When the Minnesota Twins set out to supplement their roster this offseason a couple of different areas presented themselves as needs. Starting pitching will always remain one as you can never have enough, but the organization is in rarefied air.
Following his signing with the Houston Astros it’s more than fair to suggest the Twins would’ve been well-served to wait out Jake Odorizzi. He clearly over-anticipated his market however and found a landing spot only after Framber Valdez dealt a blow to Dusty Baker’s starting rotation. Instead, Minnesota went with a one-year deal to Matt Shoemaker that set the club back just $2 million. At the time, and even now, that has the makings of a pretty shrewd move.
If you’re at all familiar with Shoemaker’s track record you know this, he hasn’t been available often. Across seven full Major League seasons he’s made 15 or more starts just three times, while failing to reach double digits in each of the past three. Injury issues have plagued him, but it’s worth noting that the injuries haven’t been arm related. In hoping for a regression to the fluky nature that has kept him sidelined, you have to take note of the production that has been there.
Back in 2016 was the last time Shoemaker threw more than 100 innings. Across 27 starts that year he posted a 3.88 ERA backed by a 3.51 FIP and an 8.0 K/9. It was the third year in a row in which he’d tallied both 20 starts and 130+ innings pitched. In that time, he owned a 3.80 ERA with a 3.77 FIP and an 8.0 K/9. When available the veteran has been incredibly consistent. He’s good for a high-threes ERA while striking out right around eight per nine and being very stingy on the free passes. Even as a third starter that would play, and he’ll pitch out of the Minnesota five-hole.
What’s maybe most important for the Twins in all of this isn’t even what Shoemaker himself brings to the table, but rather what he affords the club in regards to those around him. Randy Dobnak has started a Postseason game, Lewis Thorpe is a former top prospect that has been the darling of Spring Training, and the duo of Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic are close. That doesn’t even touch on Devin Smeltzer, who has Major League experience as well. None of them will factor into the rotation on Opening Day.
In 2020 Rocco Baldelli had 11 different players starts a game (two of which were openers). For the Bomba Squad a year prior, 10 different players made starts (one of which was an opener). Depth is something every team must have in the rotation, and that will probably ring truer than ever coming off such a shortened schedule a season ago. Because of what this front office has done in the development department, the Twins could be more prepared now than they ever have been before.
A year ago, the Twins posted the 5th best fWAR among starters in baseball. That improved upon a 7th place finish in 2019. Derek Falvey had long been considered a pitching guru for his time in Cleveland, and he’s quickly carried that acumen to a new organization. I’m not sure who will contribute what, and which starters will be there at the end, but you can bet the stable is right where the organization feels comfortable when it comes to pieces at their disposal.
Maybe Matt Shoemaker only gives his new club something like ten starts in 2021. That’s still more than Rich Hill or Homer Bailey a season ago, and the flexibility he provides the Twins in terms of additional depth is a bonus that can’t be overstated. Let him be healthy because he’s been good when available. When the time comes to make a change, options will be plentiful.