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Twins Tidbit: How Predictive is a Pitcher's First Start?


Simeon Woods Richardson, Josh Winder, Louie Varland, and Cole Sands all made their first starts in the big leagues in 2022 with a wide range of results. But do first starts predict future success at all? Let's take a look at recent Twins history.

Image courtesy of TwinsData


The above graph plots the effectiveness of a pitcher's first start (measured by game score) and their career wins above replacement with Minnesota for the notable Twins pitchers to make their first start since 2000. The size of the point corresponds to career starts in a Twins uniform. The figure only includes pitchers whose Twins career has finished and those who were primarily starters. A few things stand out:

  • The pitchers with the most impressive first starts are not exactly Twins Hall-of-Famers. Nick Blackburn, Anthony Swarzak, Boof Bonser, and Fernando Romero are the only starters with initial game scores above 60.
  • Jose Berrios, quite memorably, had one of the worst Twins debuts in recent memory. He turned out alright.

Where would the 2022 debutants fit in the list of game scores?

  • Josh Winder: 76 ... six shutout innings with a single walk against the Rays, topping the list
  • Louie Varland: 60 ... a memorable debut at Yankee Stadium and one of the better debuts in the last 20 years
  • Simeon Woods Richardson: 56 ... a better first start than Johan Santana, he's well on his way!
  • Cole Sands: 36 ... one of the worst first starts in recent years, allowing four runs in four innings in Detroit

The moral of the story? Don't get too high or too low on a pitcher's career after one start. Maybe even after one year. Randomness abounds!


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3 hours ago, Otaknam said:

Obviously there is no correlation between the first start and career success. Not sure why you raised the question. 

Obvious or not, this study seems skewed by looking only at, as the writer stated it, "notable Twins pitchers."  Do the study on first MLB career starts, period, and the data might show a stronger correlation.  Maybe low quality first career starts are made mostly by pitchers who ultimately don't pan out?  In that case Berrios might look like more of an outlier, while luminaries like JC Romero would cluster at the lower left. 

That "other" Romero, with game score 34 in his first major league start, was pretty terrible for two dreary years until he was converted to full-time reliever (which could be another variable to try to account for).  Does anyone remember Brad Thomas?  Me neither, but his 2001 debut led to a 30 game score and presaged a lifetime WAR in the negative numbers.  Leaving guys like them off the chart might lead one to think those 30ish first games are the rarity.

I think it's also a mistake to limit the Y-axis to be the portion of a pitcher's career spent with the Twins.  Kyle Lohse's value is a good deal higher than the 6.5 WAR he earned as a Twin.  Although, really, achieving even 5 WAR is a pretty good accomplishment by itself, as would be demonstrated better if the chart showed every Twin who was allowed to try.  The "notable" pitchers would stand out without having to be sifted through beforehand.

I'm just not much in favor of throwing out data that doesn't happen to fit a narrative.  (Except perhaps whenever it's my narrative. :) )

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Matt Garza was voted MVP of the 2008 ALCS.

That was the year the Rays finally came out of nowhere with their analytical approach and went to their first World Series, after years of being the league’s door mat. I think other teams still don’t know exactly what they are doing right. 

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