Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Twins Rotation And Their Options

Entering the 2015 Major League Baseball season, I suggested that the Twins may finally be able to considering pitching a relative strength. While that may have been a bit of a reach, there's no doubt that the 2015 Twins can consider themselves owners of pitching depth. Now with the season heading into the summer, managing that depth will be the key to unlocking continued sustainability in the win column for Minnesota.

As of this writing, the Twins own the 10th best team ERA in the American League (4.00). Minnesota has saved 17 games as a team (with Major League Baseball being led in the category by Glen Perkins with 16). The team's four shutouts are tied for second best in the American League. On the flip side, the Twins .273 batting average against is dead last in the American League and with 253 strikeouts, they are also dead last (trailing Kansas City who is second to last by 32 K). So, with a mirage of sorts going in their favor, and detriment mounting, what happens next?

The short answer is, regression.

Let's take a look at the Twins rotation and their numbers as things currently stand:
  • Phil Hughes- 3-4 4.50 ERA 4.44 FIP 1.293 WHIP 0.9 BB/9 5.9 K/9
  • Ricky Nolasco- 5-1 5.12 ERA 2.89 FIP 1.611 WHIP 2.8 BB/9 7.7 K/9
  • Kyle Gibson- 4-3 2.72 ERA 4.23 FIP 1.207 WHIP 2.7 BB/9 4.3 K/9
  • Mike Pelfrey 3-1 3.00 ERA 4.50 FIP 1.311 WHIP 3.0 BB/9 4.4 K/9
  • Trevor May 3-3 4.95 ERA 3.01 FIP 1.374 WHIP 1.6 BB/9 7.4 K/9
Touching on each pitcher, there's plenty to dissect here. Most notable, the success of Gibson and Pelfrey should be cautioned. Both own FIP (fielding independent pitching) marks above 4.00. Being groundball pitchers, they have benefited from the outfield remaining out of the picture in most of their starts. Despite Aaron Hicks making a significant difference for the Twins outfield, it wasn't pretty in the early going. Both Pelfrey and Gibson could see more issues as the continue to draw significant contact with low strikeout rates as well.

Phil Hughes has taken a step backwards and moved more towards his career numbers. His strikeouts are down, but the most notable issue he has faced this season is the longball. Hughes has given up 10 home runs in just nine games after giving up 16 in 32 last season. There's little reason to suggest that Trevor May hasn't taken steps forward, and despite a lackluster WHIP, he may be trending in the best direction of the bunch.

Rounding out the group, Nolasco has actually been impressive since coming off of the DL. He's 5-0 in his last five starts, and owns a 3.77 ERA. The FIP number suggests he's been burned by lackluster defense to a certain extent, but he's also danced around danger giving up a career high 11.7 H/9 and allowing a .304 batting average against in his last five starts.

All of this adds up to a group that, as a whole, has exceeded expectations, but probably regresses over the course of the season. Now, each team goes through periods where statistics can't account for baseball simply playing in your favor, and regression isn't likely to come all at once. The Twins shouldn't be counting on all five guys to falter, but having backup plans for the ones that do would seem to be a good situation.

To that notion, Minnesota can smile and simply look at their organization as a whole. In Rochester, Taylor Rogers and Pat Dean have looked good over their first handful of starts (3.44 ERA and 2.47 ERA respectively) as both have spent the entirety of the season there. Tommy Milone has made four starts for the Red Wings since his demotion and has compiled a 0.28 ERA while allowing just one earned run in 31.2 IP while striking out 41 batters. Although probably not a candidate to join the Twins this season, Tyler Duffey was also recently promoted to Triple-A after opening the season as the Double-A Opening Day pitcher. On the season Duffey owns a 2.56 ERA, 1.8 BB/9, and 9.1 K/9 ratio.

Generally teams would like to see pitchers refine themselves at the Triple-A level prior to heading to the big leagues, but it's hard to overlook what Jose Berrios has done in Chattanooga. In nine starts, Berrios owns a 2.89 ERA, 10.1 K/9, and just a 2.7 BB/9 ratio. He's one of the organizations top prospects, and he's knocking on the door, hard.

All of the above options have been presented without even touching on the fact that de facto number two starter Ervin Santana will be back in July. On top of Santana, the Twins are still likely hoping that Alex Meyer shows semblance of starting ability. After a recent move to the bullpen in hopes of controlling command issues, he could be pushed into the rotation down the stretch as well.

Over the course of the summer, Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor are going to have plenty of decisions to make. There's no doubt they should ride the current rotation construction until the results deem otherwise, but for the first time in a while, they shouldn't be fearing the bottom falling out. A testament to patience, the Twins are built for a certain level of sustainability.