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Morin DFAed

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Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Nowhere has the reforging of this team's identity over the past half-decade been more apparent than in the starting rotation. Five years ago they sported one of the most extreme contact-heavy units imaginable, and in 2019 they're lining up a parade of strikeout artists.

Now, the Twins will seek to establish their new identity behind Wes Johnson, whom they tapped as their big-splash addition in an offseason otherwise quiet on the pitching front.
Image courtesy of Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Projected Starters: Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez

Depth: Adalberto Mejia, Stephen Gonsalves, Kohl Stewart, Zack Littell, Chase De Jong
Prospects: Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran, Lewis Thorpe, Blayne Enlow, Gonsalves

THE GOOD

It's been a long time since the Twins have boasted this kind of quality atop their rotation. Berrios and Gibson each ranked among the top 15 American League starters in WAR last year (per FanGraphs), and both are poised to sustain their excellence on the backing of legitimate high-powered stuff.

Their respective bursts of brilliance were balanced by stretches of steady solidness, leading to overall results that were well above average. And each proved admirably durable, answering the call every fifth day and setting new career highs for workload while tossing almost 200 innings apiece.

A pair of stallions fronting the rotation is nice obviously, but it's not unprecedented for the modern Twins. Two years ago they had Berrios breaking out alongside Ervin Santana. Going back a little further, to the last playoff team, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano presented a memorable pairing.

But what the Twins lacked in both those instances was a viable third horse. In Pineda, they might finally have one. After rehabbing him from Tommy John surgery in 2018, the Twins are now looking to cash in on their $10 million investment from a year ago. When healthy, Pineda is a big bad man pumping mid-90s heat from a 6-foot-7 frame, piling up whiffs and strikeouts at rates that overshadow Berrios or Gibson.

The back part of the rotation is less distinguished, but not without intrigue. Odorizzi averaged a strikeout per inning last year and was perfectly serviceable in his worst MLB season. He's playing for a contract at age 29. Perez seemed like a low-wattage pickup but is raising eyebrows with mid-90s heat (and strong results) in spring camp.

Even when accentuating their positives, we must acknowledge the uncertainty with players like Pineda and Perez, which is why depth looms large. And while you can knock the dearth of established credentials in Minnesota's second starter tier, the reality is that this inexperience is a necessary evil.

If calamity strikes the Twins rotation, it's a sign the season is probably not headed anywhere meaningful. In that scenario, the team needs to get extended looks at pitchers like Gonsalves, Stewart, Mejia and Littell. These are all respectable talents with strong minor-league résumés, ready for their MLB shots. While contention is a hopeful aspiration for Minnesota this year, the absolute imperative is to gain more clarity around what they have going forward, especially in a rotation that is almost totally undefined after 2019.

And these guys are no scrubs. Each of them offers his own legitimate level of promise, especially with an innovative new pitching coach on hand. Stewart is a former top draft pick with sinking stuff as heavy as any hurler you'll find. Gonsalves has a 2.46 ERA in the minors and is catching eyes with increased velocity this spring. Mejia has looked capable in every MLB stint. Littell pitched his way to a big-league debut at age 22. Thorpe, who has yet to get his first chance in the majors, is another prospect with real upside who's close.

I can't remember the Twins ever having this degree of first-level depth. If multiple injuries strike the rotation there is certainly no assurance this starting corps will fare well, but there will at least be value in giving starts to the replacements.

THE BAD

Unless Berrios or Gibson take a step forward, there's no real ace in this deck. The Twins are lacking compared to pretty much every other contender when it comes to a #1 starter. One of their highest-ceiling options is evidently out of the picture for 2019, with Fernando Romero billed for the bullpen. Even the best-case scenarios for guys like Stewart and Mejia and Gonsalves slate them more as middle-of-rotation guys than frontliners.

It wouldn't be stunning to see Berrios or Gibson (or even Pineda) graduate to that top tier of starters, but there's no tangible reason to expect it. And realistically, the Twins probably shouldn't be counting on much from Pineda or Perez, given their recent histories. You might lump Odorizzi into that group also.

Their extended mix of starting pitchers is respectable, and very possibly the best Minnesota has carried into a season since the division title days. But it's not flashy or fierce, relative to those clubs the Twins are trying to pass – namely the Indians, who project as vastly superior.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Among players lined up for the Opening Day rotation, only one (Berrios) is under team control after this year. The Twins have an option on Perez, which could prove sneaky beneficial given that he's only 27 and throwing as well in camp as ever, but we're talking about a guy who posted a 6.22 ERA last year.

If none of the expiring contracts (Gibson, Pineda, Odorizzi) prove worth extending, and no one emerges from the crop of borderline Triple-A arms, the Twins will find themselves searching for pitching answers via the free agent and trade markets that they steadfastly eschewed this past winter.

So the long-term outlook here is somewhat questionable. But for the immediate future, this team has no shortage of worthwhile arms to trot out for starts.

You've gotta really lean toward the bright side to see a unit that's anything more than average, but if the offense holds up its end, maybe that's all the Twins need.

***


Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Catcher
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: First Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Second Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Third Base
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Shortstop
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Left Field
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Center Field
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Right Field
Twins 2019 Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

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23 Comments

Wes Johnson has his work cut out for him. All he needs do is make this pitching staff throw overwhelming stuff all season without their arms falling off. 

 

Reminds me of that Superman movie where the villain says to his sidekick, "All I asked of you was one thing: Kill Superman."

    • Nick Nelson, Twins33, Blackjack and 1 other like this
There has been talk of the Twins talking extension with Gibson. Any one know if those talks are dead or ongoing?

Is there a good chance that Odorizzi starts the year as #5?P&P just might begin ahead of him based on their springs.If that happens, this is a very good rotation.  

 

The one risk I see is that Pineda may tire the last month or two since he hasn't pitched much for a couple years.That's where the cream of the crop at Rochester will help.And looking at that depth group, plus Thorpe, Rochester should have one heck of a starting 5 or 6.

 

And let's change next year's prospects this week...extend Gibson!

 

 

    • DocBauer and Original Whizzinator like this
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strumdatjaguar
Mar 18 2019 06:40 AM

Maybe it's too counterintuitive, but Target Field seems to be built to reward pitch to contact pitchers who let good defensive outfielders chase down fly balls in the outfield and let good defenders make plays on ground balls in the infield. Yet in today's strike-out or "launch angle"/home run style of play, that type of thinking must be obsolete. I must also be a dinosaur when I think "just bunt around the shift" (especially lefties who have the entire left side of the infield open!) Stupid me.  

"If calamity strikes the Twins rotation, it's a sign the season is probably not headed anywhere meaningful."

 

It's not a sign, it's a reason. If they had signed one good #1/2 starter, it would move everyone down one rung on the ladder and provide important backup in case someone does get injured.

    • caninatl04 likes this

 

 I must also be a dinosaur when I think "just bunt around the shift" (especially lefties who have the entire left side of the infield open!) Stupid me.  

 

Who would do this on the Twins? Kepler and Rosario? They are also both kinda fast at running...  

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Mar 18 2019 07:31 AM
What does Tyler Wells gotta do to get some recognition—kill Superman? :)
    • Thrylos, scottz, Twins33 and 8 others like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 18 2019 07:40 AM

"bursts of brilliance balanced by stretches of steady solidness". Thanks for thinking of these actually awesome alliterations.

    • birdwatcher, PseudoSABR, bluechipper and 2 others like this

 

There has been talk of the Twins talking extension with Gibson. Any one know if those talks are dead or ongoing?

Trade Rumors had this a couple days ago.Sounds dead.

 

SATURDAY: Extension talks are off for the time being, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, who tweets that the Twins and Gibson didn’t come close to a deal during their discussions.

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TheLeviathan
Mar 18 2019 08:09 AM

If I had to bet on what position group is most likely to be the culprit for a Twins rough showing in 2019....it's this one.Too much downside.

    • caninatl04 likes this

Nick, how do you define an "ace"? And is it the same definition as a #1?

 

I kinda feel like these are different things, yet they get conflated often, and both have pretty muddled definitions.

 

I don't think it takes much improvement to think of Berrios as an "ace" or be a fit for the #1 slot for a contender. He finished just outside the top 10 last year in pitching bWAR and was at least as good as anyone Oakland ran out there last season and isn't far off of Severino for the Yankees. Berrios improved in a lot of areas last season and it wasn't a fluky year.

 

Are you only an "ace" if you're in the top 5 for Cy Young every year? Is that the same definition for a #1? (I think for the former it's not unreasonable, I think for the latter it means very few teams have a #1 starter and becomes silly).

 

Boston, Houston, and Cleveland have had top-end depth in addition to talent; each had 2+ pitchers in the top 10 for bWAR which makes them so dangerous. It's why if the Twins added pitching in the offseason I wanted someone who was at least as good as, preferably better than Kyle Gibson (who was awfully good last year, despite my constant skepticism that he could sustain it. I was wrong...last year.)

 

Twins would be helped if either Berrios or Gibson to take another small step forward, especially for when they get to the short series end of it, but getting consistent positive performance from slots 3-5 might be even more important. Odorizzi was our 3rd best starter last season and seems to be best suited as a 4-5 guy. We patched together a LOT of starts from guys who weren't ready or able (either from inexperience or injury). 

 

 

    • Minny505 and caninatl04 like this

Nick, how do you define an "ace"? And is it the same definition as a #1?

I kinda feel like these are different things, yet they get conflated often, and both have pretty muddled definitions.

I don't think it takes much improvement to think of Berrios as an "ace" or be a fit for the #1 slot for a contender. He finished just outside the top 10 last year in pitching bWAR and was at least as good as anyone Oakland ran out there last season and isn't far off of Severino for the Yankees. Berrios improved in a lot of areas last season and it wasn't a fluky year.

Are you only an "ace" if you're in the top 5 for Cy Young every year? Is that the same definition for a #1? (I think for the former it's not unreasonable, I think for the latter it means very few teams have a #1 starter and becomes silly).

Boston, Houston, and Cleveland have had top-end depth in addition to talent; each had 2+ pitchers in the top 10 for bWAR which makes them so dangerous. It's why if the Twins added pitching in the offseason I wanted someone who was at least as good as, preferably better than Kyle Gibson (who was awfully good last year, despite my constant skepticism that he could sustain it. I was wrong...last year.)

Twins would be helped if either Berrios or Gibson to take another small step forward, especially for when they get to the short series end of it, but getting consistent positive performance from slots 3-5 might be even more important. Odorizzi was our 3rd best starter last season and seems to be best suited as a 4-5 guy. We patched together a LOT of starts from guys who weren't ready or able (either from inexperience or injury).


I think if you have to ask if a guy is an ace, then he's probably not one.
    • PseudoSABR, Danchat, howieramone2 and 1 other like this

Thank you for the article.I was going to comment on your line:

 

"I can't remember the Twins ever having this degree of first-level depth."

 

because I think they have little "first-level" talent but a lot of B- talent.

 

And then I read your next paragraph.And I agree.

 

Statistically speaking, the third best measure of pitching effectiveness is WHIP.Might the Twins' starters come close to The Indians'? 

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howieramone2
Mar 18 2019 11:06 AM

 

If I had to bet on what position group is most likely to be the culprit for a Twins rough showing in 2019....it's this one.Too much downside.

You can say the same thing for virtually every team.

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TheLeviathan
Mar 18 2019 12:45 PM

You can say the same thing for virtually every team.


There is a large difference downside (and upside) between us and, say, the Astros. Or Indians.
    • Mike Sixel likes this
Nice article and very spot on, both the good and the bad.

I truly dont believe a team has to have an ACE to be a contender. Give me 3 #2 SP and a couple nice, solid #4-5 that aren't just filler and I'll take my chances any day/season.

The problem is, Berrios and Gibson often pitch like real #2's, sometimes better. Berrios has potential he has yet to reach. Gibson, with Johnson's help, still only 31, could take his new and improved self up a notch for the next couple of seasons.

But there isn't third guy. I'm OK with Pineda and Odorizzi both. You may ne able to talk me in to Perez if this spring isnt smoke and mirrors. But we're still short 1 guy from real contention, IMO. Unfortunately, I dont think he's on the roster at this time.

What does Tyler Wells gotta do to get some recognition—kill Superman? :)


Awesomeness!!
    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Nick Nelson
Mar 18 2019 04:20 PM

 

Nick, how do you define an "ace"? And is it the same definition as a #1?

I don't have a super specific definition, but from my view there are ~30 #1 starters and maybe a dozen aces. I see an "ace" as a guy who I'd be comfortable with in Game 1 of a playoff series. I guess that's the simplest way to put it.

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yarnivek1972
Mar 18 2019 04:46 PM
You know what they say: I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.
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108Stitches
Mar 18 2019 05:03 PM

 

What does Tyler Wells gotta do to get some recognition—kill Superman? :)

THIS! HAHA. So true. The man had the best season of ANY PITCHER in the organization top to bottom, gets totally robbed of the Twins Pitcher of the Year, and not even a mention in this rotation. But we get a low A guy with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.25 whip. Not bad, don't get me wrong, but he simply isn't going to be major league ready BEFORE Wells. Frankly, I don't think Graterol will be ready first either. Thorpe (and Alcala) are the most overrated in the org in my two cents, which are on sale today for $.01

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this
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Nick Nelson
Mar 19 2019 03:29 PM

 

THIS! HAHA. So true. The man had the best season of ANY PITCHER in the organization top to bottom, gets totally robbed of the Twins Pitcher of the Year, and not even a mention in this rotation. But we get a low A guy with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.25 whip. Not bad, don't get me wrong, but he simply isn't going to be major league ready BEFORE Wells. Frankly, I don't think Graterol will be ready first either. Thorpe (and Alcala) are the most overrated in the org in my two cents, which are on sale today for $.01

If you want to go by the numbers (which clearly you do if you're high on Wells), I'm curious why you think Thorpe is overrated. He's a year younger than Wells and was dominating hitters at AA/AAA last year while Tyler spent most of his season at Single-A. 

 

The "prospects" listed are based on likelihood of making an impact, not proximity. 

    • howieramone2 likes this
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108Stitches
Mar 21 2019 10:36 AM

If you want to go by the numbers (which clearly you do if you're high on Wells), I'm curious why you think Thorpe is overrated. He's a year younger than Wells and was dominating hitters at AA/AAA last year while Tyler spent most of his season at Single-A. 
 
The "prospects" listed are based on likelihood of making an impact, not proximity.

I admit my opinion is based on a small sample of what I’ve seen while watching. Mostly because of what I saw in him in the futures game and in spring training this year. Frankly, he was not good. This my belief that he is overrated as far as major league impact, because he hasn’t done well in high pressure situations. Yes his numbers in season were good, but not amazing (3.54 era 1.24 whip). In fairness I think Thorpe is a high prospect, just not as high as you feel he is. Just a different perspective is all. Not saying he’s bad by any stretch so if that’s how it seemed I am correcting that notion.

 

I don't have a super specific definition, but from my view there are ~30 #1 starters and maybe a dozen aces. I see an "ace" as a guy who I'd be comfortable with in Game 1 of a playoff series. I guess that's the simplest way to put it.

 

I would tend to agree with you on the "#1 starter" definition, but I'm less enthusiastic about the "ace" definition. That one would end up being pretty elastic, I think and stretch out to more than the dozen you're thinking about in your head. Example: I think a lot of Twins fans would be very comfortable with Berrios starting Game 1 of a playoff series, but aren't ready to call him an "ace".

 

Berrios is a guy that I think many if not most teams would look at as a #1 starter, even if their scouting department would call him a #2. (one thing I learned from The Ringer's series on scouting was that most scouts don't project to the extremes and won't go out on a limb to put someone into more elite territory) Is he one in Boston or Cleveland or Houston? Not on their staffs, but what about New York? or Oakland or the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California Disneyland?

 

Regardless, the Twins are getting into much better position with their starters and getting closer to having a staff that can perform not only over the long haul of a season but in a short series. Berrios is terrific and will leave people drooling for years with that curve.


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