Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Liam Hendriks and the Rule of 30

Liam Hendriks threw 41 pitches
in the first inning Monday and
got two outs.
One of my pet theories about pitching is the "Rule of 30," which holds that one should withhold judgment on a starter until after he's gotten 30 major league starts under his belt.

Greg Maddux, in his first 32 starts (over two seasons) was 8-18, 5.59. Randy Johnson — similar to Maddux only in that both are among the all-time greats — in his first 32 starts (over two seasons) was 10-13, 4.48, and walked five men per nine innings.

I can throw more examples out there, from Tom Glavine to Brad Radke, but the point is: It often takes pitchers, even very good ones, a while to figure out how their stuff works against major league hitters. There are exceptions — Mike Mussina comes immediately to mind — but the Rule of 30 is generally valid.

Which brings us to Liam Hendriks, who had a completely putrid start Monday. The Aussie didn't get out of the first inning: Five hits, three walks, seven runs. His 2013 ERA went from bad to worse: 5.25 entering the game to 6.87 leaving it.

Hendriks is 24. He's been up and down, between big leagues and Triple A, since September 2011, and Monday's game was his 28th start with the Twins.

I make Hendriks' career ERA now to be 6.01, and there's no way to sugar coat that. He dominated the International League in 2012 between sporadic call-ups to the Twins but was nowhere near as effective this year in Triple A. I get the sense that the Twins are about ready to give up on him and move on.

Which is understandable. A 6.01 ERA is a 6.01 ERA. I also suspect it would be a mistake. Hendriks hasn't cleared 30 starts yet, and the Twins probably haven't helped the learning process much by jacking him up and down either. I complained about this at times last year. I thought then that the team should have accepted the growing pains and stuck with him; I still think giving him a half-dozen more big league starts would have been the better route.

No, Hendriks isn't going to transform into Greg Maddux with regular rotation work, but he's still young enough to develop into something more than Kevin Correia. If the Twins cut Hendriks loose this winter and he emerges elsewhere as a competent major league starter, it will be less an indictment of the coaching staff than of the impatience the organization has displayed with him.

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