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Twins Way to the Top via Excellent Pitching


Greglw3

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I’d like to discuss the way I see forward for the Minnesota Twins to become a team ready for a deep playoff run or World Series victory. The focus will be on top quality pitching. I’ll use a couple of case studies of teams that had very deep and strong pitching and great success, those teams being the 1980 Baltimore Orioles and the 1972-1974 Oakland A’s.

Then I’ll take a look at how the Twins can get to that level.

First, how did I get to this point of believing pitching is more important than I originally thought?

Although, a Twins fan since 1964, the media and options for following the Twins on a more comprehensive level only opened up to me in the 1970s. I lived in Toledo, Ohio but had discovered the Twins at Tinker Field in Orlando when my Dad took me to a game vs. the Cincinnati Reds. The Twins won and the rest was history for me!

In the 1960s it was linescores in the newspaper and the occasional game of the week with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. 

Then one glorious night in 1973, I thought to myself, "Wouldn’t it be great to be able to pick up Twins games on the radio." I had been twirling the station tuner knob that night pickng up any games I could. Seemingly miraculously, within 10-15 minutes I heard a new voice and paused to see what team(s) I had come across. Imagine my astonishment when I learned that it was the Twins broadcast from WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.

I first heard the voice of Herb Carneal that night and stayed up late listening to Twins baseball as my recollection is that it was a doubleheader, possibly from the west coast. Herb became my constant companion for many years and my love for the Twins grew exponentially. 

I remember annually thnking the the Twins were going to win the AL West this season and the next and the next but it never happened. Why? I couldn’t figure it out as they had such fine hitters as Jim Holt, Steve Braun, Rod Carew,  Bobby Darwin, Mike Cubbage, then Glenn Adams, Lyman Bostock and Larry Hisle. 

The 1977 team brought things into clear focus. The offense, while maybe not as deep as 2019, was at the upper echelon - arguably the greatest offense in Twins history. On June 26, 1977 I listened to and scored from my basement in Ohio, a 19-12 Twins win over the White Sox, listening to Harey Carey from 670 WMAQ in Chicago.

Alas, the Twins had a mediocre to poor pitching staff in 1977. That to go along with possibly the best hitting team in Twins history and, in my opinion, the greatest manager in Twins history - the brilliant tactician and innovator, Gene Mauch. Suffice to say, from 1977 on, I realized that only a team with very strong pitching could hope to be in the playoffs (back them it was only AL East vs. West, then the World Series) or win the World Series.

Let’s take a look at the 1977 Twins. (courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Pos Name Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
C Butch Wynegar# 21 144 617 532 76 139 22 3 10 79 2 3 68 61 .261 .344 .370 .715 96
1B Rod Carew* 31 155 694 616 128 239 38 16 14 100 23 13 69 55 .388 .449 .570 1.019 178
2B Bob Randall 29 103 342 306 36 73 13 2 0 22 1 4 15 25 .239 .289 .294 .583 61
SS Roy Smalley# 24 150 680 584 93 135 21 5 6 56 5 5 74 89 .231 .316 .315 .631 74
3B Mike Cubbage* 26 129 464 417 60 110 16 5 9 55 1 4 37 49 .264 .321 .391 .712 94
LF Larry Hisle 30 141 620 546 95 165 36 3 28 119 21 10 56 106 .302 .369 .533 .902 144
CF Lyman Bostock* 26 153 660 593 104 199 36 12 14 90 16 7 51 59 .336 .389 .508 .897 144
RF Dan Ford 25 144 510 453 66 121 25 7 11 60 6 4 41 79 .267 .338 .426 .764 108
DH Craig Kusick 28 115 325 268 34 68 12 0 12 45 3 1 49 60 .254 .370 .433 .803 120
Pos Name Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
DH Rich Chiles* 27 108 295 261 31 69 16 1 3 36 0 1 23 17 .264 .323 .368 .691 89
DH Glenn Adams* 29 95 290 269 32 91 17 0 6 49 0 2 18 30 .338 .376 .468 .844 130
3B Jerry Terrell 30 93 235 214 32 48 6 0 1 20 10 4 11 21 .224 .263 .266 .530 46
2B Rob Wilfong* 23 73 193 171 22 42 1 1 1 13 10 4 17 26 .246 .321 .281 .602 67
LF Bob Gorinski 25 54 126 118 14 23 4 1 3 22 1 0 5 29 .195 .226 .322 .548 48
CF Willie Norwood 26 39 91 83 15 19 3 0 3 9 6 1 6 17 .229 .281 .373 .654 78
IF Luis Gomez 25 32 74 65 6 16 4 2 0 11 0 2 4 9 .246 .290 .369 .659 80
C Glenn Borgmann 27 17 54 43 12 11 1 0 2 7 0 0 11 9 .256 .407 .419 .826 128
C Bud Bulling 24 15 39 32 2 5 1 0 0 5 0 0 5 5 .156 .270 .188 .458 29
3B Larry Wolfe 24 8 27 25 3 6 1 0 0 6 0 0 1 0 .240 .269 .280 .549 51
2B Sam Perlozzo 26 10 27 24 6 7 0 2 0 0 0 0 2 3 .292 .346 .458 .804 119
DH Randy Bass* 23 9 19 19 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .105 .105 .105 .211 -42

Next the pitching staff that held the team to an 84-77 record.

Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Team Totals 27.1 84 77 4.36 161 161 126 35 4 25 1442.0 1546 776 698 151 507 737 91 4.21 1.424
  Rank in 14 AL teams   7 8 12       11 9 10 8  12 12 12 10 7 12      
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
SP Dave Goltz 28 20 11 3.36 39 39 0 19 2 0 303.0 284 129 113 23 91 186 119 3.42 1.238
SP Paul Thormodsgard 23 11 15 4.62 37 37 0 8 1 0 218.0 236 122 112 25 65 94 86 4.30 1.381
SP Geoff Zahn* 31 12 14 4.68 34 32 0 7 1 0 198.0 234 116 103 20 66 88 85 4.24 1.515
SP Pete Redfern 22 6 9 5.18 30 28 2 1 0 0 137.1 164 89 79 13 66 73 77 4.44 1.675
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
CL Tom Johnson 26 16 7 3.13 71 0 54 0 0 15 146.2 152 57 51 11 47 87 128 3.59 1.357
RP Ron Schueler 29 8 7 4.41 52 7 21 0 0 3 134.2 131 74 66 16 61 77 91 4.63 1.426
RP Tom Burgmeier* 33 6 4 5.09 61 0 20 0 0 7 97.1 113 56 55 15 33 35 79 5.10 1.500
RP Dave Johnson 28 2 5 4.58 30 6 16 0 0 0 72.2 86 42 37 7 23 33 88 4.24 1.500
RP Jeff Holly* 24 2 3 6.89 18 5 6 0 0 0 48.1 57 37 37 8 12 32 58 4.37 1.428
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Gary Serum 20 0 0 4.37 8 0 2 0 0 0 22.2 22 11 11 4 10 14 93 5.39 1.412
  Bill Butler* 30 0 1 6.86 6 4 0 0 0 0 21.0 19 17 16 5 15 5 59 7.64 1.619
  Mike Pazik* 27 1 0 2.50 3 3 0 0 0 0 18.0 18 5 5 1 6 6 163 3.79 1.333
  Don Carrithers 27 0 1 6.91 7 0 3 0 0 0 14.1 16 13 11 2 6 3 59 5.60 1.535
  Jim Shellenback* 33 0 0 7.94 5 0 0 0 0 0 5.2 10 7 5 1 5 3 54 6.62 2.647
  Jim Hughes 25 0 0 2.08 2 0 2 0 0 0 4.1 4 1 1 0 1 1 209 2.97 1.154

Notice that the starting rotation was basically one pitcher deep, their ace, Dave Goltz, he of the knuckle-curve. The staff ERA was 4.36, which is not so much a reflection of the quality of the starting staff but of the superior work of two relievers who ate up 281.1 innings. Tom Johnson was the one most responsible for holding down the team ERA with his 3.13 ERA, 16-7 record and 146.2 innings as the closer! Amazingly, after the Twins had lost Bill Campbell and his 17-5 record in relief in 1976 to free-agency, they were able to plug in Johnson.

It’s pretty plain to see that the top 9 pitchers listed, excepting Goltz and Johnson, are what held back this team with a juggernaut offense from a possible division championship or even World Series victory. Just one quality starter.

Two other major factors influenced my thinking on the value of deep, quality pitching.

The first was the astonishing success of the 1972-1974 Oakland A’s, who may have won 5-7 World Series in a row except for the advent of free-agency. Charley Finley waved the white flag of surrender just as much as Calvin Griffith did and the Oakland dynasty was destroyed. Take a look at the pitching staff of a World Champion three years running. The names changed slightly but the prioritization on pitching is the teachable lesson! (courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Team Totals 26.7 94 68 3.29 162 162 116 46 12 41 1457.1 1311 532 143 494 797 109 3.83 1.239
  Rank in 12 AL teams   2 11 2       9 2 2 3  2 3 9 4 8      
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
SP Ken Holtzman* 27 21 13 2.97 40 40 0 16 4 0 297.1 275 98 22 66 157 120 3.18 1.147
SP Vida Blue* 23 20 9 3.28 37 37 0 13 4 0 263.2 214 96 26 105 158 109 3.89 1.210
SP Catfish Hunter 27 21 5 3.34 36 36 0 11 3 0 256.1 222 95 39 69 124 107 4.40 1.135
SP Blue Moon Odom 28 5 12 4.49 30 24 4 3 0 0 150.1 153 75 14 67 83 79 4.05 1.463
SP Dave Hamilton* 25 6 4 4.39 16 11 1 1 0 0 69.2 74 34 8 24 34 81 4.16 1.407
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
CL Rollie Fingers 26 7 8 1.92 62 2 49 0 0 22 126.2 107 27 5 39 110 186 2.36 1.153
RP Darold Knowles* 31 6 8 3.09 52 5 26 1 1 9 99.0 87 34 7 49 46 116 4.13 1.374
RP Horacio Pina 28 6 3 2.76 47 0 24 0 0 8 88.0 58 27 8 34 41 129 4.25 1.045
RP Paul Lindblad* 31 1 5 3.69 36 3 11 0 0 2 78.0 89 32 8 28 33 97 4.25 1.500
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Glenn Abbott 22 1 0 3.86 5 3 1 1 0 0 18.2 16 8 3 7 6 94 5.14 1.232
  Rob Gardner* 28 0 0 4.91 3 0 0 0 0 0 7.1 10 4 2 4 2 77 7.20 1.909
  Chuck Dobson 29 0 1 7.71 1 1 0 0 0 0 2.1 6 2 1 2 3 55 8.14 3.429

Second was playing table top baseball with a good friend who was an avid Orioles fan. We played my Twins team against his Orioles for many games, who while not having the offense of the Twins, kept running out a relentless rotation of Palmer, Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Scott McGregor. I was defeated more often than not by this pitching staff and got used to being dominated. I was forever changed! This is the kind of staff I’d like to see the Twins aspire to! (courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Team Totals 26.8 90 71 3.56 161 161 96 65 14 33 1429.0 1340 566 107 509 754 99 3.60 1.294
  Rank in 14 AL teams   5 10 5       1 2 2 11  2 4 4 7 5      
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
SP Jim Palmer 32 21 12 2.46 38 38 0 19 6 0 296.0 246 81 19 97 138 143 3.48 1.159
SP Mike Flanagan* 26 19 15 4.03 40 40 0 17 2 0 281.1 271 126 22 87 167 87 3.37 1.273
SP Dennis Martinez 24 16 11 3.52 40 38 0 15 2 0 276.1 257 108 20 93 142 100 3.54 1.267
SP Scott McGregor* 24 15 13 3.32 35 32 2 13 4 1 233.0 217 86 19 47 94 106 3.46 1.133
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
CL Don Stanhouse 27 6 9 2.89 56 0 47 0 0 24 74.2 60 24 0 52 42 122 3.55 1.500
RP Joe Kerrigan 24 3 1 4.77 26 2 16 0 0 3 71.2 75 38 10 36 41 74 4.85 1.549
RP Tippy Martinez* 28 3 3 4.83 42 0 16 0 0 5 69.0 77 37 4 40 57 73 3.47 1.696
RP Nelson Briles 34 4 4 4.64 16 8 4 1 0 0 54.1 58 28 6 21 30 76 4.19 1.454
RP John Flinn 23 1 1 8.04 13 0 5 0 0 0 15.2 24 14 3 13 8 45 6.54 2.362
Pos Name Age W L ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Tim Stoddard 25 0 1 6.00 8 0 3 0 0 0 18.0 22 12 3 8 14 60 4.86 1.667
  Dave Ford 21 1 0 0.00 2 1 1 0 0 0 15.0 10 0 0 2 5   2.32 0.800
  Sammy Stewart 23 1 1 3.18 2 2 0 0 0 0 11.1 10 4 0 3 11 115 1.44 1.147
  Earl Stephenson* 30 0 0 2.79 2 0 2 0 0 0 9.2 10 3 0 5 4 131 3.31 1.552
  Elrod Hendricks 37 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 2.1 1 0 0 1 0   3.87 0.857
  Larry Harlow* 26 0 0 67.50 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 2 5 1 4 1 9 37.09 9.000

Now, let’s compare this year’s Twins staff to, first the 1977 Twins, and then secondly to the 1973 A’s and the 1978 Orioles. (courtesy of baseball-reference.com)

Pos Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Team Totals 30.4 29 41 .414 4.94 70 70 70 0 0 17 610.1 619 335 104 209 574 84 4.67 1.357
  Rank in 15 AL teams   12 4   14       8 9 8 11  13 13 14 5 13      
Pos Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
SP Jose Berrios 27 7 2 .778 3.56 14 14 0 0 0 0 83.1 70 33 10 21 87 115 3.58 1.092
SP J.A. Happ* 38 3 3 .500 6.12 12 12 0 0 0 0 60.1 69 41 11 18 44 67 5.13 1.442
SP Michael Pineda (10-day IL) 32 3 4 .429 3.70 11 11 0 0 0 0 56.0 49 23 10 15 51 111 4.48 1.143
SP Matt Shoemaker 34 2 8 .200 7.57 13 11 2 0 0 0 54.2 66 46 12 23 37 54 6.04 1.628
SP Kenta Maeda 33 2 2 .500 5.01 10 10 0 0 0 0 46.2 55 26 9 14 46 82 4.80 1.479
Pos Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
CL Taylor Rogers* 30 2 3 .400 2.73 28 0 11 0 0 7 29.2 26 9 3 5 41 152 2.23 1.045
RP Hansel Robles 30 3 3 .500 2.84 32 0 9 0 0 5 31.2 21 10 2 19 33 145 3.80 1.263
RP Jorge Alcala 25 1 1 .500 3.49 29 0 11 0 0 0 28.1 16 11 7 7 24 118 5.54 0.812
RP Tyler Duffey 30 0 2 .000 4.15 28 0 2 0 0 2 26.0 23 12 2 13 24 100 3.94 1.385
RP Alex Colome 32 2 4 .333 5.40 27 0 10 0 0 2 25.0 28 15 5 12 26 77 5.49 1.600
Pos Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP
  Randy Dobnak 26 1 6 .143 7.83 13 5 3 0 0 1 43.2 60 38 11 12 25 53 6.19 1.649
  Caleb Thielbar* 34 2 0 1.000 4.13 22 0 4 0 0 0 24.0 26 11 3 7 36 101 2.80 1.375
  Bailey Ober 25 0 0   3.71 4 4 0 0 0 0 17.0 18 7 3 2 21 113 3.52 1.176
  Cody Stashak (10-day IL) 27 0 0   6.89 15 0 1 0 0 0 15.2 16 12 2 10 26 61 3.62 1.660
  Lewis Thorpe* (7-day IL) 25 0 2 .000 3.86 4 3 1 0 0 0 14.0 13 6 1 4 5 109 4.24 1.214
  Luke Farrell 30 1 0 1.000 2.08 11 0 3 0 0 0 13.0 11 3 1 5 14 202 3.17 1.231
  Shaun Anderson 26 0 0   9.35 4 0 0 0 0 0 8.2 13 9 1 5 8 46 4.90 2.077
  Griffin Jax (40-man) 26 0 0   8.64 3 0 2 0 0 0 8.1 11 8 4 3 9 49 8.33 1.680
  Derek Law 30 0 0   8.53 5 0 3 0 0 0 6.1 11 6 2 6 9 51 7.28 2.684
  Juan Minaya 30 0 0   4.26 4 0 2 0 0 0 6.1 5 3 2 3 4 102 7.91 1.263
  Devin Smeltzer* (10-day IL) 25 0 0   0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 4.2 1 0 0 1 3   3.81 0.429
  Brandon Waddell* 27 0 1 .000 11.25 4 0 2 0 0 0 4.0 10 5 2 3 1 40 11.42 3.250
  Willians Astudillo (40-man) 29 0 0   3.00 3 0 3 0 0 0 3.0 1 1 1 1 0 153 8.51 0.667

Statistically, this is the worst pitching staff we’ve looked at. This rotation is basically a two man rotation out of 5 where the 1977 Twins were basically one. Staffs like the 1977 and 2021 Twins will never lead to a high quality team featuring one  and two viable starters type rotations. Obvious, right?

My argument would be that Falvey and Levine should be trying to get that to 4 or 5 quality starters and not put resources to players like J.A. Happ, Matt Shoemaker, Alex Colome or even Josh Donaldson. Donaldson has good qualities but one thing he isn’t is a quality pitcher.

What’s the way forward? I think, based on his 3.70 ERA so far and the virtual impossibility of signing 3 FA quality starters, that they need to re-sign Michael Pineda. They also need to re-sign Jose Berrios. That’s only 2 of 5 quality starters. We have to hope that Maeda rounds back into form. Further the FO is going to have to sign a quality free agent pitcher. Then we have to hope that Bailey Ober builds on what he as started so far. And hope that Barnes, Duran or Balazovic make a breakthrough. There are other good arms.

I’ve pictured below the kinds of pitchers we need in at least 3 or 4 spots. It would be nice to have Christy Mathewson as a Twin but, alas, that’s not possible. He’s my favorite pitcher of all time.

Let me know what you think. My motto is pitching, pitching and more pitching!!!

 

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Twins have not been a top of the rotation FA destination whether Twins not willing to spend the money or FAs not wanting to go to Minnesota can be debated. So how do Twins acquire top pitching? They traded for Maeda, who was not considered a top of the rotation pitcher when Twins got him. Twins seem to have an excess of position players with prospects soon to be ready for MLB. The most important way to acquire top pitching is to develop it. Twins have maybe more top pitching prospects in minors than ever before. Only time will tell if prospects develop in the meantime trade for some breakout candidates.

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I like your idea, but:

Donaldson has good qualities but one thing he isn’t is a quality pitcher.

Are you saying we should invest nothing into the lineup? Should we not pay for elite/good hitters, instead build it out of scraps, outcasts, and projects? As they say, you get what you pay for, and the Twins would have a crap lineup. It would get exposed badly in big games.

We’ll need to put considerable investment into everything if we want to be a true World Series contender. I agree that it should be priority to build a rotation of 4-5 quality starters and bullpen with 3+ studs. Thankfully, we have a farm system, so some of those roles can be filled. We should see Ober and Duran in the rotation next year.

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I just think we’re closer in the offensive department than the pitching staff.

No, I don’t want to assemble everyday lineup from scraps or outcasts. I do think we have a viable lineup now with Larnach, Buxton, Kirilloff, Arraez can play third (as an example of how we have the lineup covered now if we had signed say MadBum instead of Donaldson.) I really look forward to Larnach’s at bats and now Arraez as well

Larnach and Kirilloff have changed everything in my opinion for the viability of the offense. Additionally, the return of Buxton and Arraez plus Nick Gordon's great 2021 so far. AAA and MLB.

I have a feeling that Miranda is going to be ready sooner than anyone thinks. That’s someone to play when either Sano is slumping or Donaldson is injured, which as you know, is a lot! I’m old enough to remember Gaetti in AA Orlando and Miranda reminds me of the potential of Gaetti.

One last guy I think may make it but would have to listen to the scouts is Ernie De La Trinidad, who’s tearing it up at Wichita.

And I agree that Ober can help this year and next, at least I hope so. He’s looked great so far! Duran is a mystery man to me. I hope he comes like Alcala did. I think Balazovic may take awhile. Charlie Barnes is another possibility.

I agree. A lot of investment is called for.

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I agree this team needs more pitching, but its not like you can go out in the back yard and pick them off a tree. Todays payrolls are such a headache to balance, and that doesnt take into account if the player wants to be here. In the past many teams have slugged their way to the dance with a weak set of starters but a good bullpen (1987). This year the FO missed on both. I for one dont want to see a total sell off at the trade deadline. Keep Pineda and Berrios. If the kids in the minors come up and show they can do the job, deal then from a position of strength. This has been one of those years that you just need to forget about and move on. Sure make some changes but the core of the team is pretty good. One more quality starter and rework most of the bullpen is where I see the work needs to be done.

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On 6/21/2021 at 3:38 AM, Greglw3 said:

as an example of how we have the lineup covered now if we had signed say MadBum instead of Donaldson.

My OCD doesn't like MadBum as an example.

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