September Piggyback Ride
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.
- Steve Lein, Yoke, scottz and 10 others like this