Friday, April 6, 2012

Liam Hendriks and the 30-start rule

Scott Baker made just 11 pitches Thursday for the Fort Myers Miracle before abandoning the effort with a still-sore elbow.

Liam Hendriks has
a career strikeout rate
in the minors of
8.2 per nine innings.

Scott Baker last year
had a career-high
strikeout rate.
Baker's problems bode ill for the Twins, as he is one of just two starters they have with an established ability to miss bats (the other being the inconsistent Francisco Liriano). It does offer Liam Hendriks an opportunity to get his career going and establish the Brad Radke comparison as more than a theory.

Hendriks made four starts for the Twins at the end of 2011's death march, and his numbers were not impressive. If he stays in the rotation all season -- hardly a safe bet if the five veterans get and remain healthy (which is hardly a safe bet itself) -- his numbers may still look ugly.

Which won't disturb me. Look at Radke's first year: A 5.32 ERA. Or, on higher career level, Greg Maddux: 5.52 ERA in a five-start cuppa coffee, followed by a 5.61 ERA in 27 starts the next year.

I call it the 30-start rule for young pitchers: It's what they do after they've gotten 30 major league starts that matter, that establish whether they belong in the majors.

Just making 30 starts without breaking down physically is a substantial achievement; just look at Liriano. But for many pitchers, and particularly those who -- like Radke, Maddux and Hendriks -- lack overwhelming velocity -- those 30 starts are a learning experience. They've had sufficient success in the minors to get the chance; now they have to learn how to make their stuff work at the game's highest level.

This is a big reason why contenders are reluctant to trust rookies with starting rotation berths. If you need 95 wins, it's difficult to turn a fifth of your games over to on-the-job-training. At this point, the Twins have little choice. Indeed, I'd rather take my chances on Hendriks than on Nick Blackburn or Marquis.

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