Can Lewis Thorpe Translate Whiffs into Results?
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY SportsHe's presently a decent contender to make the 26-man roster out spring training. Even if the Twins add another starter and push him to Triple-A, a healthy Thorpe is almost certain to play a role over the course of the season, and perhaps a significant one.
Named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018, Thorpe headed into this 2019 campaign with a head of steam. Twins Daily ranked him as the organization's eighth-best prospect coming in, noting that his less-than-dominant results seemed to belie the quality of his stuff, as reflected by an outstanding K/BB ratio and whiff rate.
Thorpe's paradoxical profile played out once again in 2019, except to an even greater degree, and this time Twins fans got to see it first-hand.
In 124 total innings between Triple-A (96.1 IP) and the majors (27.2 IP), the left-hander piled up 150 strikeouts. As Thieres Rabelo pointed out here last month: "Among the 73 pitchers who logged 90 or more innings in Triple-A last season, Thorpe had the highest K/9 (11.12), swinging strike rate (14.5) and was second in K% (29.5)." Not half-bad for a 23-year-old with four games of experience above Double-A entering the year. And during his fairly brief time in the majors, hitters kept missing on his pitches. In 12 appearances (two starts), Thorpe averaged 10.1 K/9 and his 11.8% swinging strike rate was higher than – among others – Taylor Rogers, Jose Berrios, and Brusdar Graterol.
And yet, the results just weren't there for Thorpe. Despite his terrific 28% K-rate between the two levels, he also allowed 68 earned runs in his 124 total innings of work (4.94 ERA). That includes a 6.18 ERA during his MLB debut. It's not like his whiffs were paired with poor control – he issued only 35 walks to go along with the 150 strikeouts – but once again the strong K/BB ratio didn't translate to shutdown production.
There are a few ways to look at this.
The pessimistic view is that Thorpe is doomed to this disconnect – capable of attacking the zone and running up the strikeout rate, but lacking the ability to get outs on a consistent basis. Do the strikeout and whiff numbers exaggerate his arsenal's true quality? He'd hardly be the first. Thorpe's limited Statcast data would seem to support this notion.
The more optimistic, and I think more fair, view is that Thorpe's results are still catching up to his stuff. He's finding his consistency. It's important to remember: he lost two full seasons (2015 and 2016) to health issues. Since returning, he's been fast-tracked, making relatively brief stops at High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A on his way to the majors. While he hasn't been amazing everywhere, he has shown the capacity to overpower hitters everywhere.
The Twins should probably plan on starting him back at Triple-A in 2020, but the 24-year-old could be poised for a big step forward and a sizable impact on the big-league club.
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