Friday, June 03, 2005

Twins Rotation Review

Starting Pitchers

Johan Santana
These are the expectations Santana has built up. His 2-1 loss to the Angels on May 1 ended a streak of 17 Wins without a Loss hung on his record in 20 starts, dating to last July 17. That's a 17-0 record with a 1.77 ERA. The Twins were 19-1 in those games, the only defeat coming on September 29 when Gardenhire pulled Santana with a 3-1 lead after 5 innings in order to conserve his ace for the playoffs--and Romero and Rincon would blow the game in the 7th inning that day. Even in Johan's last Loss before the streak began, on July 11 he had held the Tigers to 2 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks, with 11 strikeouts in 8 innings, only to watch Jason Johnson respond with a shutout. Johan hadn't really pitched a mediocre game in defeat since a pair of starts against the Royals and Devil Rays in late May/early June last year, and had not been knocked out since the White Sox scored 7 runs in 3 innings off him on May 23, 2004.

He had been Supernatural for nearly a whole year in which the Twins could almost count on adding one to the Win column every time he took the mound. So when he gives up 4 runs in 6 innings and the team loses to the Orioles, and he follows that act by coughing up 7 runs in 5.1 innings to the Blue Jays... what's this?!?? Johan Santana does not get knocked out in the middle of an inning, or get knocked around at all, does he? What's wrong?!?

Well, it turns out that even God's favorite is still human--and he might have been tipping his change-up. Since working with Rick Anderson after that sour start against the Jays, Johan is back on track with a 2.86 ERA in his last 3 starts, all Twins wins. Order is restored. He stands at a 6-2 record and 3.67 ERA, and leads the rotation with 83.1 IP, a 0.94 WHIP, and a remarkable 11.34 strikeouts per 9 innings. To sustain that rate for a full season, he would be breathing the rare air of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan. It would be one of the Top 15 single-season strikeout rates of all time.

Meanwhile, the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) stat listed at Baseball Prospectus still rates him as the most valuable pitcher on the Twins staff, with a 19.2 VORP. A couple bumps notwithstanding, he's still on track for another great season, cementing his position as the true staff ace. Now if only we could get a deal to make sure all his starts are on the flippin' TV....

Brad Radke
As far as the local media are concerned, Brad Radke is like the Derek Jeter of the Minnesota Twins. A very good veteran player whose every move is blown up to some great symbolic significance, representing All That's Good About Baseball and The Right Way to Play the Game. As with Jeter, I guess you either really dig that, or having it shoved down your gullet all the time eventually makes you want to barf. Sometimes I can't stomach all the hype about a #2 pitcher who consistently struggles to pitch a clean 1st inning and shows all the personality of a Stepford wife; but he has been programmed to be a pretty good pitcher, just the same.

After a rocky start to the season which saw him with a 5.08 ERA on April 25, he has posted a 4-1 mark and 2.79 ERA in 7 starts since then. I still may have to turn down the volume on Bert when Brad is pitching, and I'll have to vent every time I see him put his team in an early hole with a 2-strike changeup that gets launched into the seats, but I appreciate how well he's been pitching for the most part in the past month. He's been almost worth his hype.

Carlos Silva
Despite allowing batters to hit a .298 avg, and striking out a measly 2.82 per 9 innings, the man has a 3.09 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 67 innings, through 9 starts. His ERA tops the rotation and ranks 7th in the AL, while he's been the most consistent pitcher on one of the league's best staffs. His 17.8 VORP is 2nd on the team only to Johan Santana. In 4 road starts, his ERA is 1.86. So far, he's completely defied my expectations of seeing him regress from last year's marks, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Even a supposedly season-ending knee injury turned into nothing more than 2 weeks' rest on the Disabled List. Does he lead an even more charmed life than Jon Garland, or what?

Of course, it helps that he doesn't walk anybody, he's held batters to a .412 slg pct., and he's been able to rack up 16 groundball double plays. As to whether all this can hold, I'm still skeptical. If he could keep this up despite a strikeout rate in the 2's, I believe he would be unique in the history of baseball. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the freakshow while it lasts. If it turns out that Carlos Silva really does have something new under the sun, I'll be glad to see it.

Joe Mays
Before the season began, many Twins fans, if not most, were just looking forward to the day when the club would be out from under Joe Mays' contract. GM Terry Ryan had rewarded his Ace of 2001 for his breakout season with a 4-year deal that was a bust from the start. Mays struggled through arm injuries in 2002-3, until finally submitting to Tommy John surgery on his elbow which put him on the shelf for all of 2004.

I'd be happy if he could just post an ERA in the mid 4's and eat 180 innings in this first year back. I know many fans feared much worse. There was some talk of how soon Mays could be stashed in the bullpen to make way for younger talents with the promise of greater potential. He actually did make his first appearance of the season as a reliever, after all, and was skipped in the rotation a couple times in April due to his demotion to #5 starter status. Even his pitching coach and manager seemed none too sure of what he could do anymore.

Well, surprise! Surprise! Through 2 months, he's 3-2 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. He hasn't really had more than a couple bad games, and he even pitched a complete game shutout against the Blue Jays on May 19. The 3.13 K/9 rate doesn't bode well for the future, especially as long as he's on pace to give up 30 home runs. But so far he's done all one could want of a #5 starter, and then some.

Kyle Lohse
Young enigma, favorite whipping boy of Twins Territory and the legion of Batlings. He had shown real signs of greatness in the latter half of 2002 and some months in 2003, but had pretty well fallen apart last year. Some were ready to cut him loose, or wondered why he couldn't be banished to AAA. In April, I began to think that it might be time to turn him into a reliever, since it seemed that he would run into most of his troubles after batters had been through the order a couple times. I also said in my game of Pepper! with SBG at about the same time, "I like Lohse, but I think he needs to focus on a narrow approach that works for him and can be repeated consistently. Maybe that means concentrating on two pitches instead of mixing in four." (April 15, 2005. You can go look it up.)

It pays to listen to frightwig, folks! Ha! Lately there has been a lot of hullabaloo about how Lohse is now concentrating on his fastball and slider, as Rick Anderson took a couple pitches away from him, and the result has been a 3-1, 2.30 mark in May. Now I have to wonder, was that so hard?! Doesn't it seem like they could have made Lohse do that long ago? I mean, you tell the Catcher to give signs for no more than three pitches--and don't give in if Lohse wants something else, under any circumstances. Then tell Lohse, "He's giving you three signs, and if I see you shaking him off all day, pouting about it, or crossing him up with a curveball, you're coming out of the game--and the rotation." It seems fairly simple, doesn't it?

Anyway, it seems Lohse is buying into the new program and reaping the rewards. Now the Twins have 4 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.75, and Lohse is heading in that direction.

Don't look back, Chicago. Somebody might be gainin' on ya....


At 6/06/2005 12:07 PM, Blogger SBG said...

Great call on the Lohse thing.

I was listening on Friday and the Highlanders roughed up Lohse early and I thought, oh boy, here we go. But, then, he was able to negotiate his way through six innings without an implosion. Had to be a big confidence booster.


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