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Overshadowed Twins Pitching Staff is Roundly Excelling

It's easy to focus on the struggles of the Twins offense.

Er, correction: it's extremely difficult not to focus on the struggles of the Twins offense. The club's underperforming bats have become a nightly source of frustration.

But let's take a moment here to appreciate how stunningly good the Minnesota pitchers have been. By no means did I expect to find myself making such a statement at this point in the season.
Image courtesy of Joe Nicholson, USA Today
It's all relative, of course. The Twins rank 8th out of 15 American League clubs with a 4.21 ERA that is exactly average. They rank ninth in WHIP and 10th in FIP. So they haven't exactly been lighting the world on fire in that context.

But this is also a team that, two years ago, ranked dead last in ERA and WHIP while allowing 889 runs, second-most for a Twins club ever. This year they are on pace to allow 719, which would be about 60 fewer than last year when they reached the postseason.

And it goes beyond the numbers. Just ask yourself: when was the last time you had faith in almost every single member of a Twins pitching staff?

In the rotation, Jose Berrios has been tremendous outside of a hiccup in late April/early May that appears to be behind him. He ranks 12th in the AL in innings pitched, which would've seemed unthinkable not so long ago thanks to his tendency to rack up high pitch counts.

Newfound efficiency and control have enabled the right-hander, who turned 24 on Sunday, to pitch into the eighth inning four times in 11 starts, and into the seventh in two others. He has issued two or fewer walks in all but one of his turns. Berrios' 3.67 ERA remains in the good-not-great realm, thanks to that string of clunkers, but his recent performance feels more reflective of what we can expect going forward.

And then there is the amazing Fernando Romero, who doesn't turn 24 until December. Hailed as a potential ace as he came up through the minors, Romero has somehow been better than advertised during his initial run in the big leagues. The righty has been absurdly dominant through five starts, with a 1.88 ERA that ranks third among all American League pitchers with 20+ IP.

He won't maintain a sub-2 ERA forever, of course, but Romero has a formula that makes sustained ace-level performance feasible. Namely, he's getting grounders at a 50%+ rate while also averaging more than a strikeout per inning – one of five AL starters to hit both marks. Last year, Luis Severino was the league's only qualified SP to finish above those thresholds; he posted a 2.98 ERA for the Yankees.

The Twins have two starters pitching at an elite level, which is obviously encouraging, but what's really exciting is that it's a duo of young, controllable former top prospects with stuff and pedigree to match. This isn't Phil Hughes coming out of nowhere after years of mediocrity with the Yankees. This isn't Ervin Santana mustering the best season of his career at age 34.

The emergence of Berrios and Romero as a one-two punch atop the rotation is legitimately the best development to come along for this unit in more than a decade. We haven't seen a Minnesota starting corps this strong at the top since Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano were (so briefly) paired together at their peaks.

Injuries and setbacks are always on the table, as we know too well (the previous example serving as case-in-point), but let's enjoy this for what it is: the foundation for an actual championship-caliber rotation.

Almost equally encouraging is what's happened around Berrios and Romero.

Jake Odorizzi has been brilliant, with a 3.34 ERA and 1.28 WHIP through 11 starts. One can easily make the case that good fortune has aided his success – namely an 88 percent strand rate, and eight of 12 homers against him coming with bases empty. But Odorizzi's proneness to home runs is well known to everyone, including himself. He works around it. And I'm not convinced it's entirely luck that has led to hitters slashing .156/.221/.313 against him with men on. He's been buckling down.

Even if (when) he regresses a bit, Odorizzi can still be a solid mid-rotation piece and a fantastic return for Jermaine Palacios, who has a .473 OPS with Tampa's Double-A affiliate. Best of all, the Twins have optional control over Odorizzi at a reasonable cost in 2019, putting them in a great position of flexibility.

The same is true for Kyle Gibson, who has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gibson has finally swapped in his profile as a contact-heavy ground ball pitcher for that of a bat-missing filth-flinger, and this one suits him much better. His GB rate has dropped into the average range at 46.7%, but his swinging strike rate has skyrocketed to 11.9%, best among Twins starters and among the league's top 25.

Gibson's transformation has been keyed by a heater registering a career-high 92.5 MPH (thanks in part to his increased reliance on the harder four-seamer) and breaking balls that are inducing a mind-boggling 57% miss rate, highest in the majors.

Again, this isn't the mirage-like burst of success we've seen so often from Twins pitchers (including Gibby) in the recent past. This is a hurler on top of his game shoving some of the best stuff of anyone in the game. He has shown the ability to flat-out dominate when his command is there. And right now he's Minnesota's fourth starter.

Lastly, we come to Lance Lynn. He's one of only two pitchers on the Twins roster with an ERA above 4.02, and it is of course well above, at 6.34. I won't try to convince you he hasn't been bad – I've been as maddened as anyone by his inexplicable inability to throw it over the plate – but cautious optimism is warranted.

You've got the long track record of success. You've got the 3.98 ERA in four May starts, along with an improved strike rate (up to 63% from 56% in May) and decreased homer rate (only one allowed this month after five in April).

There's also this: remember when I mentioned earlier that Romero is one of five AL starters with a grounder rate over 50% and a K/9 over 9? Lynn is one of the others. Among that group – which also includes Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Garrett Richards – he's the only one that hasn't been very good.

The main reason for this is obvious, and entirely his own doing: he hasn't thrown enough strikes. But there are clear signs of improvement in this regard, and the peripherals show that when Lynn manages to throw the ball where he wants, it gets the result he wants.

Five starters locked in with a K/9 of 8.8 or higher. Incredible. Two years ago, the Twins had zero starting pitchers with a K/9 higher than 7.7.

Even if things go south again with Lynn, or any of the other four members of the rotation, Minnesota is well equipped for the occasion. Stephen Gonsalves is tearing it up in Rochester with a 2.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9 rate. His success is the only reason we're not talking more about Zack Littell, who has also been phenomenal since his Triple-A promotion (2.05 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 9.8 K/9).

Finally, Trevor May and Ervin Santana are on the comeback trail. There's enough quality depth in play for the Twins rotation that Santana's concerning velocity reports can easily be taken in stride.

Out in the bullpen, there is plenty more to like.

Fernando Rodney shook off his early troubles and rounded into form beautifully. He's been as reliable as any closer in the game over the past month, converting eight consecutive saves while allowing zero runs on only two hits. Yes, to repeat: Rodney has surrendered two hits – both singles – in a calendar month.

Even though his velocity is down a smidge from last year, it's absolutely remarkable to see a 41-year-old out there repeatedly hitting 95 on the gun. He's bringing the kind of overpowering stuff you wanna see in the ninth. Rodney currently looks like a slam-dunk addition for the front office.

So too does Addison Reed, who is nicely fulfilling his envisioned role as Twins bullpen ace. Reed ranks second among Minnesota relievers in appearances, and they've almost all come in high-leverage spots. He's responded by delivering consistently, helping him accrue a 0.56 WPA, which leads the bullpen. Reed is on pace to post the highest mark in that category since Glen Perkins in his career year, 2013.

As good as Reed's been, the star of this unit has been Ryan Pressly, who is finally pulling it all together at age 29. Last year, he had an odd tendency to get knocked around despite dazzling stuff, premium velocity, and good control. This year, the stuff has gotten even better and hitters just can't handle it.

Pressly's swinging strike rate has jumped from 12.2% to 16.8%, which ranks 11th out of 180 qualified MLB relievers. He's been especially lethal in May, where that figure has jumped to 19%. He has given up one home run thus far, after giving up 10 in 2017.

The strikeout parade continues with Zach Duke, who has rebounded spectacularly from his own early skid. Duke yielded five earned runs in his first four appearances, saddling him with a 16.88 ERA, but he's been whittling it down ever since. The lefty has been charged with just two earned runs in 19 appearances since then (1.26 ERA) while striking out 16. He's walked only two of 36 batters faced in May.

Duke has been lights-out against left-handed hitters (.569 OPS) and good enough against righties so as not to force strict platoon usage. When you combine his output with that of Rodney and Reed, it can hardly be overstated what a profound positive impact the front office's offseason moves have had on the bullpen.

One of their quieter additions is also paying dividends. The Twins signed Matt Magill to a minor-league deal in January, without much fanfare. He was the type of 28-year-old journeyman with an unimpressive track record who usually serves as organizational filler. Magill was mediocre with San Diego's Triple-A affiliate last year while usually throwing as a starter, and didn't make it to the majors all season.

But Minnesota was intrigued by Magill's past stints in the bullpen, and the velocity increases it triggered. So they've tried him there again with exceptional results.

Magill was sent down in spring training despite looking very good with an 8-to-2 K/BB ratio in five innings. At Triple-A, he kept it going with a 13-to-2 K/BB ratio over 8 2/3 frames to earn a call-up in late April. He has since looked the part of a major-league reliever, painting corners with 95 MPH fastballs while posting a 1.88 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through 11 appearances.

He hasn't pitched in many big spots, and could be replaced if May comes off the DL this week, but neither is through any fault of his own. Magill looks like a heck of a find.

Through all this, we haven't even mentioned the two key mainstays of last year's bullpen, who are also both pitching well. Taylor Rogers' inflated 5.59 ERA hides a 2.18 FIP. He had some ugly outings in late April, at the height of the team's slump, but has a 2.02 ERA in May and now looks like himself.

That's also the case for Trevor Hildenberger, who remains perhaps the most important long-term cog in this pen. He has a 2.31 ERA in May, where he's holding opponents to a .186 average and inducing whiffs at an 18% rate.

So there you have it. With about one-third of the season in the books, nearly every member of the Minnesota Twins pitching staff is looking like a positive asset. This is a huge credit to the front office, the coaching staff, and so many of these players who have turned corners personally.

For the pitchers to be cruising along like this while a lackluster offense drags the team down was not a scenario any of us envisioned, but here we are. The upshot is that if these guys can keep it up as they have, the Twins have potential to really become a complete team if and when the bats awaken.

  • Mike Frasier Law, Teddy, Sconnie and 3 others like this

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36 Comments

Hit the nail on the head Nick. This is what keeps me optimistic about winning the division. If the pitching stays healthy, Polanco and Mauer should reinforce the batters soon, and the team we were expecting to watch in March comes to fruition in June.
    • jokin, Teddy, blindeke and 3 others like this

 

Hit the nail on the head Nick. This is what keeps me optimistic about winning the division. If the pitching stays healthy, Polanco and Mauer should reinforce the batters soon, and the team we were expecting to watch in March comes to fruition in June.

6 games below .500 in May... The Indians are going to go on a big winning streak sooner or later with their starting pitching
If their bullpen stabilizes, it's over
The Detroit Tigers, managed by old Gardy, are ahead of us even

    • SF Twins Fan likes this

6 games below .500 in May... The Indians are going to go on a big winning streak sooner or later with their starting pitching
If their bullpen stabilizes, it's over
The Detroit Tigers, managed by old Gardy, are ahead of us even

Twins are 3 and 10 in one run games, largely because they’ve struggled to score. They could just as easily be 7 and 6 in one run games and be two games over 500 and in first place.

There’s a lot of baseball left to play
    • Mike Frasier Law, ThejacKmp, jokin and 8 others like this

Overshadowed Twins Pitching Staff is Roundly Excelling


Last year, they were just overshadowed roundly by Bartolo Colon.
    • Teddy, Sconnie, tarheeltwinsfan and 5 others like this

 

Twins are 3 and 10 in one run games, largely because they’ve struggled to score. They could just as easily be 7 and 6 in one run games and be two games over 500 and in first place.

There’s a lot of baseball left to play

 

I agree, that the pitching has come around. I have to just forget about the times that, in those one run games, (and 2 run games), that they were actually ahead or tied, and the improved staff gave up the game late, like the most recent 3-1 loss in which both Duke and Reed failed the team painfully, regardless of the offense. 

 

I don't know that Sano will ever see his potential, for a number of reasons. Tic toc. The season is quickly passing us by.

    • Sconnie and SF Twins Fan like this
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whatyouknowtwinsfan
May 28 2018 05:28 PM

I've been doing research on the 12 pitchers on the roster right now as well. It was amazing to discover how good these 12 pitchers have been. Their collective ERA, for example, is 3.60 and they're striking out over a batter an inning. The offense needs to start supporting the pitching staff because they've been giving these guys a chance to win. Man is that nice to say. 

    • Teddy, Sconnie, DocBauer and 3 others like this

If I am reading this right.We are average in pitching marks compared to the league - sounds right for 500.I love Berrios and Fernando, but I am not ready to rate this rotation and pen as more than league average with two top end starters to give us a boost.It is June and yes, the batters have really let us down. Last year the story was the opposite.But more than anything I read your assessment and say a 500 team and maybe that is okay in our division, but put us in the East or West and the perspective is changed drastically. 

I can't say Odorizzi has been brilliant.He seems to have an aversion to the number 6

So this is about the pitchers. Without question they have all done very well. I hope they keep it up and the batters actually start scoring some runs.

So does anybody know why Rodney wears his hat crooked? The bill of his cap points to his left.

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ashburyjohn
May 28 2018 09:57 PM

So does anybody know why Rodney wears his hat crooked? The bill of his cap points to his left.

ef8.jpg

 

Rodney was signed last December and the explanations ensued immediately.

 

In case serious... it's in tribute to his fisherman father who shaded his eyes like that.

    • tarheeltwinsfan and Broker like this

 

It is June 

 

Not really.

 

But more than anything I read your assessment and say a 500 team and maybe that is okay in our division, but put us in the East or West and the perspective is changed drastically. 

 

Nothing newsworthy here on that perspective. Mediocrity has been been the story of the Classic Lake Division since 1994.

 

The formula for success in the Central is simple- clean up on the unbalanced reg. season schedule, and get hot and/or really lucky in October.

    • mikelink45, Sconnie, Doomtints and 2 others like this

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this pitching staff. The starters are reliable for the most part, and even Lynn looks like he's shaping up. If Santana is remotely like his old self when he returns, that will inspire a lot more confidence. And hey, I like this bullpen too.

    • howieramone2 and MN_ExPat like this
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Old Twins Cap
May 29 2018 05:26 AM

With Santana on the verge, I put Lynn in the pen where his power fastball for an inning or two could be useful, if he can find the plate.

 

Turn him into the Anthony Swarzack of 2018.

 

As it stands, plenty of pitching headed into mid-season. Falvey and Levine have done their jobs. Now it's up to the hitters.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this

 

With Santana on the verge, I put Lynn in the pen where his power fastball for an inning or two could be useful, if he can find the plate.

 

Turn him into the Anthony Swarzack of 2018.

 

As it stands, plenty of pitching headed into mid-season. Falvey and Levine have done their jobs. Now it's up to the hitters.

 

Falvine haven't finished their jobs yet. They need another RH bat, SS with some pop to DFA Adrianza (or just call up Gordon in another couple weeks), and/or perhaps another OF should Buxton have to spend some time in AAA to get his stroke back.

 

Falvine haven't finished their jobs yet. They need another RH bat, SS with some pop to DFA Adrianza (or just call up Gordon in another couple weeks), and/or perhaps another OF should Buxton have to spend some time in AAA to get his stroke back.

 

No need to go get a SS with pop. They have 30 games until Polanco is back. The time to do that would've been April.

 

RH hitting 4th OF is the only real hole on this team. That's a relatively minor one. The key for the Twins will be not overreacting to struggles. Buxton needs time in the bigs. Sano as well. Dozier will hit, Mauer will heal. Morrison will continue to hit like May and not April. Just gotta give it time.

    • tarheeltwinsfan, howieramone2, SF Twins Fan and 1 other like this
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Original Whizzinator
May 29 2018 08:10 AM
Like the optimism. The staff is stacked in comparison to what we've witnessed.
    • Sconnie likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
May 29 2018 08:19 AM

I said it before, and I'll say it again...Twins will be in 1st place by July 4th.

    • Mike Frasier Law, ThejacKmp and RaymondLuxuryYacht like this
It's a long season. There's going to be times when the pitching is great, and the offense stinks. And vice versa.

Just need to find a time where both the pitching and offense is clicking at the same time. We're just about to enter the dog days of summer... What better time than now?!
    • DocBauer and tarheeltwinsfan like this

 

I said it before, and I'll say it again...Twins will be in 1st place by July 4th.

 

That's not saying much in this division. Sure, I can buy it that they will be one game over .500 by July 4.

Twins' starting pitching ranking in the majors:
12th ERA
18th FIP
12th fWAR
10th K%
14th K-BB%
18th WHIP
17th SIERA

 

Improving?Absolutely.They are now a solid middle of the pack starting pitching staff.  

​Excelling?No way, unless most of these rankings are in the top 5-10...

    • h2oface and slash129 like this
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nicksaviking
May 29 2018 08:36 AM

The success of Berrios and Romero are the best thing that could happen for this club. They aren't able to get the kind of potential and electric stuff those two poses on the free agent market. One of these guys hitting their peak potential is the team's best shot at lining up against Kluber, Verlander, Sale or Severino in the playoffs.

 

But perhaps more importantly, the more success these guys have, hopefully the more comfortable the front office is rolling with the young guys with the excellent stuff at the expense of the struggling vets. Hughes got a pretty quick hook. Hopefully they'd not give Santana too long of a leash if it's clear that it's just not going to work. Or if Gibson or Odorizzi revert back to their former selves.

    • tarheeltwinsfan and Original Whizzinator like this

 

6 games below .500 in May... The Indians are going to go on a big winning streak sooner or later with their starting pitching
If their bullpen stabilizes, it's over
The Detroit Tigers, managed by old Gardy, are ahead of us even

 

All true statements, but have little to say on their own, about the pitching staff.

 

The new regime has generally handled pitching acquisitions smartly. Phil Hughes didn't work out (again), but a) he was a legacy player and B) was coming off an injury stretch. It's a pretty reasonably move for any team not in the Yankees/Dodgers monetary weight class to give him another shot to see if it works out. Lance Lynn was generally hailed as a smart pick up, and it looks like he's rounding into shape. Lynn may be the poster child for "holdouts won't help you get that fat deal", but as a 4th or 5th starter his recent performance (which has shown improved control) is very solid and should be not only repeatable but subject to improvement.

 

I was a little skeptical about Rodney, but I've thought for a long time that the "closer" role had become increasingly overrated and overpaid so having someone like Rodney meant to my mind better deployment for a guy like Reed or other, better arms. Well, Rodney has been just fine as the closer. And Reed (who I think everyone liked as a signing, especially for the price) has been great as a fireman. I wasn't sure Pressly would ever figure it out, and I was ready to move on, but he's been outstanding. Hildenberger has had a couple of glitches, but he's been mostly the same guy as last season and while he's not elite, he's a guy we would have needed to set up games last season. There's no question he's further down in the pecking order. Duke has been a worthy addition now that's he's gotten his control back (last two outings have been a miss, but that's inevitable) and it keeps Rogers from being overworked and exposed. That's a really solid bullpen construction. They're not asking guys to do things they're not capable of doing, they've got pitchers that throw with velocity and can miss bats, and there's a lot of flexibility built in here.

 

The pitching staff is well-insulated against injury this season as well, as we've seen. Losing Santana sucked, but Romero has stepped up. Grabbing Odorizzi meant that we didn't need to expect as much from Gibson. There's real depth, with May looking to come back, with Santana rehabbing, Gonsalves pushing in AAA...the last few years we've been desperate for anyone who can go 5 inning and not embarrass themselves. Expectations are higher now.

 

we're not an elite staff, but nobody is up here on scholarship any longer. That's a good start and bodes well for the future. Nick is right: it's great to have the best two starters on the team as young guys under team control in Berrios and Romero.

    • DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and DannySD like this

 


Jake Odorizzi has been brilliant, with a 3.34 ERA and 1.28 WHIP through 11 starts. One can easily make the case that good fortune has aided his success – namely an 88 percent strand rate, and eight of 12 homers against him coming with bases empty. But Odorizzi's proneness to home runs is well known to everyone, including himself. He works around it. And I'm not convinced it's entirely luck that has led to hitters slashing .156/.221/.313 against him with men on. He's been buckling down.

 

 

59% of homeruns are solo shots (this data is surprising difficult to find. That number is a couple seasons old and if anything I would expect it to be higher now)

 

While 8 is slightly lucky, if that number was 7, that would be considered slightly unlucky. 

    • ashburyjohn likes this

Great article Nick. Twins have gotten a lot of bad bounces this year so far. That kind of luck can change... but it also might not.


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