Just Winging It: The 2012 Minnesota Twins Starting Rotation

There can be no doubts that a 63-99 team has plenty of areas for improvement.  In 2011 the Twins were 28th in team OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), ahead of only the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres.  Sure, they were playing half of their games in the pitcher friendly Target Field, but even when adjusting for park factors, the Twins posted an OPS+ of just 84 (100 is average), 29th in the MLB, this time behind the Padres.  Clearly there were issues with the Twins’ bats a year ago.  Part of that was attributable to injuries to Joe Mauer (replaced by Drew Butera and Rene Rivera) and Denard Span (replaced by Joe Benson, Rene Tosoni, and Jason Repko).  Another part of the hitting problem was related to dreadful offensive production from the middle infield, as Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, and Matt Tolbert, and the the old Trevor Plouffe all posted below leave average offensive numbers.

As bad as the Twins’ bats were in 2011, it did not really matter what their pitchers were doing.  And maybe that is what the front office was thinking heading into Spring Training.  If the Twins could just upgrade their offense, even with a mediocre pitching staff, they were likely to see a big improvement.  Unfortunately, the Twins did not have a mediocre pitching staff in 2011, their 4.58 team ERA was 29th, and were one of just two teams (along with the Baltimore Orioles) to allow more than 800 runs.  So to go along with their 29th place OPS+, the Twins also had the 29th worst pitching staff, and yet somehow they still only lost 99 games.

After a winter of free agent signings and departures the Twins arrived in Spring Training as optimistic as any team in baseball.  After all, they were only a year removed from a 94-win AL Central Championship team, and they were truly healthy for the first time in more than a year.  Their franchise catcher, Joe Mauer, had finally recovered from whatever it was that was ailing him in 2011 and caused him to miss almost half a season, and Justin Morneau was finally overcoming his concussion symptoms that cost him the better parts of 2010 and 2011.  Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham were on board to replace Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, and the Twins signed veteran on-base sepcialist Jamey Carroll to compensate for the failures of Nishioka.  Alexi Casilla was coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his underwhelming career and looked poised to finally become the everyday player the Twins had been hoping he would be since 2007.  Despite all their failures in 2011, the Twins looked like their bats were ready to hit in 2012.*

*And to some extent, they are.  The Twins’ 2012 OPS+ is 6th in the American League, and they are scoring runs at an almost league average rate (4.30/4.47).  

The Twins, however, did little to improve a pitching staff that was one of the worst in 2011.    They inexplicably resigned 9th inning reliever Matt Capps to a $4.75 million dollar deal to step in for the departed Joe Nathan.  They also sent starting pitcher Brian Duensing back to the bullpen where he had previously been successful and replaced him in the rotation with free agent acquisition Jason Marquis, hoping that he would rebound from a broken leg that cost him the end of the 2011 season, and become the renaissance man that Carl Pavano had been for the Twins since he arrived in 2009.  But with just five real candidates for starting pitching Minnesota was walking a pretty thin line.  The Twins also brought in just about every free agent relief pitcher they could find hoping that a couple of them would pitch well enough in Spring Training to head north with the big league team.  They even went against their traditionally risk-averse strategy and signed Joel Zumaya to a minor league deal hoping to add a power arm to their bullpen without paying the power arm price.  And with that, the Twins were seemingly ready to start the season.

Just five starting pitchers and not a lot of MLB ready pitchers in AAA ready to step in if things went poorly.  Among the starting pitchers not in that group of five, only Liam Hendriks and Scott Diamond seemed like realistic replacements to join the Twins if things did not go well in Minnesota.

As you are well aware, things have not gone well for the Twins’ starting pitchers in 2012.  Even before leaving Spring Training the Twins were forced to move Liam Hendriks into starting rotation as Jason Marquis was pulled away from the team to be with his daughter while she was recovering from a serious bicycle accident.  To make matters worse, Scott Baker did not leave Ft. Myers with the Twins either, dealing with supposedly minor arm issues which ended up as a worst-case scenario as Baker would eventually require Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL in his pitching arm.  That meant that Anthony Swarzak would start the season in the starting rotation, leaving with Twins without their regular long-reliever until Marquis would be back with the team.  Before long the Liam Hendriks experiment was over and he was back in AAA looking garner some additional seasoning.  Now the Twins had to start getting creative.  They had already burned through the only two replacement options they’d planned for and with the Twins already well below .500, it was unlikely that they would be playing any meaningful baseball in October.  Since that time the Twins have used five additional starting pitchers, none of whom the Twins were counting on in April.  P.J. Walters was first, then Scott Diamond, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing, and finally Sam Deduno.

The Twins still have 63 games remaining in 201. With Francisco Liriano now pitching for the Chicago White Sox the Twins will have to find another arm to step in.  While the next pitcher they call upon to start will likely not be a fresh face, they will still be tip-toeing around a problem unlikely to be resolved without the infusion of some fresh arms this winter.

Twins fans should have known that when Minnesota signed Jason Marquis and hoped for the best that the team was just winging it in 2012.

-ERolfPleiss

Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss

T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

- JC