Looking Ahead to the Twins Postseason Rotation
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY SportsWhich four starters should make up the postseason rotation? Should they send Martin Perez to the pen? Is their game-two starter the hot hand in Michael Pineda or All-Star Jake Odorizzi, who has had trouble going deep into ball games? Where does Kyle Gibson fit in? He seems to thrive against weaker opponents while coming up short against playoff caliber teams. Finally, could Devin Smeltzer force his way into the rotation with continued success?
One thing we do know for certain is that if the Twins do make the postseason, they will be facing teams with winning records. To get an idea of both who belongs in the rotation and a potential pecking-order, it may be worthwhile to check-in on how Minnesota’s starters have fared against some of the better teams in baseball. The following chart shows how Twin’s pitchers have performed against teams with an above .500 record.
As expected, Jose Berrios is the clear “ace” of this staff. His numbers hold up remarkably well against the better teams and he is able to go deep into ball games. In his most recent start he struggled against the Atlanta Braves (sending his ERA against winning teams from 2.37 to 3.45), but Berrios has generally been at his best while facing the best. His ability to pitch well against good teams bodes well for his chances of pitching successfully in the postseason.
After Berrios, Pineda looks like he should be the game-two starter. Not only has he been much better in the second half, his overall numbers against tough teams make Pineda appear to be the second best option. Pineda generally doesn’t go deep into his starts, but this is partially to limit the number of pitches he throws since he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. In the postseason it seems reasonable to give Pineda a little longer leash. Pineda is currently on the 10-day IL, but the Twins seem to simply be using this trip to the IL as a chance to get Pineda some extra rest as they did earlier in the season.
Odorizzi has pitched the most games against winning clubs this season and his overall numbers have been okay. His second half slide is concerning, but it seemed to coincide with a blister injury. He has improved in his last two starts (against Miami and Atlanta) so hopefully he is headed in the right direction. However, Odorizzi has a knack for accumulating high pitch counts even when he is pitching well, so he generally can’t be counted on for more than five or six innings. Still, he seems to be a step above Gibson or Perez.
Gibson and Perez round out the bottom of the Twins rotation. After joining the rotation early in the season Perez was lights out for the first couple of months but has been fairly disastrous since. Gibson has been up and down throughout the year and as can be seen from his numbers, he really struggles against better competition. Gibson continued to struggle in his most recent start against Cleveland, walking six and giving up five earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings. However, for the time being, it looks like Gibson should probably be the fourth starter with Perez moving to the pen for the postseason. Perez pitched out of the pen for Texas last season, having some success, and also started this season as a reliever.
Devin Smeltzer is a bit of a wildcard here. His sample size is small, but he has really turned it on against some good teams. He has already pitched against Milwaukee, Cleveland, Texas, and the Yankees with his only hiccup against Cleveland. In his last start he faced off against the Royals (spoiler alert: they won’t be playing October baseball) and pitched six shutout innings (he was facing Cleveland again on the day of this article). There are still a lot of regular season games to be played and it will be interesting whether Smeltzer can avoid regression, assuming he continues to get some big league starts.
Based on their ability to succeed against good teams, it looks like Minnesota’s rotation should be Berrios-Pineda-Odorizzi-Gibson, with Perez adding another lefty to the pen. If Smeltzer continues to succeed, he could also enter into the mix. Supposing that Perez’s struggles continue as Pineda comes off the IL, it may even be prudent for the Twins to keep Smeltzer in the rotation and get Perez in the bullpen sooner rather than later. This gives Minnesota a chance to get extra looks at Smeltzer as a starter and Perez as a reliever and gives Perez time to adjust to relieving again. The Twins would then have the luxury of adding Gibson to the pen (or having Smelter out of the pen if they stick with Gibson).
One last factor to consider when constructing the postseason rotation is the ideal amount of rest between starts for each pitcher. The Twins would obviously love to ride Berrios as much as possible and by looking at the numbers we may be able to see the most effective way to structure the rotation. Let’s take a look at how Minnesota’s rotation has performed on four, five, and six days of rest (through Aug. 4th).
Berrios has pitched very well on regular rest and a bit worse when getting an extra day off between starts. This may imply that Berrios doesn’t need as much rest and may be able to pitch with three days of rest if the Twins want to ride him. If not, the Twins can pitch him on the normal rest period of four days (allowing Berrios to stick to his regular routine as much as possible) and juggle the remainder of the rotation around Berrios.
Pineda has pitched much better when given more than four days of rest between starts. He has been most effective with five days between starts.
Like Pineda, Odorizzi has pitched better with additional rest. He has been almost unhittable in his six starts with six or more days of rest. He recently pitched well against Atlanta on five days of rest.
Gibby’s results with four and more than six days of rest are both pretty ugly and he really struggled in his last start against Cleveland on four days of rest. The numbers are much better with 5 days between starts.
Perez’s numbers are pretty bad no matter how much rest he gets. He was bad again against Atlanta and it is hard to imagine Perez making the playoff rotation at this point.
It is unclear how much stock can be put into these numbers as the sample size is admittedly small, but the extra days off in the postseason could play to Minnesota’s advantage. Berrios is the only pitcher who has thrived on the normal rest period, with Pineda, Odorizzi, and Gibson pitching remarkably better with extra rest. The Twins obviously want to ride Berrios as much as possible, so the Twins can keep Berrios pitching on four days rest (or possibly three) and slot the remaining three starters around Berrios starts, allowing them to generally get five or more days of rest between starts (because of all the days off and Berrios occasionally sliding up).
If the Twins are able to win the division, their starters should have plenty of rest. The season wraps up on September 29th with the wildcard games being played on the 1st and 2nd and the NLDS Game 1 on the 3rd. The Twins could potentially roll with the following rotation:
ALDS Game 1 (10/4) – Jose Berrios
ALDS Game 2 (10/5) – Michael Pineda
ALDS Game 3 (10/7) – Jake Odorrizi
Now the Twins have to decide whether to pitch Berrios on three days of rest or wait until the 10th for five days. For the purpose of this exercise let’s suppose the Twins play it safe and give Berrios five days off.
ALDS Game 4 (10/8) – Kyle Gibson / Devin Smeltzer
ALDS Game 5 (10/10) – Jose Berrios (5 days rest)
ALCS Game 1 (10/12) – Michael Pineda (6 days rest)
ALCS Game 2 (10/13) – Jake Odorrizi (5 days rest)
ALCS Game 3 (10/15) – Jose Berrios (4 days rest)
ALCS Game 4 (10/16) – Kyle Gibson / Devin Smeltzer (7 days rest)
ALCS Game 5 (10/17) – Michael Pineda (4 days rest)
ALCS Game 6 (10/19) – Jake Odorrizi (5 days rest)
ALCS Game 7 (10/20) – Jose Berrios (4 days rest)
The cart has undeniably been put ahead of the horse with this exercise and there are a lot of variables at play. It is unknown how many games each series will take, how far the Twins will go (or more importantly if they will win the division to avoid the wildcard game), or whether the starters will remain healthy.
Given the Twins historic offense, however, it’s good to know that theoretically our best pitcher is the one who thrives with the least amount of rest and the remainder of the rotation can be afforded the extra rest that furthers their chances of success. Minnesota’s rotation is unlikely to strike fear into their opponent’s hearts, but hopefully they can do enough (along with the bullpen) to afford the offense the opportunity to carry the team.
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