Before I start discussing the Twins, let me do a little housekeeping in response to the comments posted following our humble little blogs brush with fame. Thanks for the shout out, Craig Calcaterra. First, Oliver Perez is a part of the Mets rotation whether he throws a pitch or not this season. His 12 million dollar salary affects the rotation in two significant ways. Primarily, it means that Mets management will give him chance after chance as they have over the past few seasons despite the fact that he bought Daniel Cabrera's fastball command on eBay sometime in 2008. There is a better than 50 percent chance that they give him one more spin this year to try to recover some value from what amounts to a sunk cost. Secondarily, the 12 million spent on Perez cannot be spent on a useful arm to buttress the back of the staff leading to a minimum of 30 starts combined for players like Dillon Gee, Chris Young, and Chris Capuano.
Second of all, I stand by the Glenn Beck comment. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat and I have not voted in the past few elections. My issue with Beck is not based in his political beliefs but in the over the top, sophomoric, and intellectually stilted way that he and many others from both sides of the aisle choose to perform when they are given the public airways and consciousness. I simply expect better from political discourse.
Third of all, I love the potential future of the Orioles' rotation as much as anyone. However, this list deals with 2011 only and in 2011 Brandon Erbe and Zach Britton are less likely to factor into the equation. Also, I stand by my condemnation of Chris Tillman. While I acknowledge his youth, I can't look past a 1:1 K/BB ratio, 91.5% contact rate, 6.3 swinging strike percentage, and 15% HR/FB ratio over the past few seasons. Tillman posted a 5.87 era and a 5.89 FIP despite a BABIP of .259. His future may turn out bright but his present is not likely to any time this season.
P.S. The Jim Abbott joke was flawed by the fact that in my memory he was a righty. Next time, I will take the two seconds to check Google images.
I have read Chip's well thought and composed argument in favor of the Twins rotation along with those left in the comments section. I am not too stuck in my ways to admit when I am wrong but I feel like if I am wrong it is only a matter of a few spots, not many more than it would take to remove them from the list. There are a couple very significant issues with this rotation that I think keep it down in the bottom 10 or 12 in the league. These issues include likelihood of injury and the team's tendency to pitch to contact. I will be doing all discussion in this post presuming that Carl Pavano will not be a member of the 2011 Twins despite rumors to the contrary. Until the pen hits the paper, Nick Blackburn is still an integral part of the rotation.
Pitching injuries are the 2ND certainty in baseball, the first of course being that Brian Sabean will fall in love with and sign at least one player over 34 every off season. The Twins rotation has dealt with this certainty over the past few years. Francisco Liriano has been healthy for only 3 of the past 5 seasons and was only effective for two of those. Kevin Slowey has yet to break the 30 start or 175 inning marks in any of his first 3 seasons. Brian Duensing has yet to crack 130 innings pitched in either of his first two seasons making very unlikely that he can be counted upon for more than 160 to 180 innings this year. The innings deficit created by injuries likely to occur coupled with Duensing's inability to go deep in many games will put undue stress on the Twins bullpen. The best way to counteract the uncertainty of injury is to stockpile as many major league startable arms as is possible. The Twins have a dearth of promotable starting pitchers in their minor league system unless they are willing to rush Kyle Gibson. This leaves players like Glen Perkins to pick up the slack if anyone should fall out of the rotation.
Whatever we all feel about the Twins rotation, all sabermetrically inclined readers can agree that the outfield defense for the Twins is one step above that of your average beer league softball team, with the caveat that the Twins don't get to use the extra outfielder. Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span make every flyball to an outfield corner an adventure, as evidenced by their combined -29.3 UZR/150 last year. Chip offered copious evidence for the effect of the defense upon the results of the Twins pitchers in 2010. The widely known deficiencies in the Twins' defensive makeup stand at the very basis of my argument against this rotation. If one is aware that the 8 players behind you are likely to negatively affect your results, it behooves you to do everything in your power to minimize their opportunity to do so. Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn had contact rates that place them 97th, 136th, 224th, and 266th out of 273 starters in 2010. Duensing and Blackburn clocked in K/9 ratios of 5.37 and 3.80 respectively. Duensing's ratio is particularly low given that he pitched as a reliever for much of the season. 1.45, 1.34, 1.29, 1.26, and 1.20 are the 2010 WHIP's of Blackburn, Baker, Slowey, Liriano, and Duensing. Twins pitchers lack the ability to miss enough bats to avoid the penalties inherent in a team having poor defense. The fact that each of these pitchers continues to pitch in this manner despite years of poor defense counts against them in my estimation. High fly ball rates for Baker and Slowey bode particularly poorly for them considering the team's move to a less spacious park in 2010. It is a simple and obvious truth that the safest possible outcome for any pitch is a strike, whether that strike involved the player swinging his bat or not. The Twins' rotation simply does not spend enough time trying to miss bats to be included amongst the best rotations in the league.
If all things go well, the Twins rotation can be fairly productive. However, injury concerns, especially those surrounding their ace, leaves this a rotation with a far lower floor than those of several other teams. I am aware that on their best day the Twins are easily capable of out pitching teams like the Tigers, Astros, and Cubs (pre-Garza of course). Personally, I just see too many obstacles in the way of them achieving their best day. On an average day the reliability of the Tigers and Cubs and the upside of the Astros places them above the Twins. I would rather gamble that pitchers like J.A. Happ, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, and Bud Norris can capitalize on their potential than slog through the mediocrity that covers the back end of the Twins rotation like a tattoo.