Thursday, January 2, 2020

Rotating the rotation

I say it frequently here: Bullpens are always a work in progress. Nobody should expect a bullpen to feature the same arms in the same roles throughout the season.

Starting rotations are, ideally, a different story. Teams with strong starting pitching generally have stable rotations. They can trot the same three or four or five guys out for the first inning in September as they did in April.

And having written that sentence, I begin to doubt its accuracy in the baseball of the second decade of the 21st century. The 35-start pitcher is extinct today; the 200-inning pitcher has become a rarity. The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series; nobody even met the 162-inning mark to qualify for the ERA title for them (I exclude Justin Verlander, who did most of his pitching for Detroit).

The stable rotation is definitely a plus; it is not a necessity, not in an era of openers, bullpen games and roster shuffles.

The Twins in 2019 got 120 starts from its four most-used starters, 146 from its top five (Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Martin Perez and Michael Pineda). That leaves just 16 starts for everybody else, and that's about as stable as it gets. But even that rotation was falling apart by season's end, with Pineda suspended, Gibson ailing and Perez ineffective.

The 2020 Twins know their rotation won't be as stable. They're planning on a transition. They know Pineda and free-agent signee Rich Hill won't be there at the start. Hill can, seriously, be viewed right now as a trade-deadline acquisition, a reasonable ETA is the second half of July,

April's rotation will have Berrios, Odorizzi, Homer Bailey and a prospect to be selected in spring training. Remember, the Twins last year went several weeks using a four-man rotation, what with scheduled off-days and postponements. They may well not need a true fifth starter until Pineda finishes his suspension.

So ... Pineda arrives in May, and slots in somewhere amid Berrios, Odorizzi, Bailey and the fifth guy. Hill arrives in July. Whose spot does he take?

It's a question without a definitive answer in January. Maybe somebody will be hurt. Maybe somebody will be ineffective. Maybe the rookie starter will be brushing up against some innings limitations. And maybe Hill won't be ready to roll then either. All these things are possible, and that at least one of them happens is probably probable, if probably probable makes sense.

1 comment:

  1. I am still expecting the Twins to add one more veteran starter before spring training. I think they will want 5 starters before Pineda gets back and I don't think they want to be forced to multiple rookie starters. An injury to one of the 3 veteran guys would either mean 3 rookie starters or planned bullpen games.

    I think they will make a trade and probably target a higher upside guy then Bailey. I expect that depends on how much prospect capital they have to spend. They already gave away 3 prospects in the Dyson deal. Lewin Diaz was probably an overpay for Romo, and deciding to resign Romo doesn't effect that.

    I expect that most teams will try to extract high prospect capital for competent higher ceiling major league starters, although it will be worse at the next trade deadline. Hence the Hill deal.