WHIP     120/67 K/BB
Josh Beckett
127.2 IP     (6-6)     5.75/4.54 ERA/FIP     1.54 WHIP     116/45 K/BB
John Lackey
215.0 IP     (14-11)     4.40/3.85 ERA/FIP     1.42 WHIP     156/72 K/BB
Daisuke Matsuzaka
153.2 IP     (9-6)     4.69/4.05 ERA/FIP     1.37 WHIP     133/74 K/BB

Like the Twins with Liriano and Pavano, the Red Sox had a formidable 1-2 punch last year with Lester and Buchholz. You can count on a healthy Beckett having a better 2011, but Lackey and Daisuke are no more of a "sure thing" than Duensing and Blackburn are. Of all of the other AL teams expected to compete this year, the Red Sox starting rotation appears to be the best of the bunch, but on paper, they aren't that much better than the Twins starting 5, especially if Baker has a 2011 campaign that more closely resembles his 2008 and 2008 seasons and Buchholz experiences some regression this year as his stats indicate he might. Next up, the White Sox.

John Danks (ace)
213.0 IP     (15-11)     3.72/3.70 ERA/FIP     1.33 WHIP     162/70 K/BB
Gavin Floyd
187.1 IP     (10-13)     4.08/3.46 ERA/FIP     1.37 WHIP     151/58 K/BB
Edwin Jackson
209.1 IP     (10-12)     4.47/3.86 ERA/FIP     1.39 WHIP     181/78 K/BB
Jake Peavy
107.0 IP     (7-6)     4.63/4.01 ERA/FIP     1.23 WHIP     93/34 K/BB
Mark Buehrle
210.1 IP     (13-13)     4.28/3.90 ERA/FIP     1.40 WHIP     99/49 K/BB

The White Sox will, in my opinion, once again be the Twins toughest competition for the AL Central crown. Their collective ERA/FIP splits suggest that they were quite an unlucky bunch last year, but when you see those inflated WHIPs, it's not that hard to see why. If Gavin Floyd can throw well in the early part of the year, and Jake Peavy makes a strong comeback from back-to-back injury-plagued out. Otherwise this team will struggle to keep up in the AL Central once again because their options to replace these 5 aren't very good. Next up, the Yankees.

CC Sabathia (ace)
237.2 IP     (21-7)     3.18/3.54 ERA/FIP     1.19 WHIP     197/74 K/BB
A.J. Burnett
186.2 IP     (10-15)     5.26/4.83 ERA/FIP     1.51 WHIP     145/78 K/BB
Phil Hughes
176.1 IP     (18-8)     4.19/4.25 ERA/FIP     1.25 WHIP     146/58 K/BB
Ivan Nova
42.0 IP     (1-2)     4.50/4.36 ERA/FIP     1.45 WHIP     26/17 K/BB
Freddy Garcia
157.0 IP     (12-6)     4.64/4.77 ERA/FIP     1.38 WHIP     89/45 K/BB

Burnett had a terrible year, which leads me to believe we'll see a bit of a bounce back from him, though he is 34, so last year might just had been the beginning of the end. CC, what can you say, the guy is superhuman. Phil Hughes gives the Yankees a shot to contend, without a 3rd starter like him, they'd have no chance. Nova and Garcia will be the wild-cards, Nova's minor league track doesn't suggest that he's going to light the world on fire, and in 7 starts last year (10 appearances overall), I think he showed what kind of Major League pitcher he will be. Honestly, I like the Twins top 3 up against the Yankees top 3...remember folks, it wasn't really the starting pitching that has lost games for the Twins against the Yankees in the's been their inability to put any meaningful offense together. We'll get to see the two teams match up right out of the gate this year as the Twins second series of the season is a 3-game series in New York. Onto the next team, the Rays.

David Price (ace)
208.2 IP     (19-6)     2.72/3.42 ERA/FIP     1.19 WHIP     188/79 K/BB
James Shields
203.1 IP     (13-15)     5.18/4.24 ERA/FIP     1.46 WHIP     187/51 K/BB
Jeremy Hellickson
36.1 IP     (4-0)     3.47/3.88 ERA/FIP     1.10 WHIP     33/8 K/BB
Wade Davis 
168.0 IP     (12-10)     4.07/4.79 ERA/FIP     1.35 WHIP     113/62 K/BB
Jeff Niemann
174.1 IP     (12-8)     4.39/4.61 ERA/FIP     1.26 WHIP     131/61 K/BB

Whether the Rays are a contender in the AL East this year will depend almost solely on their rotation. Price looks like a stud, Hellickson really impressed people last year in 4 starts, and if Shields bounces back from a pretty unlucky year (.341 BABIP), they could have quite a rotation. Losing Carl Crawford on offense is going to hurt so the Rays will be relying heavily on their rotation to give them innings and keep them in games. One team left, the Oakland A's.

Brett Anderson (ace?)
112.1 IP     (7-6)     2.80/3.21 ERA/FIP     1.19 WHIP     75/22 K/BB
Trevor Cahill
196.2 IP     (18-8)     2.97/4.19 ERA/FIP     1.11 WHIP     118/63 K/BB
Gio Gonzalez
200.2 IP     (15-9)     3.23/3.78 ERA/FIP     1.31 WHIP     171/92 K/BB
Dallas Braden
192.2 IP     (11-14)     3.50/3.80 ERA/FIP     1.16 WHIP     113/43 K/BB
Brandon McCarthy (2009 numbers, spent the year in Triple-A in 2010)
97.1 IP     (7-4)     4.62/4.70 ERA/FIP     1.36 WHIP     65/36 K/BB

On paper, this looks like a pretty nice starting 5. The only problem is injury. Both Gonzalez and Anderson have had injury problems within the past two years and 4 out of the 5 guys are pretty young. Like the Rays, the Athletics success this year will depend on this group staying healthy and pitching well, something this group certainly has the potential to do.

So that's a lot of numbers and those are all last year's numbers and things could change drastically this year due to injury or other factors and blah, blah, blah. The point of this post was to suggest that the Twins Starting Rotation is not that much different than most of the other top rotations in the American League. Most of the rotations, even the great ones, have weaker pieces in the 4 and 5 slots. Most of them have a dominant "ace" type guy, so do the Twins in Liriano. Most of them rotations have a horse, a guy who can pitch 200+ innings with above average results, so do the Twins in Pavano (fingers crossed he stays healthy). If Scott Baker can pitch like he did in '08 and '09, I would put him up against any of the #3s I just listed above. There's a lot of "ifs" with the Twins, but these 'ifs' aren't great stretches of the imagination, they are things that could easily come true.

Now if we can just get that offense to come alive in the playoffs...that would really help turn the Twins' post-season fortunes around.

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