The Minnesota Twins have had a very underwhelming winter, at least according to their fans, but the moves they have made can’t possibly be all that bad, right? The number one priority for the team this winter was to completely remake a starting rotation that was last in the American League with a 5.40 ERA and also last in total innings pitched with just 880. Another category that they were last in the American League in was quality starts, with just 62, and say what you want about the quality start it is still a metric worth giving a brief look at when evaluating the rotation as a whole. The only team worse than them in any of those categories was the Colorado Rockies.
In an effort to give their rotation a complete facelift the team signed starting pitchers Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey to major league contracts, signed Rich Harden to a low-risk minor league contract, and turned a surplus in the outfield into Vance Worley and two solid pitching prospects Trevor May and Alex Meyer (both of which could be ready within two or three years). If there’s one thing that general manager Terry Ryan understands it’s how to rebuild the major league roster by finding and acquiring promising talent that could help the team in a relatively short amount of time.
The key to their starting rotation improving enough to keep the team in games long enough to win will be health. Vance Worley, the one with arguably the most upside in the rotation, had his 2012 season cut short after having surgery in September to remove a loose body and bone spur. Recent reports suggest he is healthy and ready to go and if that’s true then the Twins will have a guy that will help solidify their rotation.
Pelfrey is coming off of Tommy John Surgery but he indicates that he will be 100% ready to go by Opening Day and that is certainly encouraging news. If he is in fact fully recovered, and effective, then he is someone that could feasibly pitch around 170 and 180 innings for the team and could become a solid number three starter in the rotation.
Then of course we have Harden who has had shoulder and arm issues for about eight years now and hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2004. He says that he is now feeling the best he has felt, health wise, in nearly six years. That’s another bit of encouraging news for the Twins because when he’s on he is nearly unhittable and actually has more strikeouts (949) over his career than innings pitched (928.1) – impressive.
The final piece that the team added for the rotation through free agency was Kevin Correia, who has spent his entire career in the National League and has been fairly up and down performance wise. He’s recently become more of a groundball pitcher and if he can continue that then he should have some moderate success with the Twins. He’s a guy that has made 25 or more starts four seasons in a row now and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t have another healthy year in 2013.
Obviously a lot has to go right for the Twins rotation, and it all has to do with health, but as long as these four guys are able to stay healthy for the duration of the season then this Twins rotation, and team for that matter, will be far better than the 66-96 record they posted last year would otherwise indicate. There’s also a matter of finding someone that could step in and handle that final spot in the rotation and there are a handful of guys that have shown some promise to be able to do that.
Scott Diamond should already have his rotation spot locked up as he posted a 3.54 ERA over 27 starts and 173 innings pitched, but more impressive was his groundball rate (53.4%) and that will help him continue his success out of the rotation. He’s someone that could legitimately pitch well enough to make 30 starts this season and hit 200 or more innings. I’m not sure if he’ll maintain an ERA as low as last year’s but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did hit the 200 innings pitched mark and put up another sub-4.00 ERA.
Cole DeVries is a guy who stepped up and pitched pretty well for the Twins last season as he posted a 4.11 ERA over 16 starts and 87.2 innings of work. However, the thing that concerns me with him is that he’s a fly-ball pitcher and his BABIP of .258 tells me that he’s likely due for some regression in that category. I can’t say that I’m sold on him just yet but if he continues to walk a minimum number of hitters then perhaps he’ll be able to limit the damage when hitters get a hold of a pitch left up in the zone.
Samuel Deduno is another pitcher that performed relatively well for the Twins in 2012, he had a 4.44 ERA over 15 starts and 79 innings pitched, but like DeVries he seemed to be aided by a below average BABIP (.266). His groundball rate of 58.3% is very impressive and we’ll see if he can repeat that but his walk rate of 6.04/9IP is the most concerning thing to me though. He’ll also be starting his season off in Triple-A so he has some work ahead of him if he’s going to get another crack at the major league rotation anyway.
The most interesting candidate for the rotation in 2013, to me anyway, is probably Liam Hendriks. Even though he had surgery in October to remove bone chips he appears to be fully recovered and ready to go this spring. He’s a guy that won’t overpower you with a blazing fastball or anything, his fastball tops out around 90 mph, but he has plus command of his pitches and the movement he is able to get on his slider, changeup, and curve is a huge plus. His changeup is widely considered his best pitch and he was able to use it to keep hitters off balance in Triple-A last year before getting called up.
It’s doubtful that Hendriks ever becomes a true shutdown pitcher at the big league level but I could see him developing into a solid number three or four starter in another year or two. He’s just 24 years old and has the right mindset to succeed in the majors.
As it stands right now this is how I would order the Twins rotation:
- Vance Worley
- Scott Diamond
- Kevin Correia
- Mike Pelfrey
- Rich Harden/Liam Hendriks
That’s not half a bad rotation as long as guys stay healthy and you don’t have to dip into your system for guys that may not be ready just yet. The good news is that they still have a little depth at the Triple-A level in case someone does go down or just isn’t getting the job done. I know that Twins fans are largely pessimistic about this upcoming season because the team was relatively quiet on the free agent front and traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere for Worley and a couple of players that can’t help for another year or two, but be patient and have some faith.
This Twins team isn’t one that looks like, at least on paper, they’ll lose 90 games this year and while I won’t go so far as to say they’re going to snag a playoff appearance I also don’t believe that 75 to 80 wins is out of the question either.