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September Piggyback Ride

We have learned a lot about the Opener concept that the Tampa Bay Rays are implementing in the big leagues this season. It is a concept that the Twins have used in the upper levels of their minor league system, and I fully expect that we will see it with the Twins often in 2019.

However, as it relates to the Twins big league club, I think they should consider the idea of piggybacking their starting pitchers over the season's final three weeks.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA Today (photo of Fernando Romero)
Last week one day, I was trying to think of the best way for the Twins to use the starting pitchers on their 40-man roster. (I mean, who doesn't sit around thinking about such things?)



First, I think that as long as they are healthy, the Twins should continue with business as normal for Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson. They have been reliable the majority of their 2018 seasons and should both reach 200 innings pitched this year.

But that leaves three more rotation spots to fill. Jake Odorizzi will continue to pitch and the fact that they haven't traded him tells me that the front office must see him as a part of their 2019 plans.

Right now, the other two rotation spots have been given to (or earned by) Kohl Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves, their first and fourth round picks, respectively, in the 2013 draft.

But as September approaches and rosters can expand, there are other starting pitchers that I'm sure the Twins front office and coaching staff would like to get their eyes on. Guys that they would like to see work some big league innings as they will potentially play a bigger role in 2019.

Fernando Romero made ten starts for the Twins earlier in the season, and he is likely to finish the season with the big league club. Zack Littell made one start and one relief appearance earlier in the season and is another candidate to get some innings.

The forgotten name through much of the season is Michael Pineda. Coming off of midseason 2017 Tommy John surgery, the Twins signed the former All-Star to a two-year, $10 million deal. He is being paid $2 million this year to rehab and will make $8 million next year. After making two rehab starts in Ft. Myers, Pineda tossed four innings for the Red Wings last night. Rehab has been going well with reports of him sitting in the mid-90s. The reported plan is for him to make two more rehab starts for Rochester before joining the Twins.

Because the Twins are out of contention, they can afford to give opportunities to several players. For guys like Stewart, Gonsalves, Littell and Romero, there is value in any inning pitched in the big leagues. Experience can teach a lot. All four have had Triple A success and are now ready to test themselves further in the big leagues. Even if they struggle, they will have move data points to explore, and more video to watch during the offseason. I would hope that they would also learn from Garvin Alston and Jeff Pickler as well as Mitch Garver and Bobby Wilson. They should go into the season with a good plan for how to make adjustments and things to work on improving.

For Pineda, getting back is just the start, but keeping him progressing and staying healthy through the season is what matters. Get him some innings and get him to the offseason ready to prepare to be a top of the rotation starter in 2019.

Getting opportunities, plural, will be important for each of them. They don't have to be six or seven inning appearances. In addition to simply getting opportunities, there is the theory (and the statistics to back it up) that the third time through the lineup can be difficult on a starting pitcher. So, by limiting these guys to three and possibly four innings, you're keeping them from that third time through the lineup.

"Piggybacking" just means that someone will start and work three or four innings and then another starter will come in and hope to go another three or four innings.
It is different than the Opener concept where a relief pitcher starts the game and works one, or maybe two, innings and turns it over to a starter who tries to provide six or seven innings before turning it over to the rest of the bullpen.

On his newest The Scoops podcast, Darren Wolfson again interviewed Twins GM Thad Levine. Asked if any pitchers were on an innings limit, he mentioned only Fernando Romero. "Just because he is getting into the range that he has not achieved before. I think he more than most of these guys in a bona fide candidate for a little more of a limited role, whether than comes in the bullpen or that comes as a piggyback starter. We are going to be attentive to his innings."

Levine also said, "We've had a lot of creative discussion with Garvin Alston and with Paul Molitor around the concept of "Do we rotate some of these guys through?". Do we go to a six man rotation? Do we piggyback some of these guys?"

It really doesn't matter the order of the match ups that the Twins choose. They could piggyback hard throwers like Romero and Pineda. Or, they could team a hard thrower like Pineda and then send Gonsalves out in relief. What I would like to see is the groupings stick together in such a way that the piggybacker who starts one game would come out of the bullpen the next time. Starters can have routines, so it could be good to expand upon that but at the same time not being completely in a new situation.

I believe when I posted that tweet last week, Thorpe had just made (or was about to make) his first AAA start. I think it it fairly unlikely that Lewis Thorpe debuts in 2019. Maybe that spot is taken by Odorizzi.

The other reason I would like to see the two piggybacking starters limited to seven combined innings is because the Twins also will have several relievers that they need to evaluate over the season's final month.

Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers have been very good most of the season. You kind of know what you have there. But Matt Magill was signed to a minor league contract this past offseason and didn't even get a big league invite. I'm sure they'd like to keep putting him in more high leverage situations. Oliver Drake is on his fifth team, but so far so good since joining the Twins. They'll want to evaluate his pitch repertoire to make sure that split-fingered fastball and his strikeout rate are legit.

But the Twins also have decisions to make on 40-man roster guys like Alan Busenitz, Tyler Duffey, and John Curtiss. Hard-throwing Nick Anderson and Jake Reed are guys that they may want to add to the 40-man roster in the offseason and if so there could be value in giving them an opportunity in September. Also, if not added to the 40-man roster, Luke Bard and DJ Baxendale can become minor league free agents.

With all those pitchers potentially on the roster, the goal could be for the starter to get through four innings. The piggybacker would know that he will start the fifth inning with the goal of getting through the seventh inning. First, that allows bullpen guys to work the eighth and ninth innings. And if the starter is unable to get through the fourth inning, bullpen guys can bridge that gap, allowing the piggybacker to prepare as he needs to be ready fore fifth.

The Rochester season ends on Labor Day. There will be 25 games remaining or (math minor here) five times through the rotation. If they were to use the piggybacking concept for three rotation spots, those starters (six of them) could still get 15 to 18 more innings. Not huge numbers, but a good number for each of them to end the season.

To me, piggybacking would be the easiest way to provide opportunities and experience while also being able to control innings for more pitchers. The bullpen will be full, but that's OK.

What to you think? Would you be in favor of maintaining a five-man rotation, moving to a six-man rotation, or piggybacking in the rotation after the Triple-A season ends?

Share your opinions below.

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38 Comments

I agree with this artcle. Lets do it. Have a piggy back ride...rotation...
    • blindeke and MN_ExPat like this

Yes.Good plan, lets get those young arms into the rotation up here.I am sorry that they did not move Odorizzi, but I see him as a good multi-inning reliever in the future.

    • blindeke and MN_ExPat like this

Interesting, Seth.I would include Odorizzi to the list of guys that should go 4+ innings.Seems that is where he runs into trouble.  

 

Will be curious if we see some of this, although doubt we will see it to the extent you have laid out.

    • glunn, Twins33, caninatl04 and 1 other like this

Very well said Seth. I really like the idea (which of course probably means the Twins and the FO wont use it ;)) and I agree, it could be a really good way to get extra innings and let the next wave of arms get there feet wet without to much pressure.

    • glunn likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Aug 22 2018 07:13 AM

Why don't we also piggy back position players, like Gordon/Forsythe and Rooker/Austin at DH? 

Remember that Mejia also needs to be worked into the mix. The Twins have a lot of potential starters on their 40-man. And, yes, it might be nice to give Lewis Thorpe a taste of the major leagues.

 

Baxendale and Bard need to be given a look...if the Twins feel the need to keep either around in 2019. Otherwise they will surely walk.

 

The number of guys THAT HAVE TO BE PROTECTED on the 40-man this off-season is around 5-6 at the max. Those places will easily be had by saying goodbye to aging vets or free agents.

 

But, yes, piggyback games. The guys who really need to start as starters (Berrios and Gibson and Odorizzi) should continue to start games.

 

Guess that means that there is no place in the mound crew for Ervin in the remaining days of 2018.

    • glunn likes this
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Tom Froemming
Aug 22 2018 07:30 AM

Great stuff, I really like this idea. It makes all the sense in the world to do this once the rosters expand, but I even think this may be an effective strategy to get the most out of this pitching staff next season.

 

It would be more difficult to pull off with just a 25-man roster, though I suppose you could go with five starters, three "piggyback" relievers and then five more traditional relievers. With how many guys the Twins have with options, I think they could pull it off by rotating some of the arms in the pen.

 

As a side note, I thought it was encouraging that Lewis Thorpe wasn't a guy mentioned among those on an innings limit. He's also reached a career high this year, happy to hear there don't seem to be any concerns with him.

    • glunn, h2oface and MN_ExPat like this

I think this would be the way to go for September. Get the younger starters some more experience, and really see what you've got. It would also help with offseason plans, and maybe with trades, too.

    • glunn likes this

I literally just gave my students a 10 minute silent reading period so I could read this in peace.I love the concept, and from a fan's perspective it's another reason to keep our focus on 2018 while looking forward to 2019 at the same time.Thanks Seth!

    • glunn, PDX Twin, Tom Froemming and 1 other like this
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Carole Keller
Aug 22 2018 07:54 AM
I think it’s a good concept but not sure it’s practical because I think we have too many pitchers. Is Santana done for the season? Mejia? You mentioned Odorizzi in your article, but not in your tweet ... does he get a piggyback or will he try to pitch complete? And would our BP get enough work in this scenario? We have just as many pitchers there we need to see and give work to, imo.
    • glunn likes this

It's like teams are actively trying to make the game longer in spite of the commissioner.

I, too, love the idea. These young guys are all starters but some will become relievers and the Twins can see them in both situations. And each player may learn a little more about the relief end to help them as a starter. Seth, are you thinking that May is a reliever from now on?

    • glunn likes this

I really like this idea for this year, really have no interest in it next year unless it is only for the 4th and 5th starter.

I wouldn't mind seeing 3 pitchers for 3 innings each as well to get these young guys innings.

For example:

Berrios

Gibson

Odorizzi/Santana

Michael Pineda/Stephen Gonsalves/Fernando Romero
Zack Littell/Kohl Stewart/Meija

    • glunn likes this

Good call. The more innings going to prospects over the final month the better. 

    • glunn likes this
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ashburyjohn
Aug 22 2018 08:17 AM

It's like teams are actively trying to make the game longer in spite of the commissioner.

Having a different pitcher start an inning adds essentially no extra time to the game. It's the mid-inning reliever trotting in and then getting his allotment of warmup pitches that bogs the game down.

 

If anything, not trying to wring 6 or more innings out of your starter reduces the chance of needing a mid-inning phone call to the bullpen.

    • glunn, Mike Sixel and MN_ExPat like this

Seth, I like the piggy back idea but what are the odds that the Twins do something like that??I just heard Molitor say the other day that he's still trying to win games.To him that means a starter and then piece in your best relievers.

    • glunn likes this
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yarnivek1972
Aug 22 2018 09:37 AM

Seth, I like the piggy back idea but what are the odds that the Twins do something like that?? I just heard Molitor say the other day that he's still trying to win games. To him that means a starter and then piece in your best relievers.


Would you expect Molitor to say he’s trying to not win games?

With regard to piggybacking, if it is something Falvine wants to do and Molitor refuses, there is an easy solution.

I'd like to see this general idea crafted to the specific strengths/weaknesses of individual starters. For example, Odorizzi would probably do much better if he had someone piggybacking off of his first two times through the order, while Mejia might be helped by 'starting' in the second inning after an opener pitched to the top of the order in the first inning. Maybe you leave Gibson, Berrios and Pineda alone.

 

As Tom pointed out, it helps that we have a lot of relievers with options that could be rotated in and out of the 25 man. I also think it would help bullpen fatigue in the above scenario to identify a couple of relievers that can go more than an inning in high-leverage situations, whether that be your closer, setup man or fireman.

    • glunn likes this

There really are now NO starters that need to be added to the 40-man and the names we see on the 40-man will comfortably make the Twins and staff Rochester in 2019, without additions.

 

Am I comfortable with that group?

 

Yes.

But they need major league experience, a chance to shine in spring training, and the Twins need to figure out their offense in 2019...who is at first, what we have at third, I don't know who is playing second, and what is the DH rotation...not Grossman, I hope.

Definitely piggybacking.We have the horses. Piggyback 'till the cows come home. And since Falvine let the cat out of the bag on this, we can assume its more than just a dog and pony show of our stud pitchers. Gotta see who can really pitch seeds before we let some out to pasture. Nuf.

    • ashburyjohn, glunn, scottz and 1 other like this

It is a great idea. I doubt they do it.

Strange suggestion, but perhaps consider shutting Gibson down for the season.If, and I mean if, a pitcher only has so many innings in them in their career, I'd rather they be used in upcoming years.And the starts could be used for the AA/AAA/AAAA pitchers mentioned above. 

    • glunn likes this

I like the idea, but with one tweak.I don't think you can just say Pitcher B is going to follow Pitcher A.Starting pitchers are notorious for taking a long time to get warmed up to game speed.What then happens when Pitcher A gets shelled in the 2nd inning like Stewart or Gonsalves just had happen?If the plan had been for Pitcher B to come in after them then you are rushing them to get ready.

 

So my tweak would be to say Pitcher A starts the 1st and Pitcher B will start the 5th.If Pitcher A has to be yanked early then you go with relievers until the 5th so that Pitcher B can go through their normal pregame warm up routine. If you rush them then you are asking them to prepare as a reliever, not a starter.And I think that is setting these young guys up for failure.

    • Carole Keller, ashburyjohn, glunn and 3 others like this

 

Seth, I like the piggy back idea but what are the odds that the Twins do something like that??I just heard Molitor say the other day that he's still trying to win games.To him that means a starter and then piece in your best relievers.

Maybe that is Molitor's problem, not thinking outside of the box to win games. I mean his way hasn't gotten them to .500 this year and taken a toil on the bullpen.

 

 

I like the idea, but with one tweak.I don't think you can just say Pitcher B is going to follow Pitcher A.Starting pitchers are notorious for taking a long time to get warmed up to game speed.What then happens when Pitcher A gets shelled in the 2nd inning like Stewart or Gonsalves just had happen?If the plan had been for Pitcher B to come in after them then you are rushing them to get ready.

 

So my tweak would be to say Pitcher A starts the 1st and Pitcher B will start the 5th.If Pitcher A has to be yanked early then you go with relievers until the 5th so that Pitcher B can go through their normal pregame warm up routine. If you rush them then you are asking them to prepare as a reliever, not a starter.And I think that is setting these young guys up for failure.

agreed, I assumed that is how it would work. If not I no longer like the idea.


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