Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Analyzing the Twins' rotation is no easy task, mostly because we still don't really know for sure how it's going to shape up. In my Spring Training Preview several weeks ago, I predicted the the rotation would shake out as some ordering of Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Livan Hernandez, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey. With less than a week remaining before the season opener, there is still no certainty about who will open the season in the rotation (Baker could well open the season on the disabled list and Liriano in the minors), but all five of these guys remain in camp so they are the ones I'll analyze today.

Livan Hernandez
2007 Stats: 204.1 IP, 11-11, 4.93 ERA, 90 K / 79 BB, 1.60 WHIP


Despite the fact that he could very well be the least qualified member of this group, Hernandez is lined up to start the season opener against the Angels next Monday. There's not much reason to believe that the hefty right-hander will have much success this season; his numbers have been uniformly trending downward over the past several years and he's moving to a considerably better offensive league and division. Opponents batted .308 and hit 34 home runs against Hernandez last year, and he struck out only 11 more batters than he walked. I suppose there's a chance he'll buck the trends and find some success in Minnesota, but it's certainly not likely. We'll just have to hope he can hold his own and provide the Twins with some reasonably decent innings this season.

Scott Baker
2007 Stats: 143.2 IP, 9-9, 4.26 ERA, 102 K / 29 BB, 1.33 WHIP

Baker debuted with the Twins in 2005 and had some success, posting an excellent 3.35 ERA over 53 2/3 innings. He figured to be a large part of the team's plans in 2006, but unfortunately struggled mightily with a 6.37 ERA and .324 BAA. With players like Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey stepping up, Baker was pushed out of the minds of many fans and came into 2007 with much to prove. He came through, pitching great in Rochester to earn another trip to Minnesota, where he established himself as a reliable starter with exceptional control. Baker will look to build on that success this year, and there's no reason to believe he can't.

Boof Bonser
2007 Stats: 173 IP, 8-12, 5.10 ERA, 136 K / 65 BB, 1.53 WHIP

Bonser first came up in 2006 and pitched well enough to become the Twins' Game 2 starter in their playoff series against the Athletics. Last year, however, he struggled with control and stamina problems and finished the season with ugly numbers. Perhaps most alarming was his drop-off in the later innings; Bonser held opponents to a 760 OPS in innings 1-3, but that number shot up to 911 in innings 4-6. The Twins believed that the problem may have been related to his weight, so they asked him to slim down during the offseason. Bonser complied by shedding upwards of 20 lbs, and so far this spring the effects appear to be positive.

Francisco Liriano
2007 Stats: did not pitch

Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Liriano has gotten mixed results this spring. He has been able to throw all of his pitches and has reportedly been pain-free, but has struggled with his command and hasn't been able to get near his 2006 velocity consistently. This season will likely be a difficult one for Liriano as he must learn how to pitch all over again with a new ligament in his elbow. Expectations should remain low, especially early in the season, but the kid certainly has the talent and ability to do some special things.

Kevin Slowey
2007 Stats: 66.2 IP, 4-1, 4.73 ERA, 47 K / 11 BB, 1.40 WHIP

In spite of his utter domination throughout the minor leagues, scouts have generally been reserved in their assessments of Slowey because he lacks devastating stuff and doesn't possess a legitimate "out pitch," like Bonser's curve or Liriano's slider. However, Slowey continues to prove the scouts wrong by hitting his spots perfectly and outsmarting hitters. The 23-year-old right-hander dominated Triple-A last year to earn a mid-season promotion to the bigs. He struggled to a 5.84 ERA over 37 innings during his first stint with the Twins, but returned in September to post a 3.34 ERA over 29 2/3 innings while striking out 28 and walking just two. After allowing 13 home runs during his first stay with the team, Slowey surrendered just three during his September call-up. Clearly, this kid can make adjustments, and that ability might take him far in this league even if he never develops a true out pitch.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

i just hope that livan pitches well enough so that we can trade him around midseason and go with baker, bonser, slowey, liriano and blackburn or humber.

lookatthosetwins said...

I liked your write ups on these pitchers, but you kinda leave us hanging.... no projected stats? As you said at the beginning, it's tough to judge given the uncertainty this spring, but it would be interesting to see if you think Livan will be able to keep his ERA around 5, if liriano will be able to pitch 160+ innings... etc. etc.

Nick N. said...

Tough to call with most of these guys, I feel like I'd pretty much be shooting in the dark. I get the feeling that guys are going to get shuffled in and out of the rotation throughout the year; some will have surprisingly good years, some will disappoint, some will get injured. The thing that makes it exceedingly difficult to project this rotation (and very hard to be overly optimistic about them) is that with the exception of Hernandez, NONE of these guys have put together a full year at the big-league level yet. It's tough to imagine all of them being able to do so in the same season.

neckrolls said...

I was watching Slowey against the Pirates yesterday, and I think that his fastball, because of how well he locates it, is a terrific out pitch, especially to left-handers. He starts it inside, then it breaks late over the inside black. It's a dangerous pitch if it catches too much of the plate, but Slowey has such good control, I think he'll get a lot of called strikes and broken bats with that pitch.

I agree that our best hope for Livan is that he's decent enough for two months to attract some trade partners in June. His summers have been the worst part of his last few seasons, so if the Twins keep him around too long, his value will drop precipitously. Also, by then either Humber or Blackburn or Perkins will almost certainly be ready for a shot in the Majors, and it's hard to imagine any of them performing any more poorly than Livan has in the past few years.

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