Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost in rotation

Brian Duensing's strikeout rate is
up this year. So are his walks allowed,
home runs allowed, batting average
allowed and his ERA.
My print column today contrasted the top heavy rotation of the 1991 Twins to the deep rotations of the Gardenhire era. One of the many things that went sour on the 2011 Twins is that rotation depth.

Forty-eight American League pitchers qualify as of this morning for the ERA title. Four of them —Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing and Carl Pavano — are Twins. (Francisco Liriano has just 111 innings pitched, 13 too few to meet the standard of one inning per team game.)

Baker's ERA is 10th in the AL; he's not the issue here. Duensing (4.56) is 42nd; Blackburn (4.58) is 43rd; Pavano (4.71) is 44th.

It isn't that the Twins have one above average pitcher and four average guys in the rotation. They have one above average starter and four bottom-dwellers. (Liriano's ERA is 5.03; even if you credited him with 13 extra shutout innings, his ERA would still be 4.50,which would be no better than 37th in the league.)

Sunday's starter, Duensing, is getting hammered by right-handed hitters this season but has been deadly against lefties. There are those who believe that such splits indicate that he'd be better used as a relief pitcher.

That's possible. But I still see him as what Bill James calls a "Tommy John" type of starter — a relatively low-strikeout lefty who gets ground balls, avoids walks and keeps the ball in the park.

Two non-defining characteristics of such pitchers, and James describes them:

  • They tend to emerge at a later age;
  • They are very team-dependent. 

The 2011 Twins are not good enough defensively to help such a pitcher.


The "tragic number" — the number of Detroit wins and Minnesota losses that will eliminate the Twins — is 39. I'll start counting it down daily when it reaches 25 or so.

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