Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Twins are making a mistake

I have railed continuously on the Twins and their offense. Ever since Terry Ryan skipped town and Bill Smith arrived, (not to mention the help of a lot of money) things have changed for the better offensively. Of course, where Ryan excelled, defense, the Twins have languished. I understand and appreciate both of these aspects of baseball fairly well from a statistical standpoint.
I don't understand pitching as well, but I do understand how it relates to the defense behind you, or rather, how defense affects pitching. With that introduction, I am fully confident in saying that the Twins are making a terrible mistake with their rotation.
I have long stated that Scott Baker is terribly underrated by the Twins, thanks in large part to the fact that his pitching style doesn't jive well with the team defense. His FIP, a fielding independent pitching, is on par with Carl Pavano and over his career was demonstrably better than Brad Radke. Radke and Baker were and are both fly ball pitchers (though Baker is slightly more so) and Baker has been MORE consistent, actually, than Radke ever was in his career, thought Radke had better individual seasons. The difference? Torii Hunter. Jacque Jones. When they left, Scott Baker's numbers started to skyrocket, but the numbers HE could control didn't get any worse. Things like his batting average for balls in play went way up, especially last year in the cavernous outfield at Target Field, with Jason Kubel designated to try to chase things down. But I'm not here to talk about Baker, because he has a spot in the rotation.
No, I'm here to talk about Kevin Slowey, who was cost a spot in the rotation for many of the same reasons that Baker's numbers are suffering. Slowey FIP is very similar to Bakers, except for a tough season in 2009 (even though he was 10-3, proving that W-L isn't a good measure of a pitcher) but he never had the benefit of pitching with Hunter in the outfield, so his classic numbers have never been as good as Baker's. The difference is that Slowey has better control but is more skewed towards a flyball pitcher, which compounds hings for him with the miserable outfield in Minnesota. His BABIP has always been way higher than league average thanks to the flyball issue, and he looks a lot worse than he performs.
Of course, now he is out of a spot in the Twins rotation, and the Twins are looking, perhaps, to trade him. While this is certainly the best for Slowey (and perhaps the best the Twins if there are no plans to improve the outfield defense) I would like to see the Twins do something to improve his value, other than putting him in the bullpen. Sure, the team may suffer, but at least scouts will see what he can do. I feel like he will be traded for a lot less than he is worth, and then succeed on a team that can play the outfield and everyone will sour on the Twins front office.
And really, who are we keeping in the rotation ahead of him? Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing wouldn't start for many other teams in the league. Blackburn has the contract, and I'm sure the team feels beholden to starting him. He doesn't strike anyone out, his control got away from him as walks are concerned as well last season, and when people do hit him, they hit him hard. Duensing is much more acceptable for a strictly baseball perspective. He actually puts together the same kind of FIP as Baker and Slowey, but throws to a lot more ground balls, which is the way to succeed in Minnesota. Still, he is bound to regress this year, as he outperformed that FIP by a full run, and his walks are bound to catch up with him eventually.
To conclude, the Twins are making a mistake having Slowey in the bullpen. In the long run, trading him is likely the only scenario that makes sense, because with the Twins outfield geared towards offense, he won't succeed here. Still, it would be nice if we weren't counting on Nick Blackburn as a long term solution in his stead. How to fix it short term? Maybe have Ben Revere on the roster for a month or two, have him play when Slowey is on the mound. I don't know if this is feasible though, but there has to be something.

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