Friday, March 18, 2005

Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Continuing with our preseason analysis of the Twins on a position-by-position basis, we will now delve into what is a very intruguing starting rotation. There is little question that the Twins feature one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, but after that there are some serious questions.

Brad Radke
2004 Stats: 219.2 IP, 11-8, 3.48 ERA, 143 K, 26 BB
Last year wasn't the first time Brad has suffered from poor run support... in 1999 he went 12-14 despite a 3.75 ERA. Still, I don't see it happening again this year. There's no way a guy can be that unlucky. You have to figure that if Radke can keep his ERA under 4 he will win at least 15 games. During the offseason, rated him as the best control pitcher in the Majors, and it's not hard to see why. Last year he only walked about 1 batter per 9 innings, and we should certainly expect to see the same thing this year. Despite the fact that he is clearly the second-best pitcher in the rotation, I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that Brad deserves to be the Opening Day starter. He has been a cornerstone for this franchise over the past decade, and he showed his loyalty this offseason by making a strong effort to stay here rather than go to Boston for more money.

Johan Santana
2004 Stats: 228.0 IP, 20-6, 2.61 ERA, 265 K, 54 BB
Well, what else is there to say? The former Rule V draftee is coming off one of the most prolific seasons ever by a left-handed pitcher; one in which he won 20 games, struck out over 250 batters, and had an ERA below 3. And he's only 26. Santana has looked very good in spring training so far, and he comes into the season free of injuries. The only reason I can't predict that he will repeat the same numbers as he did last year is because they were just too damn good... it's hard to imagine anyone being able to consistently produce at that level for another full season. But then again, if anyone can, it's Johan. He has tremendous presence on the mound, and features one of the most deceptive changeups in baseball. Hitters fear him, and Twins fans love him. He should be very fun to watch this year.

Carlos Silva
2004 Stats: 203.0 IP, 14-8, 4.21 ERA, 76 K, 35 BB
I hesitate to put Silva's name third on this list simply because I don't believe he is the third-best starter in the rotation... he's probably the fifth-best, if that. Now, granted, his 14-8 record last year is not to shabby, but I think the real Carlos Silva is the one we saw get absolutely slaughtered by the Yankees in the playoffs. Notice the low strikeout and walk totals. Silva lets batters put the ball in play, and then depends on his defense to make outs, especially double plays. Unfortunately, the Twins infield lost a lot of its defense in the offseason, so it could be a long year for Silva. If he let's batters hit .310 off him again this year like he did in 2004, his ERA will shoot up over 5 and his record will look more like 8-14.

Kyle Lohse
2004 Stats: 194.0 IP, 9-13, 5.34 ERA, 111 K, 76 BB
Kyle is an interesting case indeed. Many say he has the best stuff out of any starter on the team, but his lack of ability to change speeds and fool hitters has kept him from reaching his potential. He showed signs in 2002 and 2003, winning a total of 27 games, but then in 2004 he fell apart in almost every stat. His walks shot up from 45 to 76, his strikeouts dropped by 19, his ERA inflated from 4.76 to 5.34. I don't know what to say about Lohse other than that, if he were able to pull it together and pitch the way he is capable of, he is a solid number three starter. But will he pull it together this year? Sadly, there is little reason to believe so.

Joe Mays
2004 Stats: Did not pitch
It's been a long time since Joe last pitched in a Major League game, but now it looks like he is finally back and ready to go. It is said that when guys undergo Tommy John surgery, they come back even stronger than before. That would be nice, because we really need him to come back and show form somewhat similar to that of his 2001 performance when he was an All-Star, winning 17 games with a 3.16 ERA. He definitely has the right attitude, feeling like he can define himself as the third starter on this club by the time the season starts. He has looked good in the spring thus far, but who knows what to expect.

And should Mays, or Lohse or Silva for that matter, falter or become injured, it is necessary to take quick look at some of the other top contenders for a spot in the Twins rotation.

Scott Baker
Baker's stats over 54 innings pitched in AAA last year were not overly impressive, posting an ERA of nearly 5, but he certainly did dominate in AA New Britain, going 5-3 with a 2.43 ERA and striking out 72 in 70.1 IP. This spring he has been terrific, yet to allow a run in 8 innings while striking out 7.

JD Durbin
We're still waiting for "The Real Deal" to arrive. Durbin has great stuff and throws hard, but has been wild this spring, pushing himself away from a spot on the Twins roster. It's only a matter of time before Durbin reaches the Majors, and he's going to be good someday, but he's just not there yet.

Terry Mulholland
Good ol' rubber-arm Mulholland is back for another stint with the Twins. Last year Terry provided 123 all-purpose innings for the Twins, posting an ERA of 5.18. At age 42, don't expect much improvement. The Twins might throw him into the starting rotation as a last resort, but I think it is more likely we will see one of the stronger, younger arms come in if another guy is needed in the rotation, leaving Mulholland strictly on long-relief duty.