The Pitchin’ Is Not Bitchin’
The Twins lost a tough game against the Red Sox 9-2. Hector Santiago only lasted through 2 innings due to a rain delay, Eddie Escobar hit a long bomb off former Twin Fernando Abad, and Eddie Rosario went 3-4 at the dish. There’s “The Cycle” for today. Let’s get into more pressing issues: pitching.
Before the season started, Dan and I both said that the key to the Twins winning more often than losing was by getting quality starts from their starting rotation. In the month of April and parts of May, it looked like the Twins were getting that, and then some. Now at the end of June, the other shoe has fallen and a rotation that was outperforming their career stat lines has come crashing back to Earth, if not a little worse. This doesn’t include a potent hitting attack that’s been spotty and quiet for stretches in 2017.
Through 16 games started this season, Ervin Santana has 11 quality starts (QS). Jose Berrios is second with 6 QS in 9 games (#nice). After that, things get very ugly. Hector Santiago has 5 QS is 13 starts, Phil Hughes is 3 of 9, Kyle Gibson is 2 of 13, and Adalberto Mejia is 2 of 9. No other Twin to start a game this season has posted a quality start. That equates to 29 quality starts in 75 games played for a +/- of -49 games without a quality start.
The most notable effect of this is how bad the bullpen’s gotten in the wake of being used earlier and more often. Once a top 3 bullpen through the first month of the season, they now rank 29th out of 30th in MLB, worse than where they were in 2016 (23rd). Thus far in 2017, the Twins’ bullpen has won them 8 games and lost them 9.
In the offseason between 2015 and 2016, fans were clamoring for the front office to sign bullpen help. To the chagrin of many, help did not arrive, and the bullpen was exposed very early for what it was, below average. The same storylines arose during the offseason after 2016 and the Twins signed a couple of veterans on low risk, low reward contracts – Matt Belisle and former Twin Craig Breslow.
I’ll let you check out the stats of those two players, along with every other Twin to pitch on the major league roster this season. However, the bullpen is not where I would look to improve the team. When used properly, the Twins’ bullpen actually performed well. Some of that may have been small sample sizes with a relatively inexperienced core (Rogers, Duffey, Boshers, etc), but they were getting some decent results through April.
As soon as the Twins’ starters fell off, the bullpen was heading out to the mound to try and salvage a rough outing from the likes of Mejia, Gibson, Hughes, and whatever soul they pulled from waivers, or the Rochester Red Wings. Thus far, Nick Tepesch, Nik Turley, and Adam Wilk have not added any value or stability to back Ervin (who’s definitely returned to form) and Jose Berrios (who’s pitched very well in 2017). The injuries to Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes; along with Glen Perkins’ injury last season; and Trevor May (#EYEbros) and Ryan O’Rourke before the season even started depleted much of the depth that the Twins could have had within the organization.
I’m not going to debate if the Twins have a true ace on the staff, but I am going to advocate keeping Ervin Santana (even if his trade stock isn’t terribly high, to begin with). With a myriad of questions surrounding Kyle Gibson’s effectiveness as a starter, Phil Hughes’ health, and the growth of Adalberto Mejia as a starter; the Twins only have two options that I would pencil in for the start of 2018: Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (barring a midseason meltdown). Hector Santiago is an unrestricted free agent after this season, Gibson is arbitration eligible in 2018, Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana are signed through 2019, and the Twins have team control of Mejia and Berrios through 2019.
We’re finally getting some news on Glen Perkins and his rehab, and he still has ways to go before he’ll even factor into the Twins’ major league plans in 2017, and possibly 2018. We know that Trevor May was in line to win the fifth starting spot this season, but Tommy John surgery can be unpredictable in regards to what a pitcher looks like after they’ve healed. The same issue plagues Ryan O’Rourke who looked to be a solid middle reliever in this year’s bullpen. Spring training will be the first time May and O’Rourke will truly be tested in their rehab, and that’s banking on neither of them having any setbacks before the trip down to Fort Myers. We haven’t even talked about the command issues Ryan Pressly has dealt with, or what happened to Michael Tonkin from 2016-2017, and we’re not going to today.
Before you tear into the relievers for blowing a game (unless it’s the truly awful 2017 version of Matt Belisle), look at the issues that have preceded the call to the bullpen; the starters. I’m not saying the bullpen couldn’t use another solid arm or two because they could. The biggest issue is that 29 quality starts out of 75 games will wear on the best bullpens in the game, and the Twins don’t have that safety net.