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Fangraphs ZiPS Projections:

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 01:19 PM
https://blogs.fangra...innesota-twins/   A lot of interesting stuff for those who like projection systems. One quote that stood out...
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2020 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 01:14 PM
The Twins got 6 players in the 2020 Baseball America Top 100 prospects rankings.    https://www.baseball...100-prospects/...
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World Series or Bust

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 11:41 AM
Looks that way, doesn't it?   We are clearly built for a bright overall future, but Cruz and Donaldson are at the tail end of their...
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Post-Donaldson Trade - Status of Top Prospects

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 11:37 AM
Lewis and Kirilloff are blocked by Donaldson, Polanco, Arraez and Sano. Without a trade or an injury, I don’t see an opening for our top...
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2019 2020 (non-Twins) off season

Other Baseball Today, 01:14 PM
My first prediction is that WA signs their two big possible FAs to extensions.   My next is that Cole goes to LAA.   The White...
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Twins Rookie Pitchers Were Well Prepared in 2019

There are probably only a handful of things in sports more terrifying than being a pitcher. I mean, just think about it for a second: Someone else just 60 feet and 6 inches away is trying their hardest to hit the ball you’re throwing as hard as they possibly can in order to ruin your day. As an ex-soccer goalkeeper who put his face on the line for years, I have to respect the level of confidence that pitchers must have.
Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Pitching ain’t easy. You know this, I know this, and the pitchers themselves know this. Pitchers every year are sent up and down between AAA and the majors because no team ever has enough pitching to make it through a full season. Guys will go down with injury or wake up one day to find out what worked for them before suddenly doesn’t and just like that, they go from closer to DFA’d.

Knowing all of this, it’s quite notable when rookie pitchers come up and perform at a level that is actually passable. It’s even more notable when an entire group of rookie pitchers get called up and hold their own at the major league level. You may not have noticed, but this was the reality for the Twins in 2019.

The Twins in 2019 had seven rookie pitchers throw at least 25 innings at the major league level which is what I’m arbitrarily defining as a “significant amount”. In total, 13 rookies threw at least one pitch at the major league level and this group of individuals put together the second best rookie pitching staff by fWAR in 2019, with the Padres being the only team ahead of the Twins (3.9 to 4.5). Although, Twins rookies only threw 271 innings compared to the Padres’ 558, so the Twins have them in efficiency. Also consider that the average player is worth about 2 WAR and with my estimation that the average starter throws about 150 innings, the Twins rookies as a whole pitched at a slightly better than average rate in 2019.

What made this rookie group so good? The big number that stands out is that they walked just 6.2% of batters which was the lowest of any group of rookies on a single team in 2019 (José Berríos walked 6.1% of batters in 2019 for reference). This incredibly low walk rate is also reflected in the fact that their total percent of pitches in the strike zone in 2019 was 45.8%-the best among every team's rookies.

I wrote about Cody Stashak and his phenomenal command before, but it appears that this trait wasn’t just unique to him last year. To have an entire group of rookie pitchers throw strikes at the best rate in baseball would seem to imply that the Twins minor league coaches are doing a great job of preparing their pitchers for the jump to the majors. Finding the strike zone is half of the battle, so having pitchers start with this foundation under them is a good way to allow them to grow as they then learn how to pitch to major league hitters and be effective while doing it.

The downside is that their overall K% was just 19th among team rookies in 2019 as they had a tough time then actually finishing off batters. Although, their total swinging strike rate was 10th highest among team rookies so maybe it isn’t actually a problem. This is a somewhat small sample size after all.

Overall, the numbers are inspiring as getting pitchers to make the jump to the majors will be crucial to the Twins going forward if they intend to compete for a while (especially if they don’t shell out money for starters, but that’s a different story). This change is a far cry compared to years before where it felt like rookie pitchers were in over their heads and incredibly ineffective. In fact, last year's rookie group of pitchers had the highest fWAR of any Twins rookie collection since the opening of Target Field. If this keeps up, the Twins will certainly be in a great spot going forward and could potentially become a pitching factory for the first time in what feels like forever.

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11 Comments

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IndianaTwin
Dec 05 2019 10:26 PM
Nice take. I suspect that a lot of this has to do with the unusual health that the Twins benefitted from with their starting rotation last year, but a sense that I had with Rocco and Wes is that they were really good at putting guys into a position where they could succeed.
    • brvama, Danchat, DocBauer and 2 others like this

Commendable optimism.

 

The statement that sticks out for me is...."the Twins rookies as a whole pitched a slightly better than average rate in 2019."

 

I really don't get that excited about average. Rookie or veteran. I get the overall picture as positive, and it could be worse, and all............ but it could be a lot better, too. They don't get me excited at this point. In fact, I feel that to bank on Smeltzer, Stashak, and Dobnak as anything other than depth (and a couple good stories) would be misguided.

    • Steve Lein, adorduan, Battle ur tail off and 1 other like this

We better hope the rookies step up in 2020 - we are about to sign Pineda according to the TD article which gives us 3/5th of the same staff we had last year.Where is the upside?How did we get better - right now it is up to the rookies.

 

 If this keeps up, the Twins will certainly be in a great spot going forward and could potentially become a pitching factory for the first time in what feels like forever.

 

I do not remember any time in our history where I would call us a pitching factory. Our pitching success has been pretty hit and miss (mostly miss) as far back as I remember. If we became a pitching factory... Wow, that would be a complete overhaul ofour club!!

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howieramone2
Dec 06 2019 10:39 AM

 

We better hope the rookies step up in 2020 - we are about to sign Pineda according to the TD article which gives us 3/5th of the same staff we had last year.Where is the upside?How did we get better - right now it is up to the rookies.

Right now we're in good shape with 3 months to go. The only role I see our fine group of rookies filling is the Pineda void.

    • birdwatcher and wabene like this
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howieramone2
Dec 06 2019 10:50 AM

 

 

I do not remember any time in our history where I would call us a pitching factory. Our pitching success has been pretty hit and miss (mostly miss) as far back as I remember. If we became a pitching factory... Wow, that would be a complete overhaul ofour club!!

At some point in time, pitching becomes a numbers games. In the bullpen, I think we won the numbers game. I like our numbers of young starters, but don't feel we will be in position to win until year end 2020. We're close.

    • birdwatcher likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 06 2019 03:10 PM

 

Commendable optimism.

 

The statement that sticks out for me is...."the Twins rookies as a whole pitched a slightly better than average rate in 2019."

 

I really don't get that excited about average. Rookie or veteran. I get the overall picture as positive, and it could be worse, and all............ but it could be a lot better, too. They don't get me excited at this point. In fact, I feel that to bank on Smeltzer, Stashak, and Dobnak as anything other than depth (and a couple good stories) would be misguided.

 

Rookies also tend to improve over time and rarely do they hit the majors pitching like a #2, so I still think this is an overall net positive. I'd also add that all 3 of these guys were nobodies in terms of prospects, which I think is even more impressive. 

 

I do agree with the premise that the minor league staff, in terms of development, seems much improved. That was my biggest beef with the previous FO... they didn't seem to be able to develop talent. This FO has gotten more out of minor league pitching this season than the org has in quite some time. 

    • birdwatcher, brvama, 70charger and 5 others like this
I don’t really know how to judge this.

On one hand, you expect some rookie struggles. So, it’s a positive sign that there wasn’t a whole lot of that’s.

On the other, there wasn’t one rookie who saw a high number of appearances/innings, which could also explain some level of success (lack of familiarity from opposing clubs/hitters).

I do know that I don’t trust the guys from last year. Just because Smeltzer and Dobnak looked good in limited appearances, doesn’t mean they are going to be quality pieces going forward. I think that if either of those guys are rotation fixtures throughout 2020, we’re in trouble.

With a healthy Cleveland (Kluber, Ramirez, Lindor injuries were massively helpful to the Twins) and the White Sox looking ready to turn the corner, the status quo is going to land us in third place.

My point is, I put almost no stock into the accomplishments listed above. I’d rather go out and get good pitchers than cobble together a AAAA staff/bullpen and pray.
    • h2oface and mikelink45 like this
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birdwatcher
Dec 06 2019 04:31 PM

I think it's a bit early to draw conclusions and declare that the organization has built a special capacity with respect to pitching development. However, we might be seeing a few big picture hints about their beliefs, philosophy, and strategy. Some sort of random things:

 

1) They have continued the trend of aggressively adding coaches from the college ranks who have been groomed in the new sciences.

 

2) In the 2019 draft, they selected and signed 15+ college pitchers, virtually two-thirds of their choices. A plausible theory? A belief that development is more cerebral than we've traditionally thought it was, and they want good students learning, not just experiencing, and they want them taught by teachers, not just coaches. It's possible they have an even stronger conviction about the power of best practices in this area than we know.

 

3) The Twins have historically been, IMO, much better than average at identifying talent, but when it comes to pitching, not so hot at converting talent into skills. Lots of examples of later round talent, maybe at times despite not benefitting from the best development plan, that emerged anyway: Hildenberger, Rogers, Duffey, Stashak from the draft, Smeltzer, Harper, Dobnak, Littell from elsewhere.

 

4) And maybe now, Duffey, Rogers, Stashak, Dobnak, Littell, all of whom produced at high levels in 2019, represent the first hints that this organization really IS on the forefront. None of these guys was ever highly regarded. Rogers was the 340th player taken in his draft class. Dobnak was the only independent league acquisition who stepped on a postseason field. Not proof of anything, but a possible sign.

 

I hope Parker Hageman continues to share things as he has in the past.I don't understand much of it, but it's still enlightening.

 

Caveat: it unnerves me a bit to read all the "Wes Johnson's magic" comments. These are billion dollar enterprises. Most are no longer run like hobbies. Most clubs won't fall very far behind on these new frontiers, IMO.

Commendable optimism.
 
The statement that sticks out for me is...."the Twins rookies as a whole pitched a slightly better than average rate in 2019."
 
I really don't get that excited about average. Rookie or veteran. I get the overall picture as positive, and it could be worse, and all............ but it could be a lot better, too. They don't get me excited at this point. In fact, I feel that to bank on Smeltzer, Stashak, and Dobnak as anything other than depth (and a couple good stories) would be misguided.


Having good quality depth is extremely important. Most years a pitching staff will have a lot more injuries than the Twins did in 2019. And having guys be able to come up and pitch at a average level is huge.
    • h2oface and Danchat like this

 

Commendable optimism.

 

The statement that sticks out for me is...."the Twins rookies as a whole pitched a slightly better than average rate in 2019."

 

I really don't get that excited about average. Rookie or veteran. I get the overall picture as positive, and it could be worse, and all............ but it could be a lot better, too. They don't get me excited at this point. In fact, I feel that to bank on Smeltzer, Stashak, and Dobnak as anything other than depth (and a couple good stories) would be misguided.

It had seemed like for years, rookie pitchers would come up and just look like garbage, having no idea what they're doing out there. Going from bottom-barrel to above average is a big step in the right direction. 

 

Some highlights include Smeltzer's first start against the Brewers, Thorpe standing up to the Yankees for 3 innings in the midseason matchup, and Littell going 30.2 innings in the bullpen giving up just 3 earned runs from June to September.

    • h2oface likes this