The Twins' Missing Piece
Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsNot long after the end of the World Series, GM Thad Levine made statements regarding the plans for the Twins for the offseason. The magic phrase “impact starting pitching” was uttered and every Twins fan became quite pleased when they heard this. It has been no secret that the starting rotation has been the Achilles heel for the team for a while so to have a front office member acknowledge this need felt refreshing.
While it was never specified, Twins fans understood that this “impact starting pitching” would have to be acquired within reason. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg were fun pipe dreams but nothing more. Instead, focus was turned onto the likes of Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All three pitchers fit inside the Twins’ implied pragmatic wheelhouse and it felt as if the Twins would actually end up with one of these players on the team.
As we know, this isn’t the case. All three signed elsewhere and the Twins were left with the fact that it was Josh Donaldson or bust. Fortunately, they did not end up busting here and they saved the offseason by signing the former MVP.
Yet, there remains a missing piece.
The goal for the Twins should have been to acquire a starting pitcher better than Jake Odorizzi. This isn’t a knock on Odorizzi but instead a reflection that a strong top end of a starting rotation can take a team deep into the playoffs. Having Odorizzi, an All-Star coming off a 4.3 fWAR season, be the third starting pitcher would have been the optimal way to legitimize the Twins as a threat to the AL as a whole.
But that didn’t happen.
Odorizzi will start the season as the number 2 starter with José Berríos likely being the Opening Day starter. This top two will certainly prove to be formidable but a team needs more than two starting pitchers to make a playoff run. The combo of Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda will likely be passable but passable doesn’t cut it if a team wants to make a deep playoff run. A team needs quality over quantity and the Twins don’t have that quality just yet.
Using 2019 fWAR, the top three starters for the Twins (Berríos, Odorizzi, and Pineda) combined for 11.3 fWAR. fWAR is used to calculate the value of a given player. Generally the guideline goes that a player worth 2 fWAR is an average MLB player, a 3-4 fWAR player is pretty good, a 5-6 fWAR player is an All-Star, and anything higher is an MVP candidate. Using Minnesota math, the value of the top three can be reached by adding each player's fWAR together. Now, let’s compare the Twins’ top three starters with the top three of every other playoff team in 2019:
Astros (Cole, Verlander, Greinke): 19.2
Nationals (Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin): 17
Dodgers (Buehler, Ryu, Kershaw): 13.2
Rays (Morton, Snell, Yarbrough): 11.5 (11.1 if you swap Yarbrough for Glasnow)
Cardinals (Flaherty, Mikolas, Wainwright): 9.4
Yankees (Paxton, Tanaka, Germán): 8.8
Braves (Soroka, Fried, Teheran): 8.6
Brewers (Woodruff, Houser, Davies): 6.5
Athletics (Bassitt, Anderson, Fiers): 5.8
There seems to be a positive correlation between the strength of a team’s top three starters and how far they made it in the playoffs. The Twins ended up more in the middle of the pack for playoff teams in this stat which might be more of a reflection of the quality of starting pitching across baseball. But if the Twins want to take the step into being a World Series contender, they will need that elusive great third starter.
They might have it in Rich Hill but expecting him to carry such a burden would be foolish considering his path recovering from injury. The good news is that the playoffs don’t start tomorrow and the Twins look to be set up well to carry themselves until the trade deadline at least. If everything plays out like it appears it should, the Twins should finally pull the trigger in acquiring the elite starting pitcher that would give them a starting rotation the rest of the teams will be envious of.
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