Free Agent Pitching: 20/20 Hindsight

By the end of the coming weekend, the Twins will have reached the one-quarter mark of the season with 40+ games under their belts. It’s as good a time as any to reflect upon how some of the decisions made by General Manager Terry Ryan in building the team’s roster have turned out.

As a team, the Twins have been hovering over the .500 mark most of the season and, after Monday night’s win over the White Sox, they are one game over the break-even point. Over the weekend, Ryan told 1500ESPN that .500 wasn’t what he was looking for out of this team, that he wanted them to be contenders. It’s great, of course, for your team’s GM to say that kind of thing, but I think most fans would have been pretty satisfied with the prospects of a .500 year out of this Twins team.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan

You also have to consider that those words were coming out of the same mouth that, last November, told TwinsDaily’s John Bonnes that the Twins would be pursuing one of the “pretty darn good” pitchers on the free agent market last season and then went out and made Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey the cornerstones of the team’s free agent class.

In that same interview, Ryan also told Bonnes that he felt the free agent pitching market was, “thin,” when most of us felt there was a pretty solid group of middle-to-upper-half of the rotation arms available.

Now, looking back over the first six weeks of the season, is it possible Terry Ryan was right?

Back on November 20, I posted an article here at Knuckleballs in which I shared my wish list of free agent pitchers for Ryan and the Twins to pursue. Other fans and writers were naturally sharing their own advice for the Twins GM about the same time. Let’s see how our suggestions have been panning out compared to the guys Ryan actually signed for the Twins.

Not many of us were suggesting the Twins should (or even could) sign Zack Greinke, who eventually signed a six-year deal for $159 million with the Dodgers. Greinke was actually off to a decent start until he broke his collarbone (or rather, Carlos Quentin broke Greinke’s collarbone). Maybe Greinke will bounce back and pay dividends on his deal with the Dodgers, but I’m not sorry the Twins didn’t try to outbid the Dodgers for his services.

I argued in my post that the Twins should go ahead and pursue not one, but two of the other big dogs among the free agent pitching class, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson.

Sanchez is one guy who is putting up the kind of numbers you would hope for, so far, as his 2.05 ERA , 1.082 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 52.2 innings would attest. However, he eventually re-signed with the Tigers (5 years/$88 million), so there’s certainly doubt as to whether he and his agent would ever have even considered a move to Target Field.

Jackson, on the other hand, is not exactly earning his 4 year/$52 million contract with the Cubs. Yes, he’s striking out almost one batter per inning pitched, but otherwise, his 6.02 ERA and 1.569 WHIP are pretty close to what the Twins are getting out of Mike Pelfrey (6.03/1.689)… and Ryan is on the hook for about $48 million less than Theo Epstein owes Jackson.

The third pitcher on my wish list was Joe Saunders. I felt the Twins needed another lefty in the rotation and while he wasn’t likely to be a headliner, Saunders looked to me like a good bet to be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the next couple of years. When he eventually signed with the Mariners for just one year and $6.5 million, I was pretty certain the Twins would regret not outbidding the M’s for Saunders’ services (though I recall there was some talk about Saunders not being interested in pitching for the Twins, regardless).

Saunders has pieced together a 3-4 record despite a 5.51 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP. He’s struck out exactly as many hitters (20) as Correia has for the Twins, but has walked more than twice as many batters. Correia’s ERA (3.09) and WHIP (1.200) are certainly looking better than Saunders’.

So maybe my ideas, outside of Sanchez, weren’t as good as I thought they were (and apparently not as good as the ideas Ryan and his staff were having at the time).

But what about the other pitchers on the market last off season? With all of the talent we thought was out there, surely there must have been several pitchers that have turned out to make the GMs who signed them look smart.

Many of the best options, like Sanchez, were re-signed by their 2012 clubs or, in some cases, had options picked up by their teams. But there were still a number of pitchers generating buzz among the Twins faithful.

There was some chatter about Dan Haren, who ended up with the Nationals on a one-year deal for $13 million. He’s put up a 5.17 ERA and a 1.487 WHIP while striking out 27 batters in 38.1 innings over seven starts. That’s not real impressive to me, but hey, he does have a 4-3 record if that’s what you’re in to.

Brandon McCarthy was also a hot commodity in the blogging world. He got a two-year deal from the D’Backs totaling $18 million. For that, he’s accumulated a 5.63 ERA, a 1.542 WHIP, and has gone winless. I’ve read that McCarthy has been “unlucky,” as reflected in a higher than average batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That’s fine. But if you buy that, you need to also give a couple of the Twins (such as Pelfrey and, to an even greater degree, Vance Worley) pitchers the benefit of the same doubt for their “bad luck.”

Ryan Dempster got beat up a bit by the Blue Jays on Sunday, but I don’t think the Red Sox are doubting their two-year/$26.5 million investment too much, so far. He’s got a 3.75 ERA, even after giving up six earned runs to the Jays in five innings of work. His 1.146 WHIP is certainly competitive, but it’s his 61 strike outs in 48 innings that’s perhaps more impressive. Again, I don’t think there was ever any chance Dempster would sign with the Twins since he likely had more than enough suitors from among contending teams.

Shawn Marcum, though, was certainly a guy that a number of Twins fans thought might be obtainable by the club. Marcum signed a one-year deal with the Mets for just $4 million. It turns out the Mets may have overpaid. Marcum has put up a nasty looking 8.59 ERA to go with a 2.045 WHIP. He’s thrown only 14.2 innings covering three starts and one relief appearance.

Were you one of the fans touting Joe Blanton as a possible Twins rotation addition? If so, you might want to keep it to yourself. Blanton signed with the Angels for $15 million over two years and has repaid them with a 0-7 record covering eight starts. His 6.46 ERA and 1.870 WHIP would indicate his record is not terribly misleading.

It’s starting to look like Terry Ryan’s assessment of the pitching market as “thin” might have actually been pretty accurate, isn’t it?

But certainly there must be some success stories, right? Of course there are.

If, while the rest of us were laughing at the absurdity of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie to a 3 year/$25 million contract, you were actually going on the record saying it was a shrewd move certain to pay dividends, give yourself a pat on the back.

Guthrie is 5-0 with the Royals and while he’s not striking a ton of hitters out (30 Ks in 47.1 innings), he’s put up a 2.28 ERA and a 1.183 WHIP in his seven starts for the Royals. He’s gone at least six innings in every start and has one complete game shutout of the White Sox to his credit. Oh yeah, and the Royals are three games above .500 going in to Tuesday night’s games, 1 ½ games behind Division leading Detroit.

Of course, Guthrie isn’t the only free agent pitcher making his GM look wise.

Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman were among the pitchers Epstein added to the Cubs and it’s pretty clear that neither of them are primarily responsible for the Cubs being six games under .500. Villanueva sports a 3.02 ERA and a 1.007 WHIP, but has only one win in seven starts to show for his efforts. Feldman’s ERA is even lower, at 2.53 and his WHIP is a very respectable 1.148. He’s actually gotten enough support to put up a 3-3 record.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t recall a lot of wailing about Terry Ryan allowing Villanueva and Feldman to slip through his fingers. And before you credit Theo Epstein for being so much more brilliant than Terry Ryan, take a look at what Epstein and the Cubs are getting in return for outbidding Ryan for the services of Scott Baker this season. Baker’s next pitch in a Cubs uniform (if he ever makes one) will be his first.

There are probably a few more pitchers worth checking in on that are escaping me at the moment. But from the looks of things, I’m starting to think Correia and Pelfrey weren’t such bad ideas after all. I’m not convinced Correia will continue to perform at the levels of his first few starts, but I do think that as Pelfrey continues to work out the post-TJ-surgery kinks, he may actually improve as the year goes on.

Even with the benefit of perfect hindsight, I’m not 100% sure I’d jump for joy at those free agent signings, but I certainly like the way they’ve turned out so far a whole lot better than most of the other options.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 30

Episode 30 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

JOEMAUER

 

This week on Talk to Contact Paul and Eric (And Cody Christie) talk about the future of Joe Mauer, and the 25-Man roster on Opening Day.  They then bring in Cody Christie to talk about prospect Rory Rhodes, Eddie Guardado, and the rest to the stories around Major League Baseball.  Join us for two hours of fun!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help Samuel Deduno limit his walks).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 29

Episode 29 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic

This week on the Talk to Contact Podcast, the brothers Pleiss discusss, among other things, their plans for the weekend, Anthony SlamaHudson BoydBob Allison and Roy Halladay, among other Twins related topics, to include Aaron HicksJamey Carroll and some dude named Eduardo Escobar. Paul gets drunk early in the podcast, Eric tries to remain competent and everyone has a good time. Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Liam Hendriks find the strike zone).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

 

 

The End of Anthony Slama

UPDATE: This morning (3/14/2013) Anthony Slama was reassigned to Minor League camp.  

Much has been made of the success enjoyed by Minnesota Twins Minor Leaguer Anthony Slama over the past several years at Triple-A Rochester.  Since 2009, when he first arrived in Rochester, Slama has posted a 2.27 ERA over 154.1 innings and has 191 strike outs to go along with just 74 walks.  Those 191 strike outs came in 635 plate appearances, meaning that Anothny Slama was striking out more than 30% of the batters he faced.  Pretty impressive numbers for a guy that has only two brief Major League auditions, 4.2 innings in 2010 and 2.1 innings in 2011.  Despite everything that Slama did in 2012 (1.24 ERA with 56K and just 18BB) and as bad as the Twins were (66-96), Slama was passed over for a September call-up.  Slama is entering his 7th year in professional baseball, he’s no longer on the Twins’ 40-man roster, and despite being in Big League camp, he has little chance of making the Twins’ 25-man roster to begin the year.

DSC_0558

But he still had a chance entering his March 9 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.  Slama was making his first road appearance of the Spring and even though he’d walked four batters and struk out only two through his first 3.1 innings (including an exhibition appearance against the Puerto Rican WBC team), he’d given up just a single earned run, and that was back in his first appearance of the Spring.  Slama pitched poorly, facing six hitters, giving up two hits, two walks, and two runs while recording just two outs.

Anthony Slama throws three pitches.  He throws a 4-seam fastball, a curve ball, and a change-up.  A pretty regular assortment for a right-handed pitcher.  Slama throws his 4-seamer almost three-quarters of the time, with most other offerings coming out of his hand as curve balls and an even smaller number of change-ups.  Slama has fringy velocity, sitting in the upper-80s with his fast ball, and throwing both his change and curve about ten miles per hours slower.

Why Slama has not been given a real chance with the Twins despite his Minor League success is anyone’s guess, but the general consensus is that the Twins do not think his game will translate well to the Big Leagues.  Specifically, according to 1500 ESPN’s Phil Mackey, that “Slama puts too many runners on base, and his low-90’s fastball lacks the necessary life for late-inning success in the majors.”  With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Slama’s March 9 appearance.*

Batter 1Matt Hague (RHB) – Slama retired Hague on four pitches.  He started him with three fastballs (all between 87 and 89 mph), and then induced a pop-up  in foul territory along the first base line on a 74 mph curve ball.

Batter 2- Lucay May (RHB) – Slama started off May with the same fastball to the top-right hand corner of the strike zone, but this time failed to get the call from the umpire and fell behind 1-0.  May was taking all the way on Slama’s second offering, another fastball right down the pipe.  Slama then missed the zone with his next two fastballs, bouncing the second one in the dirt.  Now behind 3-1, Slama had to throw a strike and May connect on the belt-high fastball and lined a single between the shortstop and third basemen.  Slama did a good job mixing locations with his fastball, but all five fastballs came in at 87 mph.  Because he was unable to find the edges of the strike zone.

Batter 3Jordy Mercer (RHB) – Once again Anothny Slama begins the at-bat with a fastball.  Mercer takes the pitch right down the center of the strike zone for a called strike one.  Slama then throws back-to-back curve balls that miss down and outside and he’s behind in the count 2-1.  Back to the fastball, again Slama misses outside and he’s in his second three-ball count of the inning.  Slama misses way outside on his next pitch, which he appeared to overthrow, and now there are runners on first and second with just one out.

Batter 4Drew Maggi (RHB) – The game-tying run is now at the plate and Slama again goes to his fastball for an 88 mph called strike that catches the bottom of the zone.  Slama drops a curve low and away that misses but comes back with another fastball right down the plate that Maggie fowls down the left field line, out of play.  Looking at the video, Maggi might have been looking for another off-speed pitch, but he still put a good swing on the ball and lining it down the left field line, despite being well behind the pitch.  Ahead in the count, Slama throws what appears to be a change up and induces another pop-up to foul territory along the first base line.  This was Anthony Slama at his best, mixing speeds and hitting his spots on the edges of the zone.

Batter 5Felix Pie (LHB) – Slama quickly falls behind 3-0, missing the zone on three straight fastballs between 87 and 89 mph.  Pie takes the next two pitches, both strikes, before Slama misses throws wide with his sixth fastball of the at-bat, loading the bases.  This was Slama at his worst.  He struggles to throw strikes with his fastball and because he had been so erratic with his control, the regularly impatient Pie lets Slama give him the free pass.

At no point through these first five batters has Slama looked particularly confident.  He’s managed to get a couple of pop-ups to into foul territory, but he routinely misses the catcher’s target, sometimes by what looks like a foot or more.  He has thrown 24 pitches to this point in the inning and has yet to induce a single swing and miss.

DSC_0562

Batter 6Brad Hawpe (LHB) – First pitch fastball (stop me if you’ve heard this before), high and outside, 1-0.  Hawpe then fouls off (up and away from the third base line) two more Anthony Slama fastballs before watching a fourth  fastball (and the 10th consecutive fastball that Slama has thrown) get away from Slama for a letter-high ball.  Slama throws yet another 88 mph fastball that Hawpe again just misses sending the ball into the seats along the third base line.  Slama’s thirtieth pitch of the inning is another fastball that misses high bringing the count full.  Anthony Slama now has a three-ball count with the fourth of the six batters he faced.  The final pitch of the at-bat is a fastball hit through the gap on the right side of the infield that scores two runs.

Anthony Slama’s appearance ended after that second base hit.  He threw thirty-one pitches: 14 strikes, 17 balls, 26 fastballs, 4 curve balls, and what was most likely 1 change up.  He finished with thirteen consecutive fastballs, everyone of them between 86 and 89 miles per hour.  His fastball looked flat AND he could not locate it.  Because he was frequently behind in the count he was unable to get to his curve ball, and when he did, he could not throw that for strikes either.  All in all, a pretty dreadful appearance from Anthony Slama.

Unless things change drastically between now and the end of Spring Training, that performance was likely the unofficial end to Anthony Slama’s career with the Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss

*In addition to being Slama’s most recent appearance, the March 9 game was Slama’s first televised appearance  so I had an opportunity to review the videotape, approximate pitch locations, and record velocity by way of the on-screen radar gun.  Went a little old school to get the pitch data, here is my chart, NotebookFX

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 28

Episode 28 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Eric and Paul are joined this week by not one, but two guests with international flavor. In the first segment the twins are joined by Gary from Italy (@ForzaGemelli) to talk about baseball in Italy and hopes for the Italian team in the WBC (including Drew Butera, the boat anchor). Later in the podcast fellow international traveler Thrylos (@Thrylos98) of tenthinningstretch.blogspot.com to talk about spring training battles and baseball in general. Eric and Paul go on to discuss injury news coming out of spring training, J.T. Chargois, Camile Pascual, the World Baseball Classic in both generalities and specifics before getting sidetracked talking about beer, and other nonsensical things.

Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help the Twins in games).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Twins vs. Red Sox – 6:05pm

We’re back!  Opening Day is just 23 days away and we need to kick off the snow and salt we’ve accumulated on our GameChats all winter.  Tonight marks the first televised Fox Sports North broadcast of the year for the Minnesota Twins (game available locally on FSN+) so that seemed like a pretty good time to pull out the GameChat and get back into the swing of things.  We’re putting the GameChat up an hour early tonight to give folks some time to catch up before the game starts.

If you’re a new reader at Knuckleballs, feel free to stop into the chat and say hello.  We will have a GameChat up for every game of the regular season, so come back often and join us for some Twins chatter.  Many of the regular folks that stop by (and JC and I) live outside of Minnesota’s boarders so the GameChats are an excellent opportunity for us to “talk shop” with other Twins fans.  We’re creating a virtual neighborhood bar, and you can bring your own beverage!

The Twins still have a whole bunch of players off participating in the World Baseball Classic, so we will see some interesting line-ups over the next several days, and tonight is no exception.

 Minnesota Twins

@

 Boston Red Sox
 Hicks, CF  Ellsbury, CF
 Dozier, 2B  Pedroia, 2B
 Willingham, DH  Sweeney, RF
 Doumit, C  Gomes, J, LF
 Plouffe, 3B  Nava, 1B
 Boggs, LF  Middlebrooks, 3B
 Benson, RF  Lavarnway, C
 Clement, 1B  Overbay, DH
 Florimon, SS  Iglesias, SS
    Pelfrey, P     Dempster, P

PLAY BALL!

The first Boyfriend of the Day (BOD, the Knuckleballs version of MVP) award goes to Mike Pelfry for three scoreless inning in which he recorded five strike outs while allowing just two hits and one walk.  The offense did just enough to give the Twins a win and the the boys from Minneapolis escaped with a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10 0
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0

Berrios Stock Rising?

In the days following last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, most of the chatter among Twins fans seemed focused on two subjects: Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder that the Twins selected with the second overall pick of the draft; and the number of hard throwing college-age relief pitchers that the team selected in first couple of rounds.

Everyone wanted to discuss just how good Buxton might become and whether or not the Twins would be able to successfully convert any of those strong college arms in to starting pitchers. Almost overlooked in the discussions was Jose Berrios, a young high school pitcher the Twins drafted used a supplemental first round pick to select out of Papa Juan XXIII High School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

It’s understandable, perhaps. Buxton was the near-consensus “best athlete in the draft” and the college pitchers all seemed to be at least 6′ 4″ 210 pound men with mid 90s fastballs who had proven themselves with some of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Berrios, on the other hand, appeared to have to stretch to reach six feet in height and reportedly packed on about 20 pounds during his senior year of high school just to get up near 185.

Some even suggested that the Twins had reached a bit in selecting Berrios where they did. ESPN’s Keith Law had the young righty pegged as the 73rd best ballplayer available in the draft, but the Twins used the 32nd overall pick to select him. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Berrios’ size and mechanics indicated he’d likely need to convert to a bullpen role.

Berrios pitched at both Rookie League levels in the Twins organization after inking a deal with the Twins for a $1.55 million signing bonus. He threw 30.2 innings across 11 games (four of them starts) and put up a combined 1.17 ERA. That’s nice, but here are the real eye-popping numbers: Berrios struck out 49 batters in those 30.2 innings, while walking just four. No matter what level of minor league ball you’re at, those are impressive stats!

His effort didn’t go unnoticed outside the Twins organization either. In January, Berrios was named to Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic pitching staff. That honor also got the young pitcher an invitation to the Twins’ Major League Spring Training, where he would not only get much needed work in preparation for the WBC tournament, but would also have the opportunity to get in front of the eyes of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big club’s coaching staff.

While Berrios has not pitched in any of the Twins’ “official” Spring Training games, he has pitched in the ‘B’ games and intersquad games that the team has scheduled over the past week or so in order to get enough work in for the expanded roster they’ve got in camp this year.

Even without taking the mound for an official Spring Training game, however, he’s made an impression. Gardenhire observed after Berrios took one of his turns throwing live batting practice to the Big Leaguers, “He can throw it. He can wing it.” Star-Tribune Twins beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III has also been impressed with Berrios, writing, “I can’t believe he’s just 18. His stuff is live and he goes after people.”

In what’s likely to have been his final game experience prior to leaving to join his team mates for the WBC in Puerto Rico, Berrios threw two innings against a team of Red Sox prospects in a ‘B’ game on Thursday and retired all six hitters he faced.

Puerto Rico opens their WBC play against Spain this coming Friday. They’ll have their work cut out for them to advance beyond the first round, however, as traditional powers Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both also in Puerto Rico’s pool.

It will be interesting to see how the Twins handle Berrios once the WBC wraps up and the minor league season gets underway. The Twins are not an organization known for overtaxing the arms of their young pitching prospects and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an 18 year old like Berrios stay back in extended spring training for a few weeks rather than subjecting him to the chilly Iowa weather in April. But with his early start and the WBC work, they may be more likely to send him north to Cedar Rapids for Opening Day.

In any event, it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll see Berrios on the mound in Cedar Rapids this season. Hopefully, he’ll show fans of the Kernels and Twins in Eastern Iowa a bit of what has been impressing everyone in Ft. Myers this spring.

In parting, click here to take a look at a great, emotional video taken on draft day last June, when Berrios and his family & friends learned he’d been drafted by the Twins.

– JC

News Alert: Is the Universe Really That Obliging??

You may have heard the announcement already – it came out last night.

Our hometown boy, THE Minnesota Twin – yeah, you know who I mean, the newlywed Joe Mauer, announced that he and his new wife, Maddie, are expecting. Congratulations are in order, of course. But here’s the kicker: they are having TWINS.

No, seriously. That girl has some major league talent of her own to get this going – practically a storybook setup. (one that you would find ridiculous, unbelievable and too much of a stretch to make it good writing.) Good for them! (of course, it’s good for them but not exactly something on my wish list – twins are twice the work of one, I hear :) )

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Of course, this kind of makes me wonder what this team puts in the water… I can’t list all the twin births that have occurred in families of this team but my impression is that it’s far above the actual average. Could this be a symptom of having Twins on the mind too much?? [starts thinking very hard: singles, singles, singles..]

Now, back to your regularly scheduled Knuckleballs Keychain Contest!

Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter.  With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road.  The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles.  An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

opening day optimism

Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions.  Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.  I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

Rafael Perez  (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago.  He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008.  He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate.  Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal.  Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009.  There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season.  I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery.  Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation.  Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.  If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.

Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season.  Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract.  Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012).  Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience.  If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond.  But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves.  The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day.  If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st.  But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated.  There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it.  He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).

When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.

-ERolfPleiss