Do the Twins need a Front Line Starter?

August 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm 2 comments

This is something I’ve thought about for a while. It seems most pundits believe the Twins are a playoff team, but won’t advance in the playoffs, or even make the playoffs, without a “front line starting pitcher.”

Now the obvious response, and I’m sure many will share this point of view among those trained in modern statistics, is that the answer is Francisco Liriano. He leads the league in FIP. His K/BB is great, he’s only given up 2 home runs all year. He’s an ace.

But then the more mainstream of sports journalists tend to view Liriano as “erratic.” What does this mean, exactly? I suppose with most pitchers, the term erratic would mean that they tend to struggle with control, or are inconsistent with their results. One day they look great, the next they don’t last 4 innings. Brandon Morrow is very erratic. I think that can be agreed upon by most. He struck out 17 in a near no hitter last week. He also walks more than 4 batters per 9 innings and has had 8 starts where he has given up 5 runs or more. Erratic.**

2010 has been a great big Cliff Lee lovefest, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Mr. Lee is in no way, erratic. He has 9 walks all year and in 15 of his 20 starts, he’s gone 8 innings or more. He’s given up 8 runs, and he’s given up 6 runs, once apiece. He also has 15 quality starts, for what it’s worth. Cliff Lee is consistent. As such, he is viewed universally as a front line starter.

**The Morrow comparison is interesting because Morrow is white. How many other white pitchers are out there that could be described as “erratic?” Maybe Max Scherzer. A.J Burnett. Homer Bailey. Now how many minority players have been described in such a way? Well the Twins have Mijares, Liriano himself, then there’s guys like Octavio Dotel, Franklin Morales, Armando Benitez (Is he still making a comeback? The Royals should get on that), Gio Gonzalez, Ervin Santana, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Joel Zumaya, Rafael Perez, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Valverde, Frank Francisco, Francisco Cordero.. well I don’t see National League teams much so I don’t want to speculate on someone’s ethnicity beyond what I know for sure. But isn’t this interesting. I think what strikes me is not that there necessarily ARE more erratic minority players, but that our perception makes it a lot easier to rattle of names of erratic latino players as opposed to white players. I think it comes down to a preconceived notion in our heads that white pitchers ascend to the majors as polished players, while Latin players are wild and erratic but have great arms and maybe if they work on their control they could be the next big thing. Is it that we apply the label incorrectly towards Latino players, or is it that there are MORE Latino players with high walk rates and inconsistent performance? Or are white pitchers historically less able to survive in the majors with high walk rates and wide variances in performance; like we are more tolerant of wildness from Latino players because we expect that kind of erratic performance from them? I wonder what Ozzie Guillen would say.

On to our dear F-pletive. Certainly his rate stats are pretty great. But the argument against his being considered “front line” is stronger than you might think. The first point against him is that he’s too inconsistent to be an ace. Coming out of the gate, Liriano won 4 of 5 starts with a 1.50 ERA. Over his next 5 starts, his ERA was 4.84 with a record of 1-3. He was decent for a while, until his first clunker against Detroit where he gave up 6 runs in 6 innings, actually bouncing back pretty well after an awful first few innings (This happened to be the one game I attended, and will attend, this year). Then he threw a great game against the Rays, only to go to Detroit and have his ass handed to him once more, this time not surviving the 2nd inning. Then after the break, he gave up a total of 2 runs in 4 starts (Albeit 3 of those teams were KC, Seattle and Cleveland). Then he had a dead arm, apparently, against Cleveland on August 6th, and didn’t make it out of the 5th. Last night, he gave me a few hundred heart attacks en route to holding the Sox to 1 run in 5.2 innings.

Is that a decently up and down year so far? I’d say it appears that way. However, looking at each performance, he’s had 6 pretty bad starts (less than 6 innings, 3 or more runs), 5 decent ones (quality starts but with 3 runs given up), and 12 good to great ones (2 or fewer runs allowed). Cliff Lee’s % of decent, or quality, starts is 75%. Liriano’s is 73.9%.

Well that changes things. Now factor in Liriano’s superior K rate (9.84 to 7.64 for Lee), his dreadful defense behind him, (Lee’s BABIP is .293 to Liriano’s .350) and better (Though not sustainable) home run rate and all of a sudden it seems silly to say the Twins lack a front end starter. And since Carl Pavano has been a pretty great number 2, Baker and Slowey have rebounded a bit, Duensing has been very servicable and the bullpen fantastic (And although the Capps trade was pretty moronic, the bullpen has a ton of depth all of a sudden, assuming Mijares makes it back eventually), I think it’s safe to say this pitching staff is postseason qualified, at least when positioned alongside an offense that has proven potent with or without Justin Morneau.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Hold On Now, Reusses Everything is Okay

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill Lindeke  |  August 14, 2010 at 2:06 am

    great post. your questions about race are valid, IMO. nick punto / denny hocking is a shining example.

    anyway, twinkies will be fine. they can beat the yankees this year w/ liriano, pavano and baker.

    Reply
  • 2. Everything is Okay « Two Seam Fastblog  |  September 17, 2010 at 12:04 am

    […] that Hotcarl has anchored the staff this year and that Liriano has been inconsistent. Although, as my last post attests, that’s a bunch of crap with regards to Francisco. Pavano has thrown many a clunker himself […]

    Reply

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