Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wrong Call

After Ron Gardenhire announced early in spring training that Brian Duensing would be a member of the starting rotation, I expressed my disagreement with the decision. Unsurprisingly, this wasn't a popular stance; the lefty had done outstanding work after shifting from the bullpen to the rotation in two straight seasons, including a 7-2 record and 3.08 ERA as a starter in a 2010 campaign that earned him a spot in the playoff rotation.

In the early March post, I pointed out that Duensing had benefited from a very lucky .275 BABIP last year, and that coming out of the bullpen would maximize his greatest asset -- pitching against lefties -- while minimizing his greatest weakness -- pitching against righties. My conclusion:
As a reliever, he would provide the Twins with an established commodity in a bullpen that lacks many. He'd be able to fully utilize his dominance against lefty swingers rather than facing starting lineups stacked with righties. And, should one of the five other starters get injured or fail to cut it, he'd be available to step into the rotation, as he's done successfully in each of the past two seasons.

Instead, assuming everyone stays healthy, the Twins will opt to either potentially weaken the bullpen by asking Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey or Nick Blackburn to pitch in relief -- something none of them have experience doing -- or weaken their starting pitching depth by trading one of those three.
Sure enough, while Duensing has been solid out of the rotation, he hasn't been able to replicate his sterling results from 2009 and 2010. One part of the problem is that his batted ball luck has gone in the opposite direction; he entered yesterday's start against the Mariners with a .331 BABIP. More importantly, though, Duensing has predictably struggled with increased exposure to right-handed hitters, who were hitting .315/.386/.496 against him over his first eight starts before driving in two runs in a 3-0 Mariners victory at Target Field yesterday.

Duensing has continued to excel against lefties, holding them to a .633 OPS with a 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he hasn't had the opportunity to face them all that often. If he were pitching out of the bullpen, he would see port-siders more frequently while also providing a proven weapon to a relief corps that is currently devoid of reliable options.

It's looking like the Twins made the wrong call here (broken record, I know). There's little question that they'd be in better shape right now with Kevin Slowey starting and Duensing serving in a high-leverage bullpen role. It's not too late to correct this problem, as Slowey could be whipped into starting shape with a couple outings in Rochester and Duensing could replace either Dusty Hughes or Phil Dumatrait in the bullpen, instantly upgrading the unit dramatically.

Instead, I suspect the Twins will stick with their awful bullpen and trade Slowey for pennies on the dollar while Duensing continues to get knocked around by righty hitters.

Like I said on Monday, the Twins seem more interested these days in compounding their mistakes than correcting them, which is why fans have every right to be completely fed up with the way this team is being run.


perkins7 said...

Great post, Nick, especially in light of the much earlier post about the Twins exercising loyalty to a fault. Although Duensing was stellar filling in the rotation in '09 and '10, somehow the pervading thought is that he has "earned" a spot in the rotation when his dominance against lefties and absolute shellacking by righties indicates that his track on the rotation is unsustainable (I can't help but notice the irony that one of the few teams Duensing should be able to just mow down is the Twins with their lefty-dominant lineup). I think you'll agree with me in saying that the Twins organization has handled Duensing's permanent inclusion into the rotation much the same way they handled Nathan's early-season return to the closer role; rather than base the decision off of who our best player to suit the need is, they would rather trust intuition that somehow the statistics (whether it be Duensing's poor performance against righties or FULLY recovering from Tommy John surgery within a year) might somehow not apply to them. I'll always love my hometown nine, but the concept of loyal to a fault is definitely making itself pretty clear as of now. That's not to say at all that Duensing is a bad pitcher (he's better at throwing a baseball than I'll ever be), and indeed, his performance overall hasn't been staggeringly bad by any measure (I think the case could be made that Pavano's has been), yet I agree that the Twins have simply shown themselves to be poor allocators of their resources in respect to their pitching staff.

Matt said...

Slowey and Duensing both rely on fielding and either one has very good stuff; while it's true that Slowey can rack up strikeouts against crappy lineups by changing speeds, he gets knocked around against the better ones. He's a 4th/5th starter on most AL teams and maybe a 3rd on some NL teams, just like Duensing.
On a team like this (below average fielding, put like that cuz I'm a nice guy), either one is "the answer" you're looking for. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Haplo said...


the word is "neither".

Anonymous said...

Ugh, why are all the Twins blogger's Slowey apologists? The guy was a force in the minor leagues and has always been garbage in the majors. The guy is soft that's why the Twins don't like him. He can't pitch past the 6th inning. He gives up to many gopher balls and doesn't have any heart. 5 innings 10 hits 3 runs zero walks and 5Ks. That's his line. The only issue is not trading Slowey before the season. They should have traded Slowey and Liriano when their value was high. Liriano might get it back up by the All-Star break which is good. Jesus Montero. Kubel/Liriano for him. It would be glorious. As for Slowey Duensing makes 2 million less and is a lefty. He has the same stuff but worse control and at this point in his career is willing to do more things for the Twins. Slowey is a joke.

Nick N. said...

He's a 4th/5th starter on most AL teams and maybe a 3rd on some NL teams, just like Duensing.

This is completely true. But the key point is that Duensing helps you in the bullpen, Slowey does not. And the Twins have badly needed bullpen help all year.

Steve L. said...

This hits the nail on the head.

To me, the Twins front office/personnel managers/and Coach rely far too much on simple "baseball intuition" for the decisions they make, which if they haven't figured it out by now, isn't working. They think they can plug in anybody at whatever spot they want and they should perform, which if they haven't figured it out by now, doesn't always work.

Did Duensing earn the right to be a starter? You can definitely make that argument, but was it the best place for him to be used on this team? No, as this analysis demontrates.

Did Slowey earn the right to NOT be a starter? I don't think you can make that argument, and as has been demonstrated, the bullpen was not the best place for him to be used to help the team. Rubber arms don't develop out of thin air, and to 'expect' that to happen with Slowey was foolish on the Twins part.

Duensing easily cold have again been shifted into the rotation this year if someone faltered, instead of making a guy who'd never worked as a reliever try and adapt to the role in less than a month.

Also, if you weren't paying attention, the Twins used Slowey out of the 'pen on 3 of the first 4 days of the season. A starter, who was made aware to start working as a reliever only 2 weeks earlier, who has never known pitching on less than 3 days rest, pitched 3 of 4 days right away. And looked what happened, he got injured.

Not all players are built the same, despite the fact the Twins think they are. If they applied any measure of statistical analysis to HELP them make decisions, I feel they'd be in a much better situation.

With that said however, this team's problems do not begin OR end with Kevin Slowey, and the fact that they are using the media and other outlets to formulate a scapegoat, is appalling to me. They call themselves a "class" organization, but this is the definition of classlessness.

You want to know where the Twins problems lie? It's with their front office, the manager's attitude toward his players, and the ineptitude of their roster thus far across the board.

Their teenage-girl-gossip-antics to try and shift blame elsewhere demonstrates how well this organization is currently ran. If they can't recognize or acknowledge their own issues, we're in for a long season, and a few after it as well.

Adam Krueger said...

Couldn't agree more Nick, though back when you were suggesting that Duensing stay in the bullpen I'm not sure I agreed.

What I don't understand is how something so obvious to those of us who follow the team closely, is not obvious to the coaches and management of the Twins. Mistakes can be corrected, poor decisions can be reversed, and changes can be made to make this team better using the people they already have. Why there isn't a higher sense of urgency to make changes has me baffled. If something you're doing ISN'T WORKING, then change! I'm not suggesting that the Twins take their lead from us bloggers, but come on now, observations like the one you've made aren't beyond the likes of Gardenhire and Co. to make on their own. I'm just surprised more action has been taken to shake things up. Time, if it hasn't already run out, is very limited at this point.

Nick N. said...

Great comment, Steve.

Nick N. said...

Mistakes can be corrected, poor decisions can be reversed, and changes can be made to make this team better using the people they already have. Why there isn't a higher sense of urgency to make changes has me baffled.

This is probably the thing that's frustrated me most about this season. The Twins opened the season with a 9-18 record in April, did basically nothing to alter the team, and now they're 7-14 in May. When things are this bad (partially because of your own bad moves) it's simply not acceptable to sit on your hands and hope things get better.

Mike said...

I was a fan of Slowey in the pen at the start of the year, but I thought he would adapt to the role. He hasn't.

It's unfortunate for Duensing, but he has great value as a reliever and if they switch roles, the team is immediately better. Slowey would probably perform comparably to Duensing as a starter now that Duensing has had his expected regression, but Duensing will beat Slowey as a reliever to no end.

Despite yesterday's awful performance at the plate, the Twins are better offensively than they have been. The starters are still what they are, but if the bullpen gets a significant upgrade without losing anything, this team would be in a much better position.

Anonymous said...

Many commentators are saying the FO et al, are using the media to bad mouth players, gossiping, shifting blame, making scapegoats, etc. The finger pointing makes for fun, snarky reading, but please, where is the evidence? If commentators are making accusations without names, dates and who said what to whom, all they are doing is engaging in the same lethal gossip.

Remember what Pavano said after the trashcan bashing. “As long as we don’t take the bats to each other we will be fine.” I’m starting to worry Twins, so get this nonsense reined in.

Kelly said...

Duenslinger throws a 4 hitter and loses. Its not his fault. He needs to throw more innings on this staff, not fewer.

As for moving Slowey, that won't happen until later when some team has a starter hurt. Twins FO leaking that Slowey wants a trade is designed to soften the blow.

This GM is a disaster

Anonymous said...

I think the initial argument makes sense that Duensing might have been a capable reliver. The past backs that up. However, I think the assumption that Slowey would have numbers comparable to Duensing is flawed. The guy has never been a good starter. I think what is occuring to Slowey now would occur if he was a starter or reliver. The guy isn't a 'gamer'. He has been asked to be taken out of games before etc. That's why the Twins dislike him. Obviously its mutual due to the Twins leaving him off the playoff roster last year followed by not trading him and then moving him the the pen. That is the main issue with the organization. I disagree Duensing should be in the pen but Slowey should have been traded long ago for bullpen help or some other value. In defense of the Twins the value being offered back might have been poor. The Bluejays and Yanks were said to be the teams interested and they are notrorious for low balling teams with trades.


michael said...

Now, I am a Twins fan from New Zealand and am not as close to the situation as most of you, but from what I can see this is the latest in a long list of bad (or non) moves that the FO have made or not made.
We lack depth in all positions. I am not saying that we need to all-star calibre players for each position but a reliable back up would be good.
We have not really been getting good production from 3rd base for a few seasons now. Our backup catching is abysmal and now our SS/2nd Base combination is making more errors than I can remember from a Twins team.
At the plate we simply...suck. We are not getting the productive outs that the Twins are known for...where has our "small ball" mentality gone?
Our pitching is bad, but they need run support as well. I dont think, other than Kubel and Span, there is a player that doesnt need to look in the mirror and ask some serious questions?

This season may be a right off, but they need to start looking at our roster and putting plans in place to re-build this club....and if we have prospects in AAA, then now would not be a bad time to start blooding them.

Almost all successful sporting organisations are built on the youth system....and there is no point having one and ot using it!

Anonymous said...

.275 BABIP isn't that far away from the .300 average. He should trend back down toward a 4.1-4.2 ERA with a 1.25-1.3 Whip.

Very respectable.

Anonymous said...

Also, many people have made this point very clear. Why stick someone in the bullpen where they will get 1/4th the innings?

Same idea why Closers aren't as important as SPs.

And how are the Twins being loyal to Duensing? He's been with the team much less than Slowey. If anything, the very fact that they aren't going with slowey proves that this isn't about being "loyal to a fault."

Michael said...

It's almost too much for me to read some of these posts. I can appreciate the Duensing versus Slowey arguement, but the view of the bullpen relpacements are too much. Duensing would definitely be an upgrade to the bullpen, but you would have them remove Dumatrait and his 2.08 ERA? I'll remove Hughes, Swarzak, Burnett or Hoey before Dumatrait. From my perspective, once we get Perkins back from the DL we might have a pair of solid lefty options.