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Power Starters, Middle Relief Aces, oh my - how the Twins could manage their pitching


Old-Timey Member

I posted this in the game recap but it deserves it's own discussion. For those upset with how the Twins (Not Baldelli by himself) are approaching the pitching staff. This article may help you understand. 

Please read and then discuss

https://www.draysbay.com/2021/10/7/22703079/tampa-bay-rays-story-of-modern-baseball-power-starters-middle-relief-aces-collin-mchugh

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That's a good read.  I don't think the Twins have the horses to pull it off right now though.  I hope they can find a couple internally over the next couple weeks and then aggressively target some external options sooner rather than closer to the trade deadline.  Cole Sands, Josh Winder and SWR seem to be the best internal options available.  I'd also like to see Evan Sisk given a shot to replace someone like Thornburg or Cotton, and perhaps give the pen another lefty option.  Balazovic is a mess right now.  Maybe he should be tried in one of these bridge roles at AAA to see if a change of pace can help him right his ship.

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I'm with @Unwinder, the strategy is sound, but the Twins don't have the arms to pull it off right now, had injuries that interrupted the plan early, and now they seem to be caught in between strategies. I don't know what their plan is to get out of it, but they sure need to make some changes somewhere. Rocco gets a lot of heat for "sticking to the plan" even when things start going bad, but that's the real risk with this approach. And why it's so hard to do if you don't have a whole bunch of really good arms. The more times you have to take a guy out before you had planned to the more guys you have to use before they were supposed to and the more "unavailable" guys pile up game to game. The plan is sound, but the execution by the pitchers themselves has been terrible and that's certainly the FO's fault for not having better arms. The Twins have a good plan, just really bad execution.

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This strategy also explains why the Twins don't spend big money on starters. They want to save money on the pitching side by using this strategy. Can't match the Dodgers rotation, but can maximize the arms they do have by using them in varying appearance lengths based on their skills. Again, they've just massively failed at the plan. And I think they haven't really figured out the roster building side of it to give themselves the best chance to execute the plan. Rays are the masters and the Twins are the fumbling students we all hope figure it out soon. Like today soon.

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22 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

This strategy also explains why the Twins don't spend big money on starters. They want to save money on the pitching side by using this strategy. Can't match the Dodgers rotation, but can maximize the arms they do have by using them in varying appearance lengths based on their skills. Again, they've just massively failed at the plan. And I think they haven't really figured out the roster building side of it to give themselves the best chance to execute the plan. Rays are the masters and the Twins are the fumbling students we all hope figure it out soon. Like today soon.

Fixable. They have to get bullpen serious. The plan can get back on track with some trade acquisitions for a reasonable price or for example use of a starter like Winder in whatever role deemed helpful. 

As bad as the bullpen has been of late... the team ERA is still 7th in baseball so I'm not sure massively failed is correct.

The bottom end of the bullpen is just killing us at the moment but this is a much easier to fix than trying to find a traditional starter to take innings away from the bullpen.   

Blurring the lines provides more options to fix this.      

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The Twins will have to use innovative strategies like this unless they get several dozen extra million dollars to play with every year. They probably would have been able to pull it off had Duffy and Theilbar not turned into pumpkins, or if Paddack hadn't gotten injured. They started the year with 7 pitchers that could have been considered starters. Sometimes your key pieces poo the bed and things don't go as planned and you end up overusing underexperienced players and getting stuck hoping your guys get it together. Good thing there are 162 games in a season. And if they don't make it? There are worse things to worry about. 

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13 minutes ago, Riverbrian said:

Fixable. They have to get bullpen serious. The plan can get back on track with some trade acquisitions for a reasonable price or for example use of a starter like Winder in whatever role deemed helpful. 

As bad as the bullpen has been of late... the team ERA is still 7th in baseball so I'm not sure massively failed is correct.

The bottom end of the bullpen is just killing us at the moment but this is a much easier to fix than trying to find a traditional starter to take innings away from the bullpen.   

Blurring the lines provides more options to fix this.      

The bullpen outside of Duran has been a massive failure. Gleeman's tweets these days make me want to cry. 

It's certainly a fixable situation, but they're caught in between strategies now it feels like. Jax, Winder, and Duran were all multi-inning guys to start the year. Now they're mixing and matching roles because the 1 inning guys they planned to have as the setup/closer types have been brutally bad. 

It'll be interesting to see what they do if they ever get Gray, Ryan, Smeltzer, Archer, Bundy, Winder, and Ober healthy at the same time. Those 7 plus Jax and Duran is a solid little top 9 and can get a lot of innings as they're all capable of going more than 1 inning. They just need to get the plan back on track (maybe they're hoping to get to the break and recalibrate then?). Alcala coming back could be helpful. I like Moran. So to me that's 11 usable arms and I'd go get 1 big time righty and 1 big time lefty if I can. Maybe Alacala is that big time righty? We know there'll be more injuries and I think Balazovic and Sands struggling with Canterino being hurt has thrown a bit of a wrench into their season long plan.

The starters have more than held their own, and Duran and Jax have shown me they can be on a playoff roster, but the rest of the pen has failed and the plan is now a massive failure because there's still over half the season to go and they don't have a staff that can win games consistently. Certainly fixable, but they need to make some changes soon to get back on track. They need to execute the plan much better than they have for the last month.

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I agree the plan seems to be "get good starting pitching by reducing their workload and exposure." So far, it's been reasonably effective, but obviously it shifts workload to the pen.

I don't see any evidence of a plan for multi-inning relievers though. Seems more like the plan for the pen was similar to the plan for starters...limit exposure of modest talent to 1 inning stints, theoretically maximizing effectiveness. Max velo, max effort, able to pitch 3 or 4 times per week.

That second part has not gone so well. 

And I don't think it's easily fixed.

 

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The Twins are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The starting pitching has been a little too good for this to work (Except Archer it has been perfect for him) and the relief pitching hasn't been good enough for it to work. The guys that it would be perfect for Duran, Jax, Smeltzer, Winder have been too good and moved to other roles, or not good Sands, Cotton, Cano, or injured.

Also IMO this doesn't work when you actually have too many starters, you can't limit Gray and Ryan innings for example, when you are limiting their starts by having a 6 or 7 man rotation. Also you can't plan the 6-9 innings to be perfect, and sometimes that seems to be what the manager is looking for.

On a side note this strategy is not a good game to watch and could possibly eliminate starting pitchers from the HOF. (Which I believe is already happening by limiting the amount of innings pitched, and thus bringing pitchers Wins down)

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Interesting article. I'm an old school traditionalist, so I'll never like this approach, but I know it's probably what things might evolve into eventually. Unfortunately, as has been said here...there's no way we have the arms/talent to pull this strategy off currently. I don't know...maybe we never will. I can live with the "opener" plan every once in a while, because that's pretty much all relievers, but I don't want to get to a point where starters are regularly going 3-4 innings every start, then turning it over to the pen all the time. I can't wrap my brain around that one. To me...you'll burn out your pen doing that. I want 3 or 4 good, solid starting pitchers who can go at least 6 innings if they're pitching well. Sure, if a guy is getting rocked in the 3rd, you pull him, but if he isn't, why take him out?

 

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3 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

I agree the plan seems to be "get good starting pitching by reducing their workload and exposure." So far, it's been reasonably effective. 

I don't see any evidence of a plan for multi-inning relievers though. Seems more like the plan for the pen was similar to the plan for starters...limit exposure of modest talent to 1 inning stints, theoretically maximizing effectiveness. Max velo, max effort, able to pitch 3 or 4 times per week.

That second part has not gone so well. 

 

Agreed

We've seen them use Duran for multiple innings but not so much with Jax thus far. I do wonder why. 

A couple of thoughts. 

Starting pitching injuries have probably reduced the pile of multi-inning bullpen options. We started with 8 (including Duran) on the roster who have started in the past and still ended up with Chi-Chi starting a couple of games. 

The games are really stacked up this year because of the work stoppage. Not as many off-days so that is going to mess with whatever resting is required of the pen.   

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16 minutes ago, CRF said:

Interesting article. I'm an old school traditionalist, so I'll never like this approach, but I know it's probably what things might evolve into eventually. Unfortunately, as has been said here...there's no way we have the arms/talent to pull this strategy off currently. I don't know...maybe we never will. I can live with the "opener" plan every once in a while, because that's pretty much all relievers, but I don't want to get to a point where starters are regularly going 3-4 innings every start, then turning it over to the pen all the time. I can't wrap my brain around that one. To me...you'll burn out your pen doing that. I want 3 or 4 good, solid starting pitchers who can go at least 6 innings if they're pitching well. Sure, if a guy is getting rocked in the 3rd, you pull him, but if he isn't, why take him out?

 

There isn't a staff averaging more than 6 innings a start in all of baseball, is there? I'm not sure there are even 50 pitchers in all of baseball doing that right now.  

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4 minutes ago, TwinsDr2021 said:

The Twins are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The starting pitching has been a little too good for this to work (Except Archer it has been perfect for him) and the relief pitching hasn't been good enough for it to work. The guys that it would be perfect for Duran, Jax, Smeltzer, Winder have been too good and moved to other roles, or not good Sands, Cotton, Cano, or injured.

Also IMO this doesn't work when you actually have too many starters, you can't limit Gray and Ryan innings for example, when you are limiting their starts by having a 6 or 7 man rotation. Also you can't plan the 6-9 innings to be perfect, and sometimes that seems to be what the manager is looking for.

On a side note this strategy is not a good game to watch and could possibly eliminate starting pitchers from the HOF. (Which I believe is already happening by limiting the amount of innings pitched, and thus bringing pitchers Wins down)

I think Duran, Jax, Smeltzer, and Winder being so good should make this more doable. It's just a matter of recalibrating how many innings guys throw and how often. If you have 7 pitchers (when Ober comes back) that can go 4-6 innings each, plus 2 guys who can go 2+ innings that should cover a whole lot of your innings. Problem is that any innings those 7 don't cover are a complete s*** show. 

Pitcher usage in a fantasy world with their top 9 arms all healthy:
Gray 5-7 innings- Duran 2 innings
Archer/Ober 8-9 innings
Ryan 5-7 innings- Jax 2 innings
Bundy/Winder 8-9 innings
Smeltzer 5-7 innings- Duran 2 innings
Gray 5-7 innings- Jax 2 innings
Archer/Ober 8-9 innings
Ryan 5-7 innings- Duran 2 innings
And so on...

If the Gray/Ryan/Smeltzer trio is constantly only getting through 5 it'd force more usage of lesser pen arms, but if they can average 6 innings a start and Duran and Jax can go 2 innings you're down to covering 1 inning with someone outside the top 9 arms. Again, it's a fantasy world with all of those arms staying healthy, but having the 4 you mentioned pitching so well I think creates an opportunity to reduce the usage of the bad pen arms. The Twins seem more in favor of using 1 inning pen guys for 1+ innings instead of using their starter arms in piggyback situations with multiple guys going 4 or 5 innings each. I'm sure there's a reason why they don't try piggybacking.
 

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2 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

There isn't a staff averaging more than 6 innings a start in all of baseball, is there? I'm not sure there are even 50 pitchers in all of baseball doing that right now.  

There's 18 pitchers in baseball averaging 6 innings or more a start. 1 averaging 7. A bunch more between 5 and 6 innings.

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33 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

I agree the plan seems to be "get good starting pitching by reducing their workload and exposure." So far, it's been reasonably effective, but obviously it shifts workload to the pen.

I don't see any evidence of a plan for multi-inning relievers though. Seems more like the plan for the pen was similar to the plan for starters...limit exposure of modest talent to 1 inning stints, theoretically maximizing effectiveness. Max velo, max effort, able to pitch 3 or 4 times per week.

That second part has not gone so well. 

And I don't think it's easily fixed.

 

I think injury has played into this quite a bit.  Winder made the roster as a piggy back for Archer.  Injuries to the rotation forced him into the rotation until he too was put on the IL.

Beyond that however, you might be correct.

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Just now, Mike Sixel said:

I really don't think fans give this any thought before complaining. 

Lots of our brothers and sisters on TD watch the Twins pretty much exclusively.

The Twins for decades tried to operate in the traditional sense. Goltz, Thormodsgard, Zahn and Redfern. Viola, Smithson, Butcher, Schrom with Ron Davis blowing saves after being set up by Lysander is what they know. Santana, Gibson, Pelfrey, Hughes and Milone with Fein and May for the 7th and 8th and Perkins to close is what they watch year after year. 

What the other teams are doing isn't in view. 

 

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7 minutes ago, USAFChief said:

I agree the plan seems to be "get good starting pitching by reducing their workload and exposure." So far, it's been reasonably effective, but obviously it shifts workload to the pen.

I don't see any evidence of a plan for multi-inning relievers though. Seems more like the plan for the pen was similar to the plan for starters...limit exposure of modest talent to 1 inning stints, theoretically maximizing effectiveness. Max velo, max effort, able to pitch 3 or 4 times per week.

That second part has not gone so well. 

And I don't think it's easily fixed.

 

This. There were plenty of questions during the offseason about where the innings were going to come from based on staff construction. The present state isn't exactly shocking; it's tough to hide guys over a 162 game schedule. 

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great reference, @Riverbrian

I noticed on the grid, that Tampa Bay is on one extreme end of the pitcher usage, but all the way on the other end is Atlanta and the Dodgers, also World Series teams. But it is certainly an interesting look.

I have given this a lot of thought, and I think the front office just doesn’t have the talent to evaluate pitchers, or to listen to the subordinates who do. Their record with pitching is not good. They can sure put together a batting lineup but putting together a pitching staff is just one step forward, two steps back, and probably always will be. It seems futile (to me, anyway) to expect them to go out and find another Taylor Rogers after they just traded away Taylor Rogers. This, in year six of their regime.

But not all hope is lost! I do like the suggestion of making Jax a multiple inning reliever in close games, going forward. Getting Maeda and Alcala and Ober back healthy will help as well. Otherwise, lets hope these other guys start overperforming and keep us in the race.

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9 minutes ago, Hosken Bombo Disco said:

great reference, @Riverbrian

I noticed on the grid, that Tampa Bay is on one extreme end of the pitcher usage, but all the way on the other end is Atlanta and the Dodgers, also World Series teams. But it is certainly an interesting look.

I have given this a lot of thought, and I think the front office just doesn’t have the talent to evaluate pitchers, or to listen to the subordinates who do. Their record with pitching is not good. They can sure put together a batting lineup but putting together a pitching staff is just one step forward, two steps back, and probably always will be. It seems futile (to me, anyway) to expect them to go out and find another Taylor Rogers after they just traded away Taylor Rogers. This, in year six of their regime.

But not all hope is lost! I do like the suggestion of making Jax a multiple inning reliever in close games, going forward. Getting Maeda and Alcala and Ober back healthy will help as well. Otherwise, lets hope these other guys start overperforming and keep us in the race.

It's interesting that the 3 guys you think will help were all acquired by the front office you think can't evaluate pitchers in 3 different ways. Ober as a 12th round pick in the draft. Maeda as a win now piece brought in for a prospect. Alcala as a future asset brought in by trading an established big leaguer. They evaluated them pretty well I think. Traded for Duran. Traded for Gray and Ryan. Signed Archer and Bundy (he's not great, but is doing well as a #5).

I think the criticism for the FO in regards to pitching is how far they go with the idea that relievers are more or less interchangeable. Like bringing in Wisler was great evaluation, but then they thought he was replaceable and let him walk for guys who formed a pen that blew up last season while Wisler continues to dominate out of Tampa's pen. I think they evaluate well, but are too overconfident in their (and Wes') ability to turn any collection of arms into a good enough pen.

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21 minutes ago, Hosken Bombo Disco said:

I have given this a lot of thought, and I think the front office just doesn’t have the talent to evaluate pitchers, or to listen to the subordinates who do. Their record with pitching is not good. They can sure put together a batting lineup but putting together a pitching staff is just one step forward, two steps back, and probably always will be. It seems futile (to me, anyway) to expect them to go out and find another Taylor Rogers after they just traded away Taylor Rogers. This, in year six of their regime.

I don’t think this is true. They traded for Duran, Smeltzer, Alcala, and Ryan when they were still in the minors. They went out and got Gray (although I’m not sure how much credit they should get for “identifying” his talent, since any baseball fan could tell you he’s a good pitcher). They drafted Winder and Ober. The Rogers trade wasn’t exactly good, but I can see the logic of getting however many years of Paddack for a single season of Rogers. Pagan hasn’t done his part. Maybe they overestimated his abilities. 
 

At any rate, it sure does seem they were trying to follow the Rays model to an extent, but with a Twins spin on it. Gray, Ryan, Paddack, and Ober are guys who can give you 5-6 good innings most times out. Bundy and Archer seem like they were brought in to go through the order twice without blowing it. I’m wondering if the plan was for one or both of them to pitch more “bulk bridge” innings along with Winder as the season went. They fit the profile described in the article. Really, it has been injuries that have screwed things up. Other than Smeltzer, Bundy, and Archer, I think every pitcher I’ve named has spend time on the IL or Covid list. 

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1 hour ago, wsnydes said:

I think injury has played into this quite a bit.  Winder made the roster as a piggy back for Archer.  Injuries to the rotation forced him into the rotation until he too was put on the IL.

Beyond that however, you might be correct.

No denying it, but that's also the kind of staff this FO built no?

Winder missed time last year with a shoulder issue. Last season looks like an outlier as far as Ober's health is concerned, and even then he was shut down at the end of the year. Paddock's medicals have been beaten to death. Gray has missed his share of time during his career as well. 

If plan B was rotating in young arms, Balazovic has struggled, Canterino is hurt after missing most of last year due to injury, and SWR has dealt with his own injuries and effectiveness issues lately. Maybe Balazovic's year is a bit surprising, but Canterino and SWR being hurt or ineffective shouldn't be. I didn't include guys like Varland or Sands because I don't see them as long term solutions in the rotation, but Ober would've fit that description prior to last year, so I guess there's that. 

Alcala going down was tough, but even so, there were questions about which version the Twins were getting. Losing a setup man doesn't typically throw a decent pen into total free fall. They've been far and away the most glaring issue, and that's 100% due to a lack of viable arms. 

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Trying to replicate the Rays strategy is all fine and dandy, but only when you have the arms to do so. I think this team is a solid group, but I am tired of the pitching strategy. Rocco needs to look at extending the amount our starters pitch and here are some stats on this:

Our starters have the 7th best ERA in baseball yet pitch the 5th fewest innings of any team.

The starters average 78 pitches per game and only 3 teams have a lower average. In fact, only 28 times have our starters thrown between 80-99 pitches, which is by far the lowest amount.

The MLB Average for Teams who bring in a relief pitcher with a lead is 114 (Doesnt equal games because of multiple pitchers) yet the Twins are at 152 which is easily the most in baseball.

Bottom line, stats show our starters are good, yet we continue to think the bullpen will hold the lead? Let's try going longer with the guys who start the game, Rocco.

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11 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

It's interesting that the 3 guys you think will help were all acquired by the front office you think can't evaluate pitchers in 3 different ways. Ober as a 12th round pick in the draft. Maeda as a win now piece brought in for a prospect. Alcala as a future asset brought in by trading an established big leaguer. They evaluated them pretty well I think. Traded for Duran. Traded for Gray and Ryan. Signed Archer and Bundy (he's not great, but is doing well as a #5).

I think the criticism for the FO in regards to pitching is how far they go with the idea that relievers are more or less interchangeable. Like bringing in Wisler was great evaluation, but then they thought he was replaceable and let him walk for guys who formed a pen that blew up last season while Wisler continues to dominate out of Tampa's pen. I think they evaluate well, but are too overconfident in their (and Wes') ability to turn any collection of arms into a good enough pen.

Fair enough, but the fact did not escape me. It’s only to say that those three are better than the options we are using in their absence. 

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13 minutes ago, KirbyDome89 said:

No denying it, but that's also the kind of staff this FO built no?

Winder missed time last year with a shoulder issue. Last season looks like an outlier as far as Ober's health is concerned, and even then he was shut down at the end of the year. Paddock's medicals have been beaten to death. Gray has missed his share of time during his career as well. 

If plan B was rotating in young arms, Balazovic has struggled, Canterino is hurt after missing most of last year due to injury, and SWR has dealt with his own injuries and effectiveness issues lately. Maybe Balazovic's year is a bit surprising, but Canterino and SWR's being hurt of ineffective shouldn't be. I didn't include guys like Varland or Sands because I don't see them as long term solutions in the rotation, but Ober would've fit that description prior to last year, so I guess there's that. 

Alcala going down hurt, but even so, there were questions about which version the Twins were getting. Losing a setup man doesn't typically throw a decent pen into total free fall either. They've been far and away the most glaring issue, and that's 100% due to a lack of viable arms. 

More or less, yes.  I think they built a staff pretty reliant on young arms stepping up.  That's a big reason why before the season started, I was saying that how far this team goes will be determined by the youth.  And there is obvious risk involved with that approach.  And I think I've been right about that so far.  And I think injuries have depleted the possibility of that approach working even further.

I've always kinda thought this year was intended to build towards next season.  They did a decent job of avoiding a bottoming out, but not enough to really be truly competitive.

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