Fewer Off Days Makes Minnesota’s Pitching Depth Even More Important in Shortened Season
Image courtesy of © David Berding - USA TODAY SportsWith 60 games in 66 days that means only 9% off days compared to 13% in a 162-game season. This can change the outlook of starter usage in several ways.
The most obvious is reduced starts for staff aces. With less off days that means less opportunities to skip the fifth starter and give the team’s best pitcher an extra start. It’s not a huge downtick in starts for a teams number one, but any reduction would seem to work in Minnesota’s favor. The Twins have a rotation full of good, but not great starters, and there isn’t a whole lot of variation in terms of performance in the top four (Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill). However, a team like the Chicago White Sox would lose more by the inability to squeeze extra starts out of Lucas Giolito, who was far and away their best pitcher in 2019.
This would also mean seeing a team’s fifth starter a bit more frequently, which should also be advantageous for the Twins. Whether Homer Bailey, who showed great improvement after adjusting his pitch mix with Oakland last season, or someone like Randy Dobnak, Minnesota’s fifth starter is likely to be of better quality than most MLB teams (especially once Michael Pineda returns from his suspension).
When rainouts are added into the equation, it makes it more likely that sixth starters will need to be utilized. Again, the Twins are in really good shape here. According to Clemens, it’s the team’s third and fourth starters who would lose the most starts due to rainouts (though somewhat minimal), and the teams sixth starters that would gain the most. Assuming Bailey takes the fifth spot, that means either Dobnak or Lewis Thorpe (or even Devin Smeltzer or Jhoulys Chacín). Not bad at all. And again, Pineda will be back for the end of the season and the would-be postseason.
Of course, the Twins starting pitching depth is most advantageous in regards to injuries. With less time to ramp up, starting pitchers could theoretically be at greater injury risk. Additionally, starters might be limited in their pitch counts to begin the season, so the Twins also have a great opportunity to piggy-back starters should they choose to do so.
Possibly more significant than injury risk, is the risk presented by COVID-19. Although the pitching staff has yet to be hit (with the exception of Edwar Colina, who is on the 60-man squad but has yet to be added to the 40-man roster), both Miguel Sanó and Willians Astudillo are currently in quarantine and on the injured list due to positive tests. It’s not hard to imagine COVID-19 striking the rotation or elsewhere, and in such a case, the added rotational depth would obviously be invaluable.
The offense looks great, the bullpen is stacked, and the rotation is the best it’s been in years. Minnesota has worked hard to build it’s depth, and in a season filled with uncertainties and unknowns, having the extra rotational depth is just one more advantage for the Twins.
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