Monday, August 22, 2016

Starting Pitching Remains Twins Biggest Mystery

Now with the 2016 Major League Baseball season quickly racing to a close, the statistical output for teams has a solid base. When looking at team compiled numbers, no longer is there such a thing as a small sample size. For the Twins, that spells disaster once again on the starting pitching front. As has been the case plenty in recent years, Minnesota has failed to get out of its own when way it comes to getting games off on a good foot.

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins own a major league worst 5.37 ERA for starters. They are joined by Oakland, Arizona, and Los Angeles as the only other teams with starting ERAs north of the 5.00 mark. When it comes to strikeouts, Minnesota is also dead last with a 6.70 K/9 total. Only the Brewers, Athletics, Braves, and Rangers have also failed to strike out at least seven batters per nine innings with their starters. The unfortunate reality for the Twins is that this isn't new.

Almost certain to lose 90 games again this season, Minnesota ranked 30th in ERA and 29th in K/9 during the 2014 season, last in both categories during 2013, 29th and 30th respectively in 2012, and 26th in ERA while being 28th in K/9 during 2011. During their long drought of losing, starting pitching has been a significant problem. Even in 2015 when the Twins made a surprising run at the playoffs, starters owned just the 15th best ERA in the big leagues, while compiling the 28th best K/9 mark. As has been the case for quite some time, starters that don't strike anyone out generally struggle.

Individually, only Jose Berrios owns a K/9 of at least one per inning (9.0) among Twins starters. Tyler Duffey is second best coming in at 7.53 K/9, and rotation ace Ervin Santana has compiled a 6.97 K/9, When looking for pitching help in recent seasons, Minnesota has made a habit of going for inning eaters as opposed to difference makers.

Should the Twins be looking to turn things around in 2017 and beyond, and renewed focus in regards to their starting pitching is a must.

Going into 2017, the Twins likely could be looking at just two veteran pitchers in Santana and Phil Hughes. If they can somehow get out from underneath Hector Santiago's roster spot (even DFA'ing him), three rotation spots should be up for grabs. You'd hope that one of those would be handed to Jose Berrios. Ideally things begin to click for him, and whatever the big league coaches haven't been able to unlock is figured out. From there, a return of Trevor May to the rotation makes sense, and the 5th spot could be decided between Adelberto Mejia or even rising prospect Stephen Gonsalves.

What is promising among the aforementioned group is that the latter three or four (Berrios, May, Mejia, and Gonsalves) are all capable of generating swings and misses. Minnesota may flip Santana, and Hughes is far from a sure thing given his injury issues. Regardless, a transition to a more dominant version of a starter is something that's going to be necessary for Minnesota to be relevant and competitive.

This whole importance of strikeouts is something that's been a shift over the landscape of major league baseball for some time. Thus far, the Twins haven't adapted and it's been to their detriment. What is worth noting however, is that a change can be made when it's actually concentrated on. In 2012, the Cleveland Indians found themselves 29th in K/9 and just four years later, they've vaulted up to 5th. Actually implementing the change is half of the battle.

Considering that a new GM is coming, and organizational changes will be made, there's reason to believe that Minnesota stops operating on old principles. If the Twins are going to compete, they'll need to start playing the form of baseball that the current major league landscape dictates. If starting pitching continues to be something Minnesota takes mulligans on, it won't matter how many top prospects come through the system.

As has always been the case, pitching reigns supreme, and the Twins getting on board with true starters is a must. A turnaround is more than possible, but it needs to be one that the organization commits to.

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