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  • Breaking Down The Twins Opening Day Starter

    With the Minnesota Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road. The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels. An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

    Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions. Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

    Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.
    I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

    ~~~ Originally published at KnuckleballsBlog.com ~~~

    Rafael Perez (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a minor league deal with the club a week ago. He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008. He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate. Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

    Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a minor league deal. Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above-average strike out rate, he has not been an above-average pitcher since 2009.

    There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season. I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strikeouts, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

    Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery. Pelfrey is still not a full year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation, though he seems to be on track.

    Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks get all the way up to speed.

    Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season. Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a longshot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

    Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract. Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way forCarl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012). Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

    Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience. If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond. But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves. The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

    Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day. If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st. But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated. There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

    Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it. He has a lot of things working in his favor: he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).
    When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May, I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.


    Read more about the Minnesota Twins at KnuckleballsBlog.com, including Eddie Rosario Turning Heads.
    This article was originally published in blog: Opening Day Starter started by Eric R Pleiss
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      I am hoping for Worley. I think that he is going to be fun to watch.
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      Hicks to start year in MN? I doubt that will happen.
      Gibson really has no shot at starting opening day, in my opinion.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I like that the percentages add to 100. This gives me confidence in the team.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Hate to say this, but the norm has been the healthy guy with the biggest contract has been the Twins' opening day starter under Gardenhire. Depends on whether you count incentives, that would be either Pelfrey or Correia. Not sure that Pelfrey would be ready, so survey says: Kevin Correia will be the Twins' opening day starter building upon the tradition.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Good stuff, Eric. I do have to say breaking down the Twins Opening Day starting options is like ranking the Police Academy movies (Kevin Correia is Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol).
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      All things considered, I bet Gardy and Ryan wish they could skip Opening Day and go right to game 2. Most years, even if the forecast for the season isn't that great, it's fun to put your best guy up against the other team's best guy that first day and just see what happens. This year, even if the Twins wind up winning, it's not really something to look forward to in its own right. Maybe a 5-1 win will prove satisfying, because that's baseball and it could happen, but it won't be like it would when you spend the days leading up to it in anticipation that Viola or Blyleven or whoever might dominate.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      I hope they start Correia on opening day. I'd be sorry for the fans that day, but it would set Correia up to be the sacrificial lamb against the Leagues #1 starters, ie. Verlander, King Felix, Price, Shields etc.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thegrin View Post
      I hope they start Correia on opening day. I'd be sorry for the fans that day, but it would set Correia up to be the sacrificial lamb against the Leagues #1 starters, ie. Verlander, King Felix, Price, Shields etc.
      I am all for making the most out of a bad situation, but as a fan I would like to see the best guy out there on opening day.
    1. FrodaddyG's Avatar
      FrodaddyG -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thegrin View Post
      I hope they start Correia on opening day. I'd be sorry for the fans that day, but it would set Correia up to be the sacrificial lamb against the Leagues #1 starters, ie. Verlander, King Felix, Price, Shields etc.
      Or, you know, that one time against Verlander since off days will immediately throw that all out of whack anyway.
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