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  • The Best Twins' Rotations of the Last 25 Years

    Hans Birkeland

    First judge the rankings. Then let us know where the 2023 rotation should slot in.

    Image courtesy of © Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

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    With this year’s rotation looking promising and, so far, healthy, let’s rank the past 25 years of Twins rotations. Fangraphs WAR will feature prominently in the rankings, but contextual factors are considered, as well. I also included AL rankings.

    As a point of comparison, the number one team in fWAR for their rotation in a given year is usually around nineteen to twenty. For instance, the 2001 Diamondbacks with Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson had 19.6 fWAR; the 2022 Astros had 19.4. The 2023 Twins staff … well, let’s talk about them at the end. Let’s get started!

    1. 2004- 15.9 fWAR (2nd): The top four starters all threw in 33 or more starts, with Johan Santana winning the Cy Young, Brad Radke posting the lowest ERA of his career, and Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse contributing above-average seasons. In July, Radke, Santana, and Lohse pitched consecutive shutouts. This rotation had top-end talent, depth, and health.

    2. 2020- 16.2 fWAR (2nd) (projected to 162 games): Kenta Maeda was a revelation, Rich Hill was decent, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda were their usual selves and the team used openers and peak Randy Dobnak to post the third-best starting pitcher fWAR in baseball. Imagine if Jake Odorizzi had been available. I would rank them first but in a 60 game season, there isn’t much of a test of depth.

    3. 2006- 12.5 fWAR (6th): Prior to Francisco Liriano getting hurt, this team had the best rotation of any listed here. But in addition to Liriano needing Tommy John, Radke famously couldn’t brush his teeth due to a total lack of rotator cuff and Boof Bonser ended up starting game two of the ALDS as a result. Johan Santana had perhaps his best year, it should be noted.

    4. 2005- 15 fWAR (4th): Santana was electric again with 7.1 fWAR. Radke, Lohse and Silva were solid. Unfortunately, this team couldn’t hit and the team missed the playoffs despite ranking seventh in MLB in rotation fWAR.

    5. 2019- 16.4 fWAR (4th): By fWAR, this is the best rotation on this list, led by excellent seasons from Berrios and Odorizzi. However, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson fell apart down the stretch and Pineda was suspended, leading to Dobnak starting a playoff game.

    6. 2010- 14.5 fWAR (5th): Liriano finally recaptured some of his old magic this year with 5.6 fWAR and Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey were pretty good wingmen. Another bat would have helped.

    7. 2015- 13.5 fWAR (5th): Seven guys contributed over 1 fWAR in the team’s return to contention led by Gibson, while Mike Pelfrey had his best Twins year. Tyler Duffey almost pitched the team to the playoffs with a 3.10 ERA down the stretch.

    8. 2002- 11.2 fWAR (9th): This staff had decent depth with five starters accumulating over 1.4 fWAR, but Radke only started 21 games due to injury. Johan Santana made his first contribution, ranking third among starters in fWAR despite only fourteen starts.

    9. 2003- 12.2 fWAR (6th): Joe Mays fell off a cliff this year, but Kenny Rogers, Lohse and Radke were solid (combined 8.1 fWAR) and Johan Santana sealed his rotation status (finally), posting a strikeout percentage 9.8% better than any of his rotation-mates in 110.1 innings.

    10. 2014- 11.7 fWAR (7th): This was the inexplicable and record-setting Phil Hughes year, as well as the first full Gibson year where he posted 2.7 fWAR. Ricky Nolasco was supposed to stabilize the rotation but instead started his decline phase in rapid fashion.

    11. 2007- 11.7 fWAR (9th): Baker emerged for 2.7 fWAR in only 23 starts. Silva and Bonser were decent while prospects Matt Garza and Slowey showed promise.

    12. 2001- 10.1 fWAR (8th): This was a wasted year of peak Radke and Milton (6.7 fWAR) along with Mays’ best year. Coming off a promising 2000 season, Mark Redman was traded while Rick Reed was acquired for twelve bad starts and Matt Lawton.

    13. 2009- 10.7 fWAR (10th): Baker and Blackburn were solid, and Pavano was acquired for a playoff push and contributed 1.6 fWAR in twelve starts. Brian Duensing was the savior, throwing big games down the stretch with a 2.73 ERA. He was no match for the Yankees, however.

    14. 2008- 11 fWAR (9th): Another good Baker year, Nick Blackburn was the best version of himself (1.9 fWAR) as was Slowey (2.6 fWAR). Livan Hernandez barely held it together. 

    15. 2011- 8.5 fWAR (13th): Baker and Pavano were decent but the rest of the staff was a mess. The offense was even worse with only 4.3 combined fWAR.

    16. 2018- 8.8 fWAR (8th): Gibson reemerged with 2.6 fWAR and Berrios cemented his place at the top of the rotation. Odorizzi contributed 32 solid starts. If only the fully formed Texas/Chicago Lance Lynn were pitching and not the one with a thirteen percent walk rate.

    17. 1998- 11.5 fWAR (8th): Radke followed up his twenty win season with 4.2 fWAR and Bob Tewksbury threw good enough slop to post a league-average year. Mike Morgan was excellent until he was flipped at the deadline. Eric Milton got his feet wet.

    18. 2022- 8.2 fWAR (10th): The team addressed its issues from 2021 and acquired Sonny Gray, Chris Paddack, Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Tyler Mahle. Gray was pretty good.

    19. 2000- 9.9 fWAR (10th): Redman gave the team 24 solid starts, Radke and Milton held serve, and Sean Bergman made his (impressively bad) mark.

    20. 1999- 10 fWAR (11th): Radke and Milton were solid again (combined 7.3 fWAR), Joe Mays contributed twenty decent starts, and this was, mercifully, the last year of the LaTroy Hawkins starter experience.

    21. 2017- 7.1 fWAR (11th): Berrios emerged as a solid number two starter and Ervin Santana was good again. This was the Bartolo Colon year, and that speaks to the lack of talent. The wild-card loss to the Yankees also was an indicator.

    22. 2013- 5.5 fWAR (Last): Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia were newcomers and as advertised, combining for 3.8 fWAR in 338 innings. This was the era of peak Sam Deduno, as well as the horrifying Vance Worley experiment.

    23. 2021- 5 fWAR (14th): This is the year the team realized Griffin Jax was best suited for the bullpen. Except they had no other options and threw him out there for fourteen brutal starts. Berrios was traded, while Maeda and Pineda broke down physically. At least there was Bailey Ober.

    24. 2016- 7.6 fWAR (13th): The year everything went wrong. Nolasco, Gibson, Duffey, Hughes, Tommy Millone, newcomer Berrios and Hector Santiago were all nearly unplayable and all had ten or more starts. Ervin Santana was good.

    25. 2012- 3.4 fWAR (Last): This was as low as a starting staff can go, and it could have been even worse if Scott Diamond hadn’t come out of nowhere to post 2.4 fWAR in 27 starts. Cole DeVries, P.J. Walters, and Jason Marquis featured prominently.

    The 2023 rotation is projected for 11.9 fWAR, if you were wondering. None of these staffs had the depth this year’s crew figures to have, but the Radke and Santana-led rotations were stronger at the top. Where would you rank the 2023 rotation?


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    The #s and fWARs are all over the place. Is this how you personally ranked these independent of how they match up fWAR, Hans? Which is fine.

    I loved the rotations with Johan Santana and I personally rank them them the best. But looking at the fWAR our '19 was the best & I kinda believe it. IMO they should have been better but like so many times in recent years our BP blew up which caused Gibson (suffering from colitis) & Perez (converted SP) to be over stretched along with Berrios & Odorizzi who ran out of gas together with Pineda's suspension.

    IMO '20 should be thrown out because of the shorten season because it give us the wrong fWAR readings, comparing to what a regular season  should be. 

    Comparing '23 to '19 they are very similar where we really don't have an ace but we have 5 very good SPs. But where I'd place the '23 rotation ahead of the '19 is our '23 rotation is deeper & the BP is better.

    P.S.- I see you basically ranked them on how they measured to other MLB rotations but again your rankings don't completely ring true to the placings.

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    Great work - very interesting.

    2006: Santana & Liriano (starting) together from May through mid-July was magical……my recollection was Liriano was 1-2 in the Pen & got in the rotation in May sometime. I think he may have won 10 straight before he got hurt…..(12-3 for the season?) tried coming back in the last week or two but didn’t have anything. They were the most dominant pair, for maybe 10 weeks that I recall, ever.

    Would rank ‘23 Staff, prior to any results, as FOURTH on your list. However, I’d say this staff in ‘23 could be as good as any with the balance they have. I saw an article in the Athletic showing all 5 of this year’s starters in the Top 71 in MLB. All 5 in the top 45% of all starters. None in the Top 40 but all reasonably good! And then there’s Ober in the wings. They could easily get 4 guys in double figure wins with a couple winning 15-18. They’ll have the D & run support to achieve this. I think this team wins 95 games with reasonable health from everyday guys.

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    Really good compilation of the rotations over the last 25 years. I might quibble a little with the rankings, but I'm not sure it makes that much difference if one is rated 11 or 13 and so forth. I would probably downgrade the 2020 group just because it requires an awful lot of projection to comp against the others, and injuries have wiped out so many other promising rotations before.

    The 2006 group feels like the greatest missed opportunity: Liriano was so electric before his elbow unraveled, Johan was dominant, and it felt like something special might be happening. (the team also had Joe Nathan at the peak of his powers with some good bullpen depth, Mauer & Morneau were rolling...Terry Ryan kinda failed this group, though as his veteran dumpster diving completely crapped out: batista, white, nevin, sierra...none of them worked.)

    oof, the 2012-2013 seasons were rough. what a terrible rotation! I like to think now we would have given Liam Hendriks a shot in the bullpen before giving up on him. but just a rotation bereft of talent. veteran retreads, no young guys stepping up...just a miserable experience. I'm amazed Glen Perkins had 36 games he could save!

    It'll be interesting to see where this year's crew ranks. they're very deep, which is not something you can really associate with many of these rotations over the last 25 years. There were definitely groups with higher top-end (Johan Santana at the peak of his powers was the best pitcher in baseball) but even with 2004 Lohse wasn't all that good as the 4th guy. (kind of amazing how healthy that rotation was, though! 4 guys started 135 games between them! they only used 8 guys total, only 6 of them threw more than 2 starts! Too bad that team couldn't hit; Mauer was hurt, Morneau wasn't ready, Gardy refused to platoon Jacque Jones, Kubel's knee exploded...)

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    1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

    It makes me appreciate the rotation in the mid 1960s Grant/Kaat/Perry/Pacual

    Agreed, although Camilo Pascual was fading hard by the time those guys got really good.  Throw Dave Boswell in there in the latter part of the decade as well. It would be amazing to have several guys well over 200 innings like that.  It probably made the bullpen a lot better as well.

    Comparing pitching across eras is pretty difficult though, plus in 1965 (especially) they really did have a murderer’s row of hitters — something like 7 or 8 well above average hitters even though Harmon Killebrew had an off year by his standards.

    I think an interesting study, although I’m not sure how to do it, would be to compare the really good Orioles rotations of the late 1960’s/early 1970’s with the Braves rotations that had Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddox.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Twins have ever had a rotation that compared to those.

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    I am going with the 23 Twins, doesn't have to be? I can't imagine any staff in the last X amount of years being so good that Ober wouldn't be in the rotation or that super stud SWR wouldn't have been in the top 6 or 7 starters.

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    That stretch of 2004-2006 was a display of great pitching. You had the superstar in Santana, the veteran in Radke, and it seemed like a constant stream of guys waiting to dominate major league hitters. It is too bad the offense wasn't there for two of those three years.

    I have always wondered how 2006 would have turned out if Liriano and Radke stayed healthy. This always seemed to me like the year that they could have gone all the way. Imagine starting a five-game series with Liriano, Santana, and Radke with the offense they had that season (though not elite, it was at least good).

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