Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If the Playoffs Started Today...

With their victory last night, the Twins moved four games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central. With their two best starters taking the mound in the final two games of the series, the Twins stand a good chance of holding a four- or six-game lead by the time the Sox leave town. With only 41 games remaining on the schedule (and with nearly a quarter of Chicago's remaining games coming against the Yankees and Red Sox), the Twins would have to be feeling pretty good about their chances.

Sure, the postseason is still a long ways away and we're getting ahead of ourselves by presuming that the Twins will be there. But, considering the resurgence of the bottom half the rotation, it is interesting to start thinking about which pitchers might get a chance to start in October.
While Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano are clearly in line to be your starters in the first two games of a postseason series (provided things don't come down to the wire in the AL Central again, deriving Ron Gardenhire of the ability to properly set up his rotation), it's not clear who might get the ball in Game 3 and a potential Game 4.

Traditionally, teams will go to a three- or four-man rotation in the playoffs. It's tough to predict which of those routes Gardenhire would choose, since he has done both in the past, but I suspect that if things are going as well as they are right now he'll use four starters. So today's question is this: If the ALDS were to start today, which two starters among the Twins' bottom three would you call upon to start in Games 3 and 4?

Early this summer, when Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn were all sputtering along, the question would have presented a "pick your poison" type of dilemma. However, now that Slowey and Baker have stepped their games up (last night's poor showing by Baker notwithstanding) while Brian Duensing has done an outstanding job replacing Blackburn, it's somewhat difficult to choose a guy to exclude.

I'll present a few strengths and weaknesses for each option and let you reach your own conclusions.

Kevin Slowey
Season Stats: 134.1 IP, 11-5, 4.22 ERA, 98/25 K/BB, 1.27 WHIP

Why He Should Start:
Slowey is currently the hottest pitcher in the Twins' rotation. He notably hurled seven no-hit innings against the Athletics on Sunday, and is 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA and only one homer allowed over his past five starts. After displaying uncharacteristically shaky command early in the season, Slowey had issued one or zero walks in each of his past 16 starts prior to Sunday.

Why He Shouldn't Start:
Slowey's recent success is a little misleading since it has mostly come against lousy offenses. His four quality starts during the aforementioned five-game span have come against Oakland, Seattle, Baltimore and Cleveland, which happen to be the four lowest scoring offenses in the American League. One has to wonder how his stuff would play against a playoff-caliber lineup in October, especially considering that he has no real big-game experience. He also has rarely pitched past the sixth inning this season and has recently battled some elbow soreness.

Scott Baker
Season Stats: 144.2 IP, 10-9, 4.85 ERA, 121/31 K/BB, 1.32 4WHIP

Why He Should Start:
On the surface, Baker looks like the obvious odd man out. His overall numbers don't compare favorably with either of his competitors in this race, and surely most fans have a sour taste in their mouth after he failed to protect a four-run lead against the White Sox last night. But let's look more closely. If the playoffs started today, the other three entrants from the American League would be Texas, New York and Tampa Bay. It seems fairly likely that those three outstanding teams will hold their ground until October. In five starts against those three opponents, Baker owns a 2.53 ERA and has posted a 31-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. That's pretty dominant and suggests that, while Baker's results have been inconsistent this year, he has not cowered against top teams. He's also the most experienced member of the group.

Why He Shouldn't Start:
The aforementioned inconsistency is a serious concern with Baker. On certain days he looks dazzling, while on others he's prone to leaving multiple pitches hanging over the plate. It's no surprise that he leads the team in home runs allowed with 21, and in tightly contested postseason games that susceptibility to coughing up the long ball can be a death knell. Baker's K/BB ratio is fantastic, but with opponents hitting .284 and slugging .483 against him, one would have to be wary sending him to the hill for a key postseason start.

Brian Duensing
Season Stats: 76.1 IP, 6-1, 2.00 ERA, 42/19 K/BB, 1.05 WHIP

Why He Should Start:
For a second consecutive season, Duensing has stepped into the Twins rotation and played the role of savior, providing big start after big start. Since taking over for the beleaguered Blackburn, Duensing has gone 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts, highlighting his impressive run with a shutout of the A's on Saturday. Despite lacking the ability to miss bats at the rate of Baker or Slowey, Duensing has been the least hittable member of the group this year as he's holding opponents to a measly .223 average. He's also given up only five home runs. In last year's ALDS, circumstances forced Duensing to take the mound in Game 1 and he held his own against the Yankees in New York, so he's no stranger to the pressures of October.

Why He Shouldn't Start:
The main reason Duensing shouldn't be in the postseason rotation, and the reason I would probably choose him as the odd man out, actually has nothing to do with any particular flaw in his game. He's simply far more valuable to the bullpen than Baker or Slowey. Duensing was a tremendous asset to the Twins relief corps over the first several months of the season, posting a 1.67 ERA over 39 appearances and coming up big in several high-leverage situations. He has held left-handed hitters to a .143 average and .414 OPS this season. With Jose Mijares' health being in flux and with Ron Mahay being Ron Mahay, Duensing figures to be the Twins' top weapon against tough left-handed hitters come October.

At least that's my take. Obviously, things can change in a hurry over the next several weeks and it's possible that injuries or performance will make the decision a far easier one by the time the postseason rolls around. As things currently stand, though, I'd have Slowey and Baker starting the third and fourth games of a postseason series (though if it was an elimination game, I might be tempted to start Pavano or Liriano on short rest in Game 4).

What about you? If things stay roughly the same as they are now, how would you structure a Twins playoff rotation?


Sam R said...

I like most of your reasoning, but I have to say that, assuming the playoffs started today, I would probably put Duensing in and leave Baker out. Slowey seems like a no-brainer simply due to his recent roll and pretty solid track record. I really think his recent uptick in his pace at the mound has helped him turn a corner for the season. Baker I haven't trusted all year because he has been very vulnerable to the big inning (mostly due to those HRs you were talking about). Meanwhile, although Duensing has been a valuable bullpen asset, I would rather put my best 3 or 4 starters on the mound regardless of their value in the bullpen for this simple reason: I would always prefer to play from ahead. Whoever gives me the best chance to do that is the player I want on the mound.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the main reason they should move duensing to the bullpen; hes not actually very good. 4.95 k/9, 2.24 bb/9, 51% gb rate. He's generated an above average number of ground balls, and his control is fine, but he hasnt struck out enough guys for my liking, especially since he was being used mainly situationally and out of the bullpen this season. His era is a lot better than his peripherals would indicate. His LOB% is absurd for his stuff. Like blackie, hes buoied by an unsustainable double play rate. If duensing forgets how to get people to hit balls at fielders he could be in line for some heavy regression.

Anonymous said...

If Duensing is still pitching well and either Baker or Slowey are bad at the time I'd start Duensing, despite his bullpen value. I feel like Baker could work out of the pen because first time through hitting orders he's usually dang good. Slowey presents no particular bullpen value but he'd still be an arm who could probably get some outs.

Duensing also gives you the option to mix it up against your opponent lefty righty all the way through, though I personally don't know how important that really is.

Starting Baker and Slowey would be the least likely to hurt anyone's feelings though so there's that.

Valhalla said...

Trade Baker for Jose Canseco. His underhand knuckleball is less hittable. Or maybe get Allen, Hutchinson, Longwell to see if Favre wants a shot.

Valhalla said...

It doen't matter who they put out there if they play the Yankees again. They could have Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Nolan Ryan, they are too scared to beat the Yankees. Offensively and defensively. They constatntly find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Jack Torse said...

Baker's regular season numbers vs playoff teams are meaningless. We already know he's talented enough yet has never had a solid season start to finish. What has Scott Baker shown that makes anyone believe he could emotionally or mentally hold up in a playoff atmosphere? This guy folds up too quickly when he has adversity, I cant imagine him coming through in a playoff game. His last two starts,(his biggest of the season) he's given up 8 runs in just under 11 innings.

Also, a 3 man playoff rotation is not going to happen. Has anybody pitched on 3 days rest this season? Even last season? That's what would have to happen and recently Liriano and Pavano turned downed the opportunity to pitch vs the Sox on normal rest saying they could use the extra day of rest.(5 full days) A lot is going to happen in the next 6 weeks to make this easier to assess.

Ed Bast said...

How about a 3-man rotation of Liriano, Pavano, and Cliff Lee? Ah, it's fun to joke.

Well if we play the Yankees there's no way we're going to win the series if any combo of Slowey/Baker/Duensing has to pitch 2 games. So I'd go Pavano-Liriano-Duensing there. Good luck.

If we luck out and play the Rays, we might be able to get away with a 4-man rotation. In which case Baker is the odd man out, because he just doesn't appear to have the mental makeup for playoff baseball. (His club gives him a 4-0 lead in the biggest series of the year and what does he do with it?...)

Another concern I'd have about the playoffs is that the Capps trade appears (at least right now) to have simultaneously downgraded us at closer and destroyed the confidence of the old closer to an extent such that he can't be trusted in near any situation anymore.

Anonymous said...

how can you say baker has stepped up his game? he has 2 quality starts in his last 7 outings. look at his last 7 outings.

i read this blog all the time, but that has to be the dumbest statement you have ever made.

Matt said...

Pavano game one because he's simply earned it. Gutty performances and you can expect him to pitch his butt off.
Liriano game two. He has the best stuff but I think we'd agree he's been the second best pitcher (by a close margin) in the starting rotation.
If you run Slowey out there for game three, your bullpen better be well rested; we might need to bring someone in as early as the sixth inning.
Baker starts game four. I know he's been roughed up and the last two starts, his biggest, have been flops. But, he has great pure stuff and if he's on, he gives you as good a chance to win as Pavano and Liriano do.
Duensing should be used to get tough lefties out later in games. Mijares isn't trustworthy in big spots; he tends to walk too many guys. Mahay only gives you a little bit, plus Duensing could be used in long relief to put some zeros on the board if things get out of hand for whatever reason.

Ed, I would argue that Rauch's confidence was shot before any deal for Capps was made. I would have liked to see he and Mauer stick with the fastball last night; he had no chance to catch up, yet they went with a breaking ball and it was a tie game...

Nick N. said...

how can you say baker has stepped up his game? he has 2 quality starts in his last 7 outings. look at his last 7 outings.

Even including last night's game, Baker has a 3.77 ERA over his past five starts and the Twins have gone 5-0 in those games. If that's the dumbest statement I've ever made I think I'm doing pretty good.

Boy, people have short memories. Have we forgotten that three starts ago, Baker tossed eight shutout innings against the Rays in Tampa? To me, that's more impressive than Slowey's seven no-hit innings against the A's at home this weekend.

Another concern I'd have about the playoffs is that the Capps trade appears (at least right now) to have simultaneously downgraded us at closer and destroyed the confidence of the old closer to an extent such that he can't be trusted in near any situation anymore.

I'd argue that Rauch's implosion has little to do with his changed role and more to do with his mediocre control and hittability catching up with him. In my opinion, the Twins deserve credit for acting early on his implosion, which continues.

How a guy who has posted a 1.80 ERA since coming to the Twins can be viewed as a "downgrade" is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

i haven't forgotten about his 2 good games in the past 5 outings. i also haven't forgotten that he couldn't make it out of the 4th inning last night, couldn't make it out of the 5th against the mariners, and was unimpressive in win against chicago on august 10th. chicago was hitting him hard last night. kubel and young made nice plays to save him, valencia caught a hard liner and perkins and hudson saved him by getting him out of a bases loaded jam.

baker's biggest problem has been consistency. 3 bad starts out of 5 = inconsistent. i would say there has been a minimal improvement in his pitching, i wouldn't say he has stepped up his game.

Ed Bast said...

Capps' job is to save games, not put up a decent ERA (which as you know is a near-meaningless stat for a reliever). He's had two save opportunities against playoff contending teams, and he's blown both of them. Look at all the numbers you want, but Rauch blew, what, 3 saves in 4 months?

Nick N. said...

Capps' job is to save games, not put up a decent ERA (which as you know is a near-meaningless stat for a reliever). He's had two save opportunities against playoff contending teams, and he's blown both of them. Look at all the numbers you want, but Rauch blew, what, 3 saves in 4 months?

Yeah, you're right. Rauch looked much better last night.

If Rauch's confidence is shattered to the point that he's utterly incompetent because he's being asked to fill the role that he was originally brought to this team for, he's not the type of guy I want out there for the ninth inning down the stretch.

Capps isn't Nathan, but he's sure as hell better than Rauch.

Ed Bast said...

Well, if you want to play that game, Crain and Guerrier looked pretty darn good last night, they have pretty much identical stuff as Capps, and wouldn't have cost us our top trade asset in the process, one who could have been used to possibly solve the Playoff Rotation Quandary cited in your post.

Again, you say Capps is better than Rauch; I say when you compare the two as closers (too early to do this, I admit), Capps hasn't been as successful at doing his job. I'm not sure you can even argue that; 4-for-6 vs. 21-for-24. Time will tell, of course. But from what I've seen Capps inspires very little confidence.

Anonymous said...

Baker hasn't backed up quality starts since june. Why would we assume he would suddenly be able to do so in the playoffs? He's never seemed to have any fire or mental fortitude to get through rough patches during games. In a playoff situation where any pitcher has to battle his ass off to get through 6or 7 innings Baker would be my odd man out to slowey. At least slowey seems to be peaking, Baker certainly is not.

As for the Capps trade, it made the bullpen better but not so much the closer's role. I have marginally more confidence in capps than rouch. I gaurentee all of you that Capps will struggle mightily to close games out in the playoffs and most likely be a huge liability but he's the best we have so hope for the best.

col. fletcher prouty

cy1time said...

After Crain's wretched start, who would have thought that he'd be our most reliable reliever in July and August?

Matt said...

Capps has the same stuff as Crain and Guerrier? He throws harder than both of them do. I think he'd be fine just sticking with his fastball. That homer last night came off a breaking ball; he and Mauer should have stuck with the heater.
We can beat dead horses all day long, but I'd still rather have Capps out there in October than Rauch. Power really matters in the playoffs - especially late in games - and with Capps' 95+ mph heater compared to Rauch's maximum 92 mph, I'll take Capps.
This is all a moot point with out good starting pitching, though.
Baker/Duensing (one goes to BP, the one who's better at the time gets the start).
That's my rotation.

Anonymous said...

"How a guy who has posted a 1.80 ERA since coming to the Twins can be viewed as a "downgrade" is beyond me." ERA is worthless in general but quoting an 11 inning era as a sign of success is deceptive and irrelevant. He gave up 3 hits, a walk and a hr last night and gave up 1 ER, I dont think 1 run is the typical result of that performance. I could quote an increase whip, increased walk rate, decreased GB rate, increase LD rate since becoming twin but all that is meaningless in such a small sample set. Just watching him pitch, if you really think hes been good for the twins youre delusional. Hes given up a lot of baserunners, and a lot of well hit balls.

"the Twins deserve credit for acting early on his implosion, which continues." Im not arguing that the twins were wrong for trying to upgrade the bullpen but that absolutely does not mean that trading ramos for capps was a good trade. The twins overvalued capps because he was a closer(which they thought they needed), and undersold their their asset because he was blocked and having a bad season.

And just because capps has been better than rauch doesnt mean capps has been good either. They've both been bad, rauch has been terrible. Crain has been a lot better than capps. Guerrier has probably been better. Does that mean the trade was bad? No. I know you were pro trade nick, which was a contrarian POV and you are probably tired of hearing people whine when capps has sucked. But dont bring these worthless deceptive stats, and nonsense about rauch's struggles making it an even better trade, and have confidence in your assessment. But if you really think capps has been good you havent been watching him pitch. Dude gives up shots. Very little weak contact.

Anonymous said...

"Capps has the same stuff as Crain and Guerrier? He throws harder than both of them do. " Capps fastball velocity - 93.7 crain fastball - 94.6. Capps doesnt throw harder but is his fastball is more effective. That being said Crain >>>>>> Capps.

Nick N. said...

ERA is worthless in general but quoting an 11 inning era as a sign of success is deceptive and irrelevant.

It's not a sign of success, it's just a sign that he hasn't failed. His only other blown save was not his fault; Delmon Young turned an out into a double against the Rays and that runner ended up scoring. Outside of that outing, he hadn't given up an earned run prior to last night.

It's too early to label the trade a success or failure, but what I heard last night was a lot of reactionary whining. You can claim he's much worse than his results indicate (though a 3.42 career ERA would suggest he's a pretty good pitcher), but the fact of the matter is that he hasn't let many runs cross the plate.

Landon said...

Who says Liriano should be a shoe-in? Tonight was his third straight non quality start. He appears to be choking under the pressure.

Anonymous said...

Liriano so much better than all the other twins pitchers and its not close at all. Thats why.

Landon said...

Should we be concerned about Capps? Or have the past two shaky performaces against the ChiSox been a minor bump in the road? His WHIP is extremely high for a closer isn't it? I don't recall Nathan ever having a WHIP as high as Capps' is.

Anonymous said...

Yes we should be concerned about capps because hes not a very good pitcher. Nathans whip was very low for a closer because he was one of the 2 best relief pitchers in baseball. Capps had a pretty high 1.3 whip for the nats and its above 1.5 with the twins which is terrible. Very hittable.

Dick, bert and gardy all agree with you nick that capps did a great job last night allowing 4 baserunners in an inning.

Ed Bast said...


If by "reactionary whining" you mean "looking at the uninspiring way Capps has performed and being concerned" then sure, guilty as charged. I'll react a little more by saying his outing last night was again less than impressive. 6 baserunners in 2 innings vs. the Sox. Not good.

Anonymous said...

Ha the TB game wasnt MC's fault b/c Delmon made a error? Was it a 4-base error? Nope MC followed that up by giving up a rocket hit to score the run. Was that delmon's fault too? Whose fault was the terrible HR pitch on Tues or the 2 hits last nite? Give it up man MC has been bad, not just average but bad. You say he's so much better than Rauch, why b/c he throws harder? hilarious. people "claim he's worse than results indicate", how? I guess if you dont watch the games and only look @ era you might think hes great, otherwise the results have been a lot of hard hit balls, blows saves, few k's, just overall bad pitching. probably hes better than results indicate. But results are results man.

Nick said...

Game #1: Pavano
Game #2: Liriano
Game #3: Baker
Game #4: Pavano
Game #5: Liriano

Why wouldn't you use Pavano and Liriano twice? Baker might be on his game and you wouldn't need that 5th game, making Liriano your Game #1 starter for the next round.

Lord Manship said...

What "next round"?

thanatoschristou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thanatoschristou said...

I am going Pavano, Liriano, Duensing and then Slowey. No question in my mind really. Pavano first because he has the best chance of going deep.

Liriano 2nd because he has the most eletric stuff out of all the starters and can get out of jams. To the guy saying that Liriano has had three straight starts that aren't quality you need to reassess your definition of a quality start (baseballs is lacking because 6 IP and 3ER is really not all that great). His start against the Chi Sox at Cellular field didn't make six inning mark but he didn't give up any runs. I'd rather get 5 innings and some change and no ER than 6 inning and 3 ER.

Duensing is a good example of stats meaning nothing sometimes. He gets the job done even if he gives up hits. Getting it done is all that matters and that is what he has done a well as giving decent inning counts.

Slowey at least has stopped throwing BP unlike Baker who is afraid of giving a quality pitch with an 0-2 count. I don't trust Baker at all.

Anonymous said...

baker can pitch mop up duty until he pulls his head out.