Friday, February 15, 2008

Minnesota Twins Preview: Starting Rotation

Pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, so I thought this would be a good time to start giving my initial impressions on this season’s Twins team. I’ll begin with the starting rotation. Thanks to the trade of Johan Santana, Carlos Silva leaving via free agency and the rotation’s overall youth, the starting five will be the biggest question mark for the team this season. I believe the Twins will break camp with the below pitchers in the rotation. I also believe there is no possible way the same five that start in the rotation, finish there. Look for Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey to make periodic visits throughout the season.

Disclaimer: Many of these opinions will probably change by next week.
Another disclaimer: For some reason, I enjoy projecting player’s stats. I don’t have much of a scientific method for doing this, I just do it. If you want a much more scientific (and probably accurate) projection of player’s statistics from people a helluva lot smarter than me, buy this.

Starting Rotation

1. Livan Hernandez
There’s no question that Livan Hernandez is past his prime. However, if he finds himself in a jam in the middle innings, he could probably just eat the other team. All cheap shots against the 240-pounder aside, I’m not sure why the Twins signed him. Perhaps the team was pressured by recent events? Carl Pohlad saved over $30 million by not signing Torii Hunter and trading Johan Santana, all while the a new taxpayer funded stadium is being built in Minneapolis. Ownership maybe felt that if it didn’t spend money on something, fans would revolt. I would’ve preferred the team saved the $5-7 million it spent on Hernandez for signing future draft choices or signing a diamond in the rough from the Dominican Republic.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 11-14 ERA: 4:93 IP: 197

2. Scott Baker
Scott Baker has taken his lumps over the past few years, but I expect his third season in the Majors to be a good one. Aaron Gleeman gives an excellent analysis of how players with strong minor league track records usually have a good chance to grow into solid major league players. Gleeman also broke down Baker’s first 30 major league starts and compared him to other great Twins pitchers through 30 starts. He holds up very well. Baker got things rolling in the second half of last year, and narrowly missed throwing a perfect game on Aug. 31 against Kansas City (I covered the game for the Associated Press). He seemed to attack the strike zone more as last season wore on, resulting in a sharper slider and more pop on his fastball. If the Twins want any shot at competing in the AL Central, Baker will have to establish himself as a solid major league starter early in the season.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 14-10 ERA: 3.87 IP: 205

3. Francisco Liriano
Provided he’s allowed to enter the country, Francisco Liriano is the rotation’s wild card. Will he mow people down like he did in 2006 before blowing out his arm? Will he mow people down and then blow out his arm again? Will he be healthy, but only a shell of his former self? Will Livan Hernandez eat him? He’ll definitely be on a strict pitch count, and may even start the season in Triple-A. I don’t see a need to rush him back. The Twins are notorious for babying their prospects, especially pitchers. If they decide he’d be better off getting back on track in the minors, so be it. I’d rather have a fully healthy Liriano ready to go at the start of next season.

AC’s projected stats (assuming a full year in the majors): W-L: 15-10 ERA: 3.10 IP: 185

4. Boof Bonser
It sounds like Boof has shed about 20-30 pounds this offseason and that is supposed to help him bounce back from a rough 2007. Maybe his gut will no longer block his view of the strike zone. Bonser walked 2.15 hitters per nine innings in 2006. That jumped to 3.38 last season. Look for manager Ron Gardenhire to have a short leash with Bonser this season if he struggles throwing strikes early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bonser loses his spot in the rotation in late May, but returns in late July.

AC’s projected stats: W-L: 7-7 ERA: 4.46 IP: 121

5. Kevin Slowey
Kevin Slowey falls into a similar category as Scott Baker. Both have enjoyed minor league success, but struggled early in the majors. The difference is that Baker has much more major league experience and is showing signs of reaching the potential he showed in the minors. Look for Slowey to struggle this year, and for fans to unfairly question his long-term future with the club. My guess is he’ll start the season as the team’s No. 5 starter, but eventually lose his spot to Blackburn, Perkins, Humber or Mulvey.

AC’s project stats: W-L: 4-8 ERA: 5.47 IP: 92

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