Rocco Baldelli told reporters that the Twins will start Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, and, if required, Michael Pineda in a 3-game Wild Card series. There goes that drama. Now we turn our attention to the other dugout.
In this piece I wanted to look at the sum total of how the Twins performed against aces this year. That way, we can have an idea heading into a series whether the opposition gives Game 1 to someone named Cole or Ryu or Bieber.
How have the Twins fared against aces in 2020?
Let’s round them up and look at the lines. It's a crude analysis just to give us an idea. The point of the piece isn't to quibble over the word "ace" or to factor in elite relievers. Those bits would help further improve the accuracy of our conclusion. If I’m missing any aces that started a game against Minnesota in 2020, please let me know in the comments and we can add him.
Using a combination of this season’s stats and previous beliefs about a pitcher (our prior) the list of starters that I think would qualify looks like this: Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Lucas Giolito, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. They missed Jack Flaherty, and we’ll see how the Reds series shakes out to wrap up the season.
I’ll show some work and then let’s make a conclusion.
Shane Bieber (3 starts) … Twins are 1-2 in his starts
21 innings, 12 hits, 5 earned runs, 5 walks, 31 strikeouts [2.14 ERA, 6.3% walk rate, 38.8% strikeout rate]
Bieber has given up 2 home runs to the Twins and 7 all year. He was dazzling in his start July 30 against the Twins, with 8 shutout innings, 13 punchouts and no walks. Anyway, that’s about how you’d expect a future Cy Young winner to pitch across 21 innings, and he’ll be a tough matchup for anyone that faces the Indians in October (or late-September).
Lucas Giolito (3 starts) … Twins are 1-2
14 2/3 innings, 13 hits, 12 earned runs, 7 walks and 15 strikeouts [7.37 ERA, 10.6% walk rate, 22.7% strikeout rate]
The Twins have tagged Giolito for 5 home runs of his 8 home runs this season. That’s 63% of his long balls in 20% of his innings. Who says Pareto’s efficiency doesn’t apply to Major League aces?
Mike Clevinger (2 starts) … Twins are 1-1
10 innings, 14 hits, 6 earned runs, 6 walks, 11 strikeouts [5.40 ERA, 13.3% walk rate, 24.4% strikeout rate]
He was returned from the Alternate Site after serving his team-issued timeout because the Indians needed an arm to face the Twins and they had an all-star just sitting around. It also proved to be his final start for Cleveland before they traded him to the Padres in exchange for an extended window of team control and some clubhouse chemistry.
Zach Plesac … Twins are 1-0
7 innings, 6 hits, 5 earned runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
Twins slugged 3 home runs against Plesac in his lone outing. Marwin Gonzalez and Willians Astudillo went back-to-back, and later Byron Buxton got him for a 2-run drive. The two starts before that he was strong against the Royals and in the one start since he was lights-out against the Tigers, so good job, Twins.
Corbin Burnes … Twins are 1-0
5 innings, 2 hits, 1 earned run, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts
The Twins won’t have to worry about the National League until … they have to worry about the National League. Even so, they won 3 of 4 games against N.L. aces, including Burnes in mid-August. This was Jorge Polanco’s infield hit walk-off that scored a streaking Byron Buxton from third base in the 12th inning. So, you know, we tend to forget Burnes’ involvement almost entirely. But that night they also had to face Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Brent Suter and David Phelps, which looks like an October-ish bullpen to me.
Brandon Woodruff ... Twins are 1-0
5+ innings, 9 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts
Ildemaro Vargas tripled and scored. Woodruff left with 2 runners on in the 6th inning and reliever Freddy Peralta let one in, charged to Woodruff, on a deep sac fly off the bat of, who else, Ildemaro Vargas.
Yu Darvish … Twins are 1-0
6 innings, 9 hits, 4 earned runs, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts
This one’s pretty recent so you probably remember it. Darvish is a legit Cy Young contender this year in the National League. No team had more hits against Darvish than the Twins, and Minnesota also scored more runs off him than any other club.
Kyle Hendricks … Twins are 0-1
8 innings, 3 hits, 0 earned runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts
Yeah, Hendricks was awesome.
The Twins as a team have hit .242/.316/.431 (.321 wOBA) this year. They're 7-6 in games started by the dudes on this list and they’ve scored roughly 4.5 runs per game in 2020, good for 17th in baseball. That’s down from 5.73 runs per game last year (2nd in baseball). There are a few 7-inning bouts to account for but the math is pretty clear that, yes, they haven’t hit like the all-around potent performers that they were a year ago.
I totaled up all the performances and combined them. Assuming that my excel muscles haven’t atrophied to zero, here’s the math. This selected group of 8 aces combined for a 2.57 ERA in 500 innings, with a 30.8% strikeout rate and a 6.2% walk rate. Sounds ace-like to me.
Here’s how the Twins impacted them. Against Minnesota, these top starters had a 4.11 ERA, and against the rest of the world, it was a 2.30 ERA. The A.L. average for starters this year is 4.49, so basically what this is saying is that the Twins took these good starters and dragged them closer to the median. The Twins also drew more walks (7.9% vs. 5.9%), struck out less often (28.1% vs. 31.3%) and homered at a better clip against these aces (1.17 HR/9 vs. 0.89) than the rest of the league managed as a group.
They aren't massive differences across the board but I thought it was interesting. If you’re fretting about how the Twins lineup will fare against the other team’s ace(s) in October, there’s only one conclusion from these findings.
Bring on the postseason.
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