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The Path To A Competent Rotation: A Shorter Trip Than You May Think

Posted by Secondary User , 23 November 2016 · 1,584 views

It's no secret that the biggest position of need for the Twins is the pitching staff. Sadly, this is a very weak free agent pitching class, and with arms like Santana, Hughes and Gibson still around and reports out that the Twins won't be adding payroll this offseason there doesn't look to be much in the way of room for additions anyway. Looks to be a bleak 2017 led by another dismal performance by the pitching staff. Or is it? What if the first step on the journey to fixing the pitching is a step backwards, as in behind the plate?

Let's start by looking at what Twins catchers from 2015 have done in their careers:

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It's pretty clear that Twins catchers have done their pitchers no favors. Both Centeno and Suzuki continued their career trends of being sub par, if not awful pitch framers. It might seem like a trait that would have minimal impact, but some quick research into the effectiveness of hitters based on count quickly shows the drastic effect stealing a strike or giving one away can have.

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There's a lot of numbers there, but take particular note of the BA and SLG as the count progresses and you can see the value framing can bring. For instance, After a 1-0 count, hitters hit .271/.382/.457 last year, while after an 0-1 count, hitters hit .223/.266/.352. That's roughly a 20% increase in production based on whether the first pitch gets called a ball or a strike. That's where the value of pitch framing comes from. Putting your pitchers in more favorable counts by stealing strikes and not hurting them by giving them away. When you figure that Suzuki and Centeno were two of the worst pitch framers in the majors this year, and certainly haven't been good throughout their careers, you start to wonder just how much of an effect this may have had on the Twins results.


The Twins got their offseason started by signing catcher Jason Castro. Castro's 3yr/$24mil contract is directly tied to his ability as a pitch framer.

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Over the past three seasons, Baseball Prospectus has rated him as a plus pitch framer. Since 2014, he's been one of the best framers in the league, and when you take the abysmal framing the Twins were getting from Suzuki/Centeno and bring in a genuine plus behind the plate, the potential for some significant improvements without even touching the pitching staff suddenly becomes plausible.

The Catch:

Castro's problem though is pretty offensive splits. Against RHP, Castro hits a respectable .247/.328/.424. But against LHP, that plummets to a .190/.249/.287. So any value Castro brings defensively will be largely offset when the opposing pitcher is a southpaw. So ideally, you'd want to platoon Castro with a catcher who can hit LHP, and also brings good defensive value.


***DISCLAIMER***

I'm about to say something that may have you questioning my qualifications to write even a personal blog comment on this, so for the sake of objectivity, I'm going to remove names.

***DISCLAIMER***

Player A actually fits the mold quite well. As the graph below shows, Player A has graded out as a superb pitch framer in the minors, and in limited time in the majors, has been a plus framer.

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He has hit LHP to the tune of .253/.301/.390. Nothing to write home about, but for the lesser half of a L/R catching platoon, certainly serviceable. So who is this masked man? John Ryan Murphy. I know, I know, I know. 2015 was awful and just made you question how he ever made it to the major leagues. But looking past a small sample, we see the yin to Castro's yang. The right handed bat that can hold his own against LHP and not cost your pitcher strikes.

Can it be enough to make a meaningful difference? That's what we'll see. The Twins rotation had the worst ERA in the AL by over half a run. The rotation won't be fixed in one move. Jason Castro is not a silver bullet. But this signing embodies a departure from a way of thinking that was often times behind the times.

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I don't think the Twins are done with Murphy either and I believe Falvey and Levine signed Castro for exactly the reasons you highlighted. On to shortstop!

    • Platoon likes this
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Secondary User
Nov 24 2016 11:15 PM

 

I don't think the Twins are done with Murphy either and I believe Falvey and Levine signed Castro for exactly the reasons you highlighted. On to shortstop!

 

Ian Desmond

I do think the FO plans for Murphy to be the "yin". I just hope that Molitor does also. To me the big unknown will be whether Molitor will change his style to coincide with the FO vision? And if not, how big will Pohlads safety net be?
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jorgenswest
Nov 25 2016 09:40 AM
Platooning at catcher might often leave the Twins on the wrong side of the platoon late in games. Thinking through how they want to manage those late in game situations is essential. Do they pinch hit knowing they are down to their last catcher? Do they carry a third catcher? Do they lose the platoon advantage and stick with the starting catcher?
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diehardtwinsfan
Nov 27 2016 08:27 AM

I'm really not sold on pitch framing. If as accurate as suggested, Castro is stealing just over a strike a game. That isn't going to make a huge difference. Suzuki/Centeno/et al weren't even losing a strike a game, so the swing is maybe two strikes a game.

 

Don't get me wrong defense and catching hasn't done the Twins rotation any favors, but if those numbers are reasonably accurate, this won't cure the pitching woes. 

 

The biggest thing we need to do is go with upside in the rotation, that means no to guys like Santiago and yes to guys like May, Berrios, and Mejia.I would be thrilled if we entered 2017 with a rotation like Deleon or Glasnow (via Dozier trade), Gibson, May,Berrios, and Mejia (or Hughes with someone else in AAA).That leaves Duffey to spend time in AAA as a starter or in the pen if that's preferred. Gonsalves would likely open in AAA with lots of reinforcements in AA.I'd probably go get a few AAAA type arms in case I needed someone in a pinch, knowing depth is a problem in that setup, but I think that makes far more sense than rolling out guys like Santiago.

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