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  1. Although the Minnesota Twins had a lackluster showing in 2021 it doesn’t stop the from nearing a completion. As competing teams look towards the postseason, it’s first time to take a look at the individual standouts. Each year I have the privilege of voting through the IBWAA and sharing the selections creates transparency. This season we saw a return to normalcy following an abbreviated run during a global pandemic a year ago. The treat was a two-way player doing unprecedented things within the sport, and some utterly dominant stars. When handing out the hardware, here’s who I went with: American League MVP - Shohei Ohtani (Runner Up: Vladimir Guerrero Jr) In what otherwise would be considered an unmatchable season, the Blue Jays slugger gets trumped by the Angels star that brings something to the sport we will likely never see again. Shohei Ohtani has paced the sport in longballs while being in the middle of a Cy Young conversation. Add his blistering speed to the equation and you’ve got some sort of a robot. National League MVP - Bryce Harper (Runner Up: Fernando Tatis Jr.) Maybe the quietest of the star performances this season, Bryce Harper has been a catalyst for the Phillies. His 1.032 OPS leads the league and his 32 longballs have a chance to threaten his previous MVP season with a strong finish. Tatis Jr. looked like he may run away with this award in the early going, but Harper has been steady and gets the nod here. American League Cy Young - Gerrit Cole (Runner Up: Robbie Ray) The Yankees ace has had little trouble without the use of sticky substances and being good before seems to have continued with the new set of rules. He’s still dominant, striking everyone out, and keeping runs against to a minimum. Blue Jays free agent acquisition Robbie Ray has made plenty of noise and is a worthy choice, but it’s just not quite enough to unseat the man in pinstripes. National League Cy Young - Max Scherzer (Runner Up: Corbin Burnes) Being as dominant as Mad Max has been on two different teams this year is a feat in and of itself. Despite being dealt, the former Nationals ace has relocated and picked up right where he left off. Recently joining the 3,000 strikeout club, Scherzer has earned every bit of his fourth Cy Young. Burnes has been exceptional for the Brewers, and would be a fine choice as well, but I had to side with Scherzer on the coin flip. American League Rookie of the Year - Randy Arozarena (Runner Up: Adolis Garcia) After starring in the postseason last year for Tampa Bar, Arozarena continued to be an incredible asset on the American League’s best team. He’s got the ability to contribute in so many different categories and has been consistent in a lineup needing him to produce. Texas saw plenty of power production from Adolis Garcia, and he’ll be fun to watch as his game develops more in years to come. National League Rookie of the Year - Jonathan India (Runner Up: Patrick Wisdom) A former 5th overall pick, India debut and hasn’t disappointed. With nearly an .850 OPS his power has been on full display. He’s already got 20 longballs and has a shot to finish with 10 steals. At second base the production is a massive boost for Cincinnati, and he’s rounded into a cornerstone type player. The Cubs Wisdom has been a great story, and the home run production has been off the charts. He too has been very fun to watch. American League Manager of the Year - Kevin Cash (Runner Up: Dusty Baker) What more can you say about a man that continues to do more with less? Cash has been given teams requiring managerial talent and positioning. Players needing to develop and be utilized in the correct situations, the man voted as “best looking” continues to push all of the right buttons. What the Astros have returned to is impressive, but they’re still looking up at the Rays. National League Manager of the Year -Gabe Kapler (Runner Up: Dave Roberts) Cast off from the Phillies and coming off a near-.500 mark in his first season with the Giants, Kapler took a team with no considerable shot for the postseason and turned them into arguably the National League’s best team. Having added veteran talents at the deadline, he’s continued to massage egos, time, and talents in an effort for the winning to continue. Part of the new wave, he’s fended off the Dodgers and their loaded roster under Dave Roberts. American League Reliever of the Year - Liam Hendriks (Runner Up: Ryan Pressly) Signed to a big deal over the winter, Liam Hendriks has delivered for the only competitive team in the AL Central. Working as Tony La Russa’s closer, he’s been used traditionally and has held down the role even past the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel. Hendriks has been elite for some time now, but his 34 saves lead the league, and his 14.0 K/9 is a new career high. The Astros Ryan Pressly has pushed himself up into a similar realm. National League Reliever of the Year - Josh Hader (Runner Up: Kenley Jansen) Milwaukee has pitched their way to dominance this season and it’s been in both the rotation and bullpen. Hader has been as good as ever, and Devin Williams was in consideration here as well. The lanky fireballer has racked up 31 saves and complied a whopping 15.3 K/9. Los Angeles has gotten consistent run from Jansen, but it hasn’t quite been a career year. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  2. Twins Daily Roundtable is a new weekly series. As part of this series, a question will be posed to the site’s writers and they will respond in 200 words or less (Some writers don’t like to stick to this limit). This will give readers an opportunity to see multiple points of view and then add their own point of view in the comments section. Baseball has certainly changed over the years. Gone are the days of starting pitchers throwing 220+ innings on a regular basis. In fact during the 2017 season, only 15 MLB pitchers tossed 200 inning or more. Go back 20 years and there were 40 pitchers during the 1997 season to throw 200 innings or more. Young pitchers like Fernando Romero are another story. No one is expecting Romero to throw 200 innings (at least not yet). In his first big league season, there are questions about how much use the Twins will be able to get out of their rising star. This week’s roundtable discussion question is: “Should Fernando Romero be on an innings limit, and if so, what should it be? If not, why not?”Seth Stohs In my opinion, along with Jose Berrios, Fernando Romero should be a cornerstone of the Minnesota starting rotation for years to come. So while the concept of limiting innings can be disputed (and has been), my biggest concern is doing what is best for Romero and his future. Therefore, I would be in support of an innings limit for the hard-throwing right-hander. In 2016, his first season back from Tommy John, he threw 90 1/3 innings between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. You can likely add another 20 to 25 innings that he threw in extended spring training before joining the Kernels in mid-May. He spent the 2017 season in Double-A Chattanooga where he threw 125 innings. Late in the season, he was limited to five innings per start. He came up with a 'dead arm' and was skipped in the final start of the season. If you subscribe to the theory that a 20% increase in workload is where he should be limited, that would be 150 innings. Romero is currently at 62 1/3 innings combined between the Red Wings and Twins. So, maybe a creative DL stint around the All-Star break might be wise. Maybe limiting him to five innings late in the season or piggybacking him with another starter might make sense. Nick Nelson Romero's long-term health should be the team's primary concern, so at some point a limit almost has to come into play. I think somewhere in the 150-175 range would be reasonable after he logged 125 in 2017. One strategy that deserves consideration is giving Romero some time off in the middle of the summer (or maybe a few weeks in the bullpen), thus enabling him to go deeper into the season. But that really only becomes a factor if the team gets on a run pretty quickly here and offers signs that September games will actually matter. John Bonnes Yes, he should be. He should not go over 155 innings and shouldn’t make a start once he gets to 150 innings. Romero is at 62 innings so far this year (21 in AAA, 41 in MLB) which leaves him a maximum of 93 innings. Throughout his career, he’s averaged about 5.1 IP per start, so that gets him about 17 starts. That means he would be shut down mid September. The tougher question is, short of just shelving him late in the season, can the Twins figure out a way to have him available in case those September (or October?) games mean something? Maybe someone else on the roundtable will have a better idea, but to me the answer is “No.” Screwing around with his work, whether that means skipping starts, moving him to the bullpen, or demoting him to AAA for shorter starts, seems risky considering the long-term upside he represents. Plus, given the Twin are on the outskirts of the division race right now, one could argue these games are far more likely to be valuable than those in September. So stay the course with Romero. It’s certainly paid off so far. Tom Froemming Yes, I do think the Twins should be concerned about Romero's workload, but I don't think he needs an overly restrictive innings limit. I don't think I'd want him throwing more than 180 innings, which is a lot these days anyway. Romero logged 125 innings last season, but really sputtered to the finish line. I think it'd be a good idea to skip either Romero's last start heading into the All-Star break or first start after the break. I also think the team should use extreme caution if even the smallest issue should come up. With a DL stint being only 10 days now, you can slide him on there and basically use that to skip a start. I'm sure they'll find ways to get creative if they feel he needs some extra rest. Other than that, let him roll. Maybe he gets hurt, maybe he doesn't, but as long as they're not asking him to throw 120+ pitches or ignoring signs of fatigue, such as a drop in velocity, I think they're doing what's best for him. Cody Christie When considering this question, my first thought was to compare Romero to Berrios because those have been the two “big name” pitching prospects to debut over the last couple of years. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this might be a fool’s errand. These are two different pitchers with two different body types and two different injury histories. Both players are listed at 6-feet tall but Romero has at least 30 pounds more on his frame. Romero has also undergone Tommy John surgery and that plays into the equation as well. Romero’s innings will most certainly be limited at some point this season. However, the new front office has been utilizing tracking data to analyze pitchers for fatigue. I think it will become clear in the second half as to what the front office plans to do. Minnesota isn’t out of the race but Cleveland could pull away. Minnesota needs to be smart with Romero because he can’t be on pace for over 250 innings like Max Scherzer. Jeremy Nygaard It's always important for an organization to be cognizant of a pitcher's workload. So, simply put, the answer is wrong if you think he shouldn't be on some sort of limit. But does it have to revolve around innings? Romero threw 90.1 innings in 2016. He increased that total to 125 in 2017. That might be a little misleading, though, because in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Romero started the 2016 season with seven weeks in extended spring training. Upon closer look, he threw 1245 pitches in those 90.1 innings in 2016 and threw 1991 pitches in those 125 innings in 2017. His innings increased 38%, but his pitches increased almost 60%. So despite not knowing what his actual workloads were, the Twins let Romero throw a significantly higher number of pitches in 2017. If you wanted him to make 32 starts and not increase the number of pitches he'd throw, he'd still be able to throw over 60 pitches a game. Let's look at how that relates to another young pitcher in the organization, Jose Berrios. Berrios went from 140 inning in 2014 to 166.1 innings to 169.2 innings to 185.1 innings in 2017. Pitch-wise he went from 1450 to 2509 to 2735 to 2942. For both players, as they've increased in level (and facing better hitters), their pitches per inning has increased, but seem to stabilize just shy of 16 pitches per inning. Looking at the jump Berrios took in pitches (not innings) from 2015 to 2017, it was an increase of 1285 pitches. I used the increase of two years because it was basically when he went from being limited to being full-go. If you use that same jump for Romero and divide that number of pitches (1245+1285) by the average pitches per inning (15.74), that puts Romero at about 161 innings before you'd start to get cautious. Of course, that doesn't count the aforementioned work he did in extended spring training. I'd approximate that they could add another 10-15 innings before he hits a hard limit of around 175 innings. At this point in time - around a third of the season - Romero has thrown only 57.1 innings, which has him on a pace to get around 170 innings without skipping any starts. But his pitch total (994) is over 100 pitches over the normal usage pace. In a season where Romero's health is likely to be more important that a few games in September, I'd err on the side of caution if his pitch total continues to trend higher. Maybe we throw innings out completely and don't let him start any more games after he's thrown his 2500th pitch of the year. That's simple enough, right? Ted Schwerzler With regard to Romero and limiting innings this season, I think a good deal of what the Twins should do will be dictated to them by how the rest of the summer plays out. Right now they're a talented team that's severely underperforming. While Cleveland hasn't run away and hid, they are capable of doing that at any point. Should things stay close, the Twins will need to get creative and could skip a few turns for Romero to stretch him out further. If they fall out of it however, I'd have no problem with shutting him down for September. He threw 125 innings a season ago, and 20% seems to be a healthy increase for this year. If he can get up around 150 innings and is still feeling good, then maybe it becomes more of a touch and feel type of thing. At this point, I don't think much of a rigid plan should be put in place. SD Buhr Easy. You add 30 to Fernando Romero’s 125 innings pitched in 2017 and you put a limit of 155 innings this year. That keeps you in compliance with “the Verducci Effect,” which argues that pitchers 25 and under face increased risk of elbow breakdown a year after they increase their workload by 30 or more innings above the previous year. So, if we don’t want Romero breaking down in 2019, we don’t let him pitch more than 155 innings in 2018. The math is easy. But PLEASE tell me that the past 20 years have brought more science to the issue than can be applied using Tom Verducci’s second grade math. Last I knew, most teams were using biomechanics compression sleeves to measure pitching arm fatigue on an individual basis. Maybe there’s something newer. Certainly, there is some way to evaluate when a pitcher is entering risky territory that applies a more scientific approach than adding 125 and 30. So, my answer is, yes, I would limit Romero’s workload this year. But without knowing what the Twins are using to measure his specific level of arm/elbow fatigue, I have no way of knowing where to place that limit. Andrew Thares Yes, I believe Fernando Romero should be on an innings (well, workload) limit as he has never pitched more than the 125 innings he did last season. The main thing the Twins need out of Romero is his long-term health after this season. However, I don’t think the Twins should take the same approach that the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg a few years back where they rode him all season then shut him down once he hit 160 IP even though they were in the playoff race. However, as things stand, the Twins might not have to do a lot to limit Romero’s innings. He has only thrown 62 1/3 innings so far this year between AAA and MLB. Say the Twins choose to keep him around 160 total innings, this gives Romero roughly 100 innings to work with. So far Romero is averaging just over 5 innings per start. If he keeps that pace it will give him another 17-20 starts with which to work with 100 games left in the season. So in reality, all the Twins might have to do is skip a couple of starts here or there for the rest of the season and he should keep his innings low enough for a potential Twins postseason run. Steve Lein While I was happily wrong in my preseason forecast on how Fernando Romero might be used when predicting players to make their MLB debut this season, the concerns brought up about how many innings he might be able to pitch are still valid. Whether you believe innings limits are a thing or not, Romero just hasn’t pitched much as a professional. His 365 and change career innings pales in comparison to someone like Jose Berrios, who pitched nearly 600 innings in the minors alone, along with a career high of 185. Romero got up to 125 before he was shut down last season. Add in that Berrios is only half of a year older than Romero, and all signs point to Romero being cut off at some point in 2018. I do think he should be on an innings limit due to those reasons and his health history, but where that number should fall I’ll only take a stab at: I’ll predict that if Romero remains healthy and productive going forward, as soon as he hits around that 125 number from last year, he’s going to get shifted into the bullpen and remain there the rest of the season. Let’s call it a compromise on that preseason prediction. If you missed any of the previous roundtable discussions, here are the links: Romero’s Rotation Spot Top Prospect Timelines Minnesota’s All-Star Selection Extension Candidates Click here to view the article
  3. Seth Stohs In my opinion, along with Jose Berrios, Fernando Romero should be a cornerstone of the Minnesota starting rotation for years to come. So while the concept of limiting innings can be disputed (and has been), my biggest concern is doing what is best for Romero and his future. Therefore, I would be in support of an innings limit for the hard-throwing right-hander. In 2016, his first season back from Tommy John, he threw 90 1/3 innings between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers. You can likely add another 20 to 25 innings that he threw in extended spring training before joining the Kernels in mid-May. He spent the 2017 season in Double-A Chattanooga where he threw 125 innings. Late in the season, he was limited to five innings per start. He came up with a 'dead arm' and was skipped in the final start of the season. If you subscribe to the theory that a 20% increase in workload is where he should be limited, that would be 150 innings. Romero is currently at 62 1/3 innings combined between the Red Wings and Twins. So, maybe a creative DL stint around the All-Star break might be wise. Maybe limiting him to five innings late in the season or piggybacking him with another starter might make sense. Nick Nelson Romero's long-term health should be the team's primary concern, so at some point a limit almost has to come into play. I think somewhere in the 150-175 range would be reasonable after he logged 125 in 2017. One strategy that deserves consideration is giving Romero some time off in the middle of the summer (or maybe a few weeks in the bullpen), thus enabling him to go deeper into the season. But that really only becomes a factor if the team gets on a run pretty quickly here and offers signs that September games will actually matter. John Bonnes Yes, he should be. He should not go over 155 innings and shouldn’t make a start once he gets to 150 innings. Romero is at 62 innings so far this year (21 in AAA, 41 in MLB) which leaves him a maximum of 93 innings. Throughout his career, he’s averaged about 5.1 IP per start, so that gets him about 17 starts. That means he would be shut down mid September. The tougher question is, short of just shelving him late in the season, can the Twins figure out a way to have him available in case those September (or October?) games mean something? Maybe someone else on the roundtable will have a better idea, but to me the answer is “No.” Screwing around with his work, whether that means skipping starts, moving him to the bullpen, or demoting him to AAA for shorter starts, seems risky considering the long-term upside he represents. Plus, given the Twin are on the outskirts of the division race right now, one could argue these games are far more likely to be valuable than those in September. So stay the course with Romero. It’s certainly paid off so far. Tom Froemming Yes, I do think the Twins should be concerned about Romero's workload, but I don't think he needs an overly restrictive innings limit. I don't think I'd want him throwing more than 180 innings, which is a lot these days anyway. Romero logged 125 innings last season, but really sputtered to the finish line. I think it'd be a good idea to skip either Romero's last start heading into the All-Star break or first start after the break. I also think the team should use extreme caution if even the smallest issue should come up. With a DL stint being only 10 days now, you can slide him on there and basically use that to skip a start. I'm sure they'll find ways to get creative if they feel he needs some extra rest. Other than that, let him roll. Maybe he gets hurt, maybe he doesn't, but as long as they're not asking him to throw 120+ pitches or ignoring signs of fatigue, such as a drop in velocity, I think they're doing what's best for him. Cody Christie When considering this question, my first thought was to compare Romero to Berrios because those have been the two “big name” pitching prospects to debut over the last couple of years. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this might be a fool’s errand. These are two different pitchers with two different body types and two different injury histories. Both players are listed at 6-feet tall but Romero has at least 30 pounds more on his frame. Romero has also undergone Tommy John surgery and that plays into the equation as well. Romero’s innings will most certainly be limited at some point this season. However, the new front office has been utilizing tracking data to analyze pitchers for fatigue. I think it will become clear in the second half as to what the front office plans to do. Minnesota isn’t out of the race but Cleveland could pull away. Minnesota needs to be smart with Romero because he can’t be on pace for over 250 innings like Max Scherzer. Jeremy Nygaard It's always important for an organization to be cognizant of a pitcher's workload. So, simply put, the answer is wrong if you think he shouldn't be on some sort of limit. But does it have to revolve around innings? Romero threw 90.1 innings in 2016. He increased that total to 125 in 2017. That might be a little misleading, though, because in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Romero started the 2016 season with seven weeks in extended spring training. Upon closer look, he threw 1245 pitches in those 90.1 innings in 2016 and threw 1991 pitches in those 125 innings in 2017. His innings increased 38%, but his pitches increased almost 60%. So despite not knowing what his actual workloads were, the Twins let Romero throw a significantly higher number of pitches in 2017. If you wanted him to make 32 starts and not increase the number of pitches he'd throw, he'd still be able to throw over 60 pitches a game. Let's look at how that relates to another young pitcher in the organization, Jose Berrios. Berrios went from 140 inning in 2014 to 166.1 innings to 169.2 innings to 185.1 innings in 2017. Pitch-wise he went from 1450 to 2509 to 2735 to 2942. For both players, as they've increased in level (and facing better hitters), their pitches per inning has increased, but seem to stabilize just shy of 16 pitches per inning. Looking at the jump Berrios took in pitches (not innings) from 2015 to 2017, it was an increase of 1285 pitches. I used the increase of two years because it was basically when he went from being limited to being full-go. If you use that same jump for Romero and divide that number of pitches (1245+1285) by the average pitches per inning (15.74), that puts Romero at about 161 innings before you'd start to get cautious. Of course, that doesn't count the aforementioned work he did in extended spring training. I'd approximate that they could add another 10-15 innings before he hits a hard limit of around 175 innings. At this point in time - around a third of the season - Romero has thrown only 57.1 innings, which has him on a pace to get around 170 innings without skipping any starts. But his pitch total (994) is over 100 pitches over the normal usage pace. In a season where Romero's health is likely to be more important that a few games in September, I'd err on the side of caution if his pitch total continues to trend higher. Maybe we throw innings out completely and don't let him start any more games after he's thrown his 2500th pitch of the year. That's simple enough, right? Ted Schwerzler With regard to Romero and limiting innings this season, I think a good deal of what the Twins should do will be dictated to them by how the rest of the summer plays out. Right now they're a talented team that's severely underperforming. While Cleveland hasn't run away and hid, they are capable of doing that at any point. Should things stay close, the Twins will need to get creative and could skip a few turns for Romero to stretch him out further. If they fall out of it however, I'd have no problem with shutting him down for September. He threw 125 innings a season ago, and 20% seems to be a healthy increase for this year. If he can get up around 150 innings and is still feeling good, then maybe it becomes more of a touch and feel type of thing. At this point, I don't think much of a rigid plan should be put in place. SD Buhr Easy. You add 30 to Fernando Romero’s 125 innings pitched in 2017 and you put a limit of 155 innings this year. That keeps you in compliance with “the Verducci Effect,” which argues that pitchers 25 and under face increased risk of elbow breakdown a year after they increase their workload by 30 or more innings above the previous year. So, if we don’t want Romero breaking down in 2019, we don’t let him pitch more than 155 innings in 2018. The math is easy. But PLEASE tell me that the past 20 years have brought more science to the issue than can be applied using Tom Verducci’s second grade math. Last I knew, most teams were using biomechanics compression sleeves to measure pitching arm fatigue on an individual basis. Maybe there’s something newer. Certainly, there is some way to evaluate when a pitcher is entering risky territory that applies a more scientific approach than adding 125 and 30. So, my answer is, yes, I would limit Romero’s workload this year. But without knowing what the Twins are using to measure his specific level of arm/elbow fatigue, I have no way of knowing where to place that limit. Andrew Thares Yes, I believe Fernando Romero should be on an innings (well, workload) limit as he has never pitched more than the 125 innings he did last season. The main thing the Twins need out of Romero is his long-term health after this season. However, I don’t think the Twins should take the same approach that the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg a few years back where they rode him all season then shut him down once he hit 160 IP even though they were in the playoff race. However, as things stand, the Twins might not have to do a lot to limit Romero’s innings. He has only thrown 62 1/3 innings so far this year between AAA and MLB. Say the Twins choose to keep him around 160 total innings, this gives Romero roughly 100 innings to work with. So far Romero is averaging just over 5 innings per start. If he keeps that pace it will give him another 17-20 starts with which to work with 100 games left in the season. So in reality, all the Twins might have to do is skip a couple of starts here or there for the rest of the season and he should keep his innings low enough for a potential Twins postseason run. Steve Lein While I was happily wrong in my preseason forecast on how Fernando Romero might be used when predicting players to make their MLB debut this season, the concerns brought up about how many innings he might be able to pitch are still valid. Whether you believe innings limits are a thing or not, Romero just hasn’t pitched much as a professional. His 365 and change career innings pales in comparison to someone like Jose Berrios, who pitched nearly 600 innings in the minors alone, along with a career high of 185. Romero got up to 125 before he was shut down last season. Add in that Berrios is only half of a year older than Romero, and all signs point to Romero being cut off at some point in 2018. I do think he should be on an innings limit due to those reasons and his health history, but where that number should fall I’ll only take a stab at: I’ll predict that if Romero remains healthy and productive going forward, as soon as he hits around that 125 number from last year, he’s going to get shifted into the bullpen and remain there the rest of the season. Let’s call it a compromise on that preseason prediction. If you missed any of the previous roundtable discussions, here are the links: Romero’s Rotation Spot Top Prospect Timelines Minnesota’s All-Star Selection Extension Candidates
  4. So, what is the reason for Ervin Santana’s success over the last couple of seasons? Well, it is quite simply his slider, or more specifically, the usage of his slider. Throughout his career, Ervin Santana’s slider has always been considered his best pitch. However, since his slider isn’t a big wipe-out pitch, like that of a Max Scherzer or Chris Sale, it has never been considered to be one of the best in the game. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Value metrics, in 2017, Ervin Santana’s slider measured out at 1.83 runs above average per 100 sliders thrown. This was the sixth best number by a qualified starting pitcher last season. Max Scherzer led the way at 3.33 runs above average, more than a full run over the nearest pitcher. The Pitch Value metrics weren’t the only measuring system that liked Ervin Santana’s slider. Again, among qualified starting pitchers in 2017, Santana allowed the fifth lowest wOBA on his slider at a mere .211 (MLB average wOBA in 2017 was .321). Again, Scherzer was way ahead of the pack, posting a .138 wOBA allowed on his slider. If you prefer to look at more traditional statistics, Santana allowed a .162 batting average against on his slider last season, which ranked sixth in major league baseball, and of the 31 home runs Ervin Santana allowed last season, just eight of them were off of his slider. As you can see, the numbers clearly back up the fact that Ervin Santana had one of the best sliders in MLB in 2017, and if you go back beyond that you will see that this has been the case for nearly all of his career. So, what has made the last couple of seasons different, better, than the majority of the first 11 seasons of his career? Quite simply, it has been the vamped-up usage rate of his slider. In 2015, Santana’s first season with the Twins, he threw his slider on 33.7 percent of pitches on his way to a 4.00 ERA. In 2016 and 2017, however, he increased his slider usage rate up to 36.8 percent and 36.5 percent, respectively. This increase, factored in over the course of a full season, adds approximately 100 extra sliders that Santana is throwing instead of either his fastball or change-up, which are much worse pitches for Santana. While back-to-back seasons of increased slider outputs coinciding with improved pitching by Santana is noticeable, it is hard to say that this is an established trend. So, I decided to look back at Santana’s numbers through the course of his career to see if this pattern has always been the case, or if maybe it was just a coincidence. In the chart listed below, each of Ervin Santana’s 13 career MLB seasons are ranked by slider usage rate and matched up with his ERA in that season to see which years had the lowest ERA comparatively. Along with that is a linear model that illustrates the correlation between Ervin Santana’s slider usage rate and his ERA. When looking at the linear model, we can see that there is indeed a negative correlation between Ervin Santana’s slider usage rate and his ERA. This means that as his slider usage rate goes up, his ERA goes down. As is almost always the case with data, it would be nice to have more data points to reference in order to gain an even clearer picture of the effect Santana’s slider has on his ERA, but 13 seasons of this being the case is still pretty strong evidence. In the chart, we can break down some of the numbers even further. In each of the five seasons where Santana used his slider the most, he had one of his six lowest ERAs of his career, including each of the top four. We can also see that the three seasons where Santana had the lowest slider usage rate were also the first three seasons of his career. This is a result of Santana ditching his curveball that he threw early in his career to start focusing more on his slider. Now, to say that Ervin Santana’s slider usage rate is the end all and be all for his success would be foolish. There are many factors at play when it comes to the success that he will have in a given season, but for Santana, it appears that his slider usage rate is one of the more important individual factors when it comes to determining his success. So, what can the Twins take away from this? Obviously, Santana can’t begin to just throw his slider on every pitch, as opposing hitters will adjust, and make his slider less effective. There is also a point where if Santana throws too many sliders, it will wear on his arm. I think the best approach would be to try and increase his slider usage by a couple percentage points to start the season and see what kind of effect this has on his performance.
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