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  1. Now just a week from Opening Day most Major League Baseball clubs have their 40 man rosters set and are working through their final cuts before kicking off the regular season. Although we don’t have Opening Day on its original scheduled time, a full 162-game season following the lockout is as good as it gets. The Atlanta Braves are looking to repeat as World Series Champions, but they will be doing so with some new faces after letting franchise favorite Freddie Freeman walk. The American League will certainly be out to recapture the trophy, and there’s a ton of new talent being thrust into the highest level. You can look back at my 2021 picks here. A dark horse MVP candidate wound up taking the crown, and it was good to see Bryce Harper pick up his second iteration of that award. Here’s what I have for 2022. MVP: American League – Luis Robert (Dark Horse Byron Buxton) National League – Juan Soto (Dark Horse Manny Machado) Maybe Robert is a post-hype type player, but he’s far too much of an afterthought with just two seasons in the big leagues. Robert played just 68 games last year for the White Sox, but the 24-year-old posted a .946 OPS. He has the complete package of speed, power, and athleticism to make an impact all over the diamond. The strikeout rates are still ugly, but he makes enough hard hit contact to generate a strong average. Chicago should again be good, and that puts him in a good spot. Byron Buxton is going to be healthy this year if I have to manifest it into existence. Should that happen, he’ll find himself squarely in the conversation. He began 2021 on a ridiculous pace and was only overshadowed by Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Betting on himself in his new extension, that paying off early would be nice to see. On the National League side it really feels like the MVP is Juan Soto’s to lose. He’s an otherworldly talent that hits for average and power while having a great eye. I don’t think the Nationals are going to be very good this season, but if Nelson Cruz has any positive impact on the youngster allowing him to take his game up a notch, that’s pretty scary. It’d also be somewhat of a nice development to see Manny Machado step up in a big way for the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. out to start the season. He’s been close to an MVP award previously, and maybe this winds up being the year. Cy Young: American League – Shohei Ohtani (Dark Horse Luis Severino) National League – Max Scherzer (Dark Horse Logan Webb) If there’s a way to follow up an MVP award after putting up the best individual season baseball has ever seen, Shohei Ohtani could grab a Cy Young as an encore. The greatest thing working against him will always be the amount of starts he makes. That said, another year of learning the league, I think this could be his true breakout on the mound. Another step forward and he’ll be in the conversation with Gerrit Cole as the best pitcher in the American League. Speaking of Cole, his teammate Luis Severino looked to have elite stuff prior to dealing with injuries since 2019. If he’s at all healthy, I wouldn’t be shocked to see that play again. Max Scherzer jumps teams within the division, but now he’s in a place that’s willing to spend big. Paired with Jacob deGrom, the Mets have the best one-two punch in baseball. New York should be a very good team, and those two arms are going to do the heavy lifting. It’s been a few years since Scherzer won a Cy Young, and maybe he tired a bit in the postseason last year, but I think he shows well for his new club. San Francisco Giants star Logan Webb is an intriguing choice here. He’s not far down the list of odds, but may be somewhat of an afterthought. The Giants probably won’t be as good this season, but Webb could take another step forward as he cements himself as a legitimate ace. His FIP was sub 3.00 last season and the strikeout numbers are there. It wouldn’t shock me if he puts up a head-turning performance. Rookie of the Year: American League – Bobby Witt Jr. (Dark Horse Julio Rodriguez) National League – Hunter Greene (Dark Horse Max Meyer) It’s hard to go against the Royals superstar prospect Bobby Witt Jr. He’s going to make the Opening Day roster and looks like someone that should be an impact player from day one. Kansas City won’t be good, but they shouldn’t be terrible either. The highlight reel play on both sides of the ball are impressive, and he should be fun to watch from within the division. Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez may also be in the conversation, but that will largely depend on how much runway he’s given this season. Once considered among the best draft prospects ever, Hunter Greene’s debut should finally come in 2022. The Reds rotation has arms that need to still be moved, but Greene should see plenty of action for a team that’s clearly not trying. His stuff is going to play, and the triple-digit fastball is going to be fun to watch. If the Marlins promote Max Meyer with any amount of longevity destined for this season, he too could be in the running. Postseason: American League – Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Red Sox, Rays, Twins National League – Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies ALCS – Blue Jays over Rays NLCS – Phillies over Braves World Series – Phillies over Blue Jays Toronto had a stellar offseason adding Kevin Gausman and Matt Chapman. Already having a strong rotation and top talents like Jose Berrios and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., it’s hard not to see them as the juggernaut in a competitive American League East. They picked up depth talents as well, and we’re already trending towards being among the best teams in baseball. I’d be far from surprised if they finish with the best record in the American League. On the other side, I think the Phillies give themselves a nice chance to play spoiler as somewhat of an underdog. The Braves and Mets are seen as the best in the division, but Philadelphia shouldn’t be far behind. Castellanos and Schwarber are two big bats, and the addition of the designated hitter hides the latter from playing the field. Bryce Harper is still the reigning MVP winner, and adding what they did to a formerly bad bullpen should help a lot. We’re so close to regular season action in a season that should bring the return of normalcy. It’s time to settle in for the fun. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  2. After unloading Jose Berrios at the trade deadline, watching Kenta Maeda go under the knife, and seeing Michael Pineda hit free agency, the Twins starting rotation is bare. Who is the top choice to bolster it? As of right now you’d have to bank on either Bailey Ober or Joe Ryan being the Opening Day starter in 2022 for Rocco Baldelli. Both showed well in their rookie seasons, but if that’s the top of the rotation, there’s cause for concern in the year ahead. Minnesota failed tremendously on the mound, and depth was exposed quickly as both J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker flopped. For the Twins to make a turnaround in the year ahead, the focus must be on a resurgence from the bump. Similarly to the 2021 season, the hope is that Minnesota will see graduations from the farm. Top arms like Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, and Matt Canterino all posted mixed results with injuries sprinkled in. Another year back from the cancelled 2020 season, and the hope would be that a clean bill of health is parlayed into peak effectiveness. Before banking on the youth though, the Twins need to give Wes Johnson some workable ammunition for a group that is essentially bare. The free agent crop this offseason is a who’s who of big names, and while not all may make it to the open market, there should be one or two that fit to Minnesota’s liking. Here’s how I’d categorize the options: The Injured - Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander There’s a known commodity and a more unknown question here. Kershaw represents the unknown as he’s dealing with an elbow injury that cost him multiple months this season. He is avoiding surgery for the time being but could be ticketed for a much longer time on the shelf if he goes under the knife. The career-Dodger will be 34 next season but has a ton of miles on his arm. Production has never been the issue and if he can avoid back and elbow concerns for the next year or so, there’s reason to like him on a short term deal. On the flip side you’ve got a guy in Verlander who will be returning from Tommy John surgery having last pitched in 2020. He’ll be 39 next season and has thrown just six innings since 2019. There’s hardly been a time in which you’ve questioned his ability though, and a clean elbow could have him looking like an appetizing option on a one-year deal. The Astros will likely give him a qualifying offer should that still exist, but Verlander definitely has familiarity with the AL Central. The Aging - Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke Having just turned 37, that’s about the only reason to define Scherzer as aging. He’s still every bit the dominant pitcher he has been over the course of his career, and he’s attempting to carry a Dodgers staff through the Postseason. Of the options available, I think he’s probably the most likely to be retained by the current team, and while I wouldn’t expect Los Angeles to give him a long extension, they certainly have the money to persuade him to stay. With the Astros having rotational issues this Postseason it’s clear they have work to do in that department. I’m not sure they hang onto a guy in Greinke that has hit somewhat of a decline. His 4.16 ERA was the highest mark since 2016 and he’s clearly struggled down the stretch. If another team believes they can work through the current ineffectiveness, this is probably the best bet for a good starter on a one-year deal. He seems like a fit for Minnesota but comes with plenty of uncertainties. The Youth - Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman If you want to secure a long-term pact with a rotation anchor this is where you’re turning. Starting with Stroman, you’ve got a guy in the midst of his prime and coming off a very strong season. Not a big strikeout guy, Stroman needs to be backed by a good infield as he’s a ground ball maestro. Someone that appears to be a very good leader and clubhouse presence, this is a personality that could mesh well with the Twins plans for quite some time. The breakout finally happened for Gausman, and it came in a big way. With the Giants being baseball’s best team, the 30-year-old posted a career best 2.81 ERA. He racks up strikeouts, limits walks, and looks every bit the ace you’d hope for. 2020 is where things seemed to click for the former Orioles pitcher, so you’ll need to make sure there’s a belief in the results going forward, but nothing he’s put up recently is anything an organization would want to avoid. A positive this winter is that pitching options are plentiful. Those above just barely scratch the surface considering names like Syndergaard, Bundy, and even Pineda are all available. The Twins need to find a path forward, and for a transitional time it might make sense to focus on short term deals. There should be any number of options that are within their wheelhouse, and while the big names are there as always, this might be an opportunity to land the right fit without breaking the bank. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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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