I can barely contain myself, I'm so excited for the regular season start. My friends and I call the time between the Super Bowl and the start of the baseball regular season "Sports Purgatory." It's that time of the year where unless you are a hockey fan, NBA fan or college basketball fan, nothing is really going on. Granted, the NCAA Tournament does provide a nice respite, and it dovetails nicely with the start of the baseball season, but unless the Gophers are good *choke* then I'm not really into it. The baseball regular season is finally mere hours away, a slate of 6 games kicking things off today followed by a more robust schedule of games tomorrow in which we will get our first glimpse of our 2011 Minnesota Twins. It's my pleasure to bring you my take on the pitching matchups for this weekend's series with the Blue Jays.
Game #1 - Friday - 7:07pm EST start
Carl Pavano vs. Ricky Romero
Ricky Romero (2010 stats)
210.0IP (14-9) 3.73/3.64 ERA/FIP 1.29 WHIP 174/82 K/BB
Romero followed up a decent rookie campaign with an excellent season in 2010 and is on a lot of people's fantasy radars to perform well once again this season. What makes Romero a good pitcher is his ability to induce ground balls and last season, he owned a 55.2 GB%, good for a Top 10 mark in all of Major League baseball (just ahead of Felix Hernandez). The way to get to Romero is being patient as he is somewhat prone to issue the walk (3.51 BB/9 in 2010). Romero doesn't have blow-you-away stuff, his fastball sits in the high-80s to low-90s, it's his ability to mix it up that gets hitters to strike-out or make weak contact. He only threw his fastball 42% of the time last year while he threw his changeup 26% of the time; both of the pitches look the same delivery-wise, one is just about 6mph slower than the other. Romero is 2-0 lifetime against the Twins with a 2.78ERA in 22.2 IP. He is much more effective against right-handers (.252/.338/.352) than he is against left-handers (.286/.349/.477) so hopefully the Twins will go with a more lefty-heavy lineup.
Carl Pavano (2010 stats)
221.0IP (17-11) 3.75/4.02 ERA/FIP 1.19 WHIP 117/37 K/BB
If you've been following Spring Training, you know that Carl has looked pretty good up to this point. This is a good sign because April is typically a rough month for Carl. In his career he's made 41 April starts and pitched to an ERA 4.70, his worst monthly ERA by a sizeable margin. That said, a healthy Pavano is certainly capable of being a horse for the Twins again this year. I don't necessarily expect him to duplicate last year's efforts, and there's always the injury question with Carl, but overall he's been good with the Twins and there is little reason to doubt him. I have been reading that some people think that because Pavano got the Opening Day start that he is somehow the Twins "ace" ...which is honestly ridiculous. Liriano is the clear ace and I think that Pavano got the start because he is the veteran in this situation and Gardy is old-school like that.
Pavano hasn't fared well against the Jays in his career, sporting a bloated 5.91 ERA in 12 career starts...but we'll see, here's hoping his Spring momentum carries over.
Game #2 - Saturday - 1:07pm EST
Francisco Liriano vs. Kyle Drabek
Kyle Drabek (2010 Triple-A stats)
162.0 IP (14-9) 2.94/3.87 ERA/FIP 1.20 WHIP 132/68 K/BB
Drabek made a short 17 inning Major League debut at the end of last season, but this season he enters as the #2 starter for the Blue Jays which means a whole lot more responsibility and pressure. Drabek's minor league numbers are not bad, but they're also not that eye-popping. In just over 429 MiL innings, he compiled a 3.41/1.23 ERA/WHIP with 7.5 Ks/9 and a 2.18 K/BB ratio. Drabek's main pitch is his fastball which he can hurl about 92-95 mph. His secondary pitch is a slider which he throws about 84-86 mph. It looks like patience is again the way to approach Drabek, he's not a strikeout machine so if you wait for a good pitch to hit, you'll probably get one.
Drabek was impressive this spring flashing a 14:1 K/BB ratio in 16 innings of work. It'll be interesting to see how he does this season as a member of the young Blue Jays rotation.
Francisco Liriano (2010 stats)
191.2 IP (14-10) 3.62/2.66 ERA/FIP 1.26 WHIP 201/58 K/BB
Liriano looked better and better with each start this Spring as he looks to put together a 2nd straight year of domination. A .331 BABIP really hurt his traditional numbers last year, but the secondary numbers suggested that Liriano was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year. Among starting pitchers who throw a slider, there was no slider that was more valuable than Liriano's at 19.0 runs above average.
Even though Liriano is 0-2 against the Jays in his career, he has not pitched that poorly against them. In 13+ innings, he has a 4.05 ERA with 14Ks and 2BB. None of the current Jays players aside from Rajai Davis (14) has very many career ABs against Liriano.
Game #3 - Sunday - 1:07pm EST
Nick Blackburn vs. Brett Cecil
Brett Cecil (2010 stats)
172.2 IP (15-7) 4.22/4.03 ERA/FIP 1.33 WHIP 117/54 K/BB
Cecil's sophomore season in the Bigs was somewhat of a breakout campaign for the 24-year-old lefthander. After not making the club out of Spring Training in 2010, Cecil was called up early in the season and went on to win 15 games.
Cecil is a lot like teammate Ricky Romero in that he tends to fool hitters by keeping them guessing as to what he's going to throw. Though he does throw his four-seam fastball more than any other pitch (31% of the time), he also throws his slider (20%), changeup (~20%), and two-seamer (~20%) enough of the time to keep hitters off-balance. This doesn't translate to a high K-rate like it does for Romero, but it does allow him to be effective despite a fastball that typically sits right around 90 mph.
Cecil is 2-0 vs. the Twins in his young career posting a 2.08 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 13 innings of work.
Nick Blackburn (2010 stats)
161.0 IP (10-12) 5.42/5.07 ERA/FIP 1.45 WHIP 68/40 K/BB
Oh boy, let the 'Nick Blackburn experience' being once again. Blackie had a nice Spring flashing a team-best (among starters) 1.73 ERA with 11K and 3BB in 26 innings of work. After last year's disaster, the Twins are banking on a bounce-back year from Blackburn, but if that doesn't pan out, the Twins have people in the wings to replace him, which is a comfort for me.
I've talked enough about Blackburn this off-season where I won't go too in-depth here. Suffice to say, his success depends on his ability to control his pitches and induce ground-balls. If we see lower than normal K-rates and higher than normal walk rates early on, he can probably kiss his spot in the rotation good-bye before May gets here.
In 13.2 career innings vs. the Jays, Blackburn has an impressive 2.63 ERA and 0.73 WHIP with a surprising 12:1 K/BB ratio...
This should be a good series, the pitching matchups certainly look competitive. With the somewhat cold & dreary weather we're having here in the Upper Midwest, I'm glad that the Twins are starting the season in a dome, though an AL East roadtrip that runs through New York is kind of a brutal way to start a season. Thank God baseball is back!