It’s not a secret: the Twins have been very bad for about 5 years now, and in that time, the pitching has been very bad. While there has been a lot of attention paid to the fact that the team doesn’t have any elite, top end starters, the thing that sets them from mediocre to bad is their stunning lack of depth. The remarkably poor rotation has created an undue strain on the bullpen, rendering that unit useless as well. When the Twins were without Johan Santana, they were successful behind inning eaters like Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Carl Pavano and many others, because the bullpen remained crisp and effective.
The last time the Twins were in the Playoffs, 2010, they had a staff of Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey, which isn’t exactly a murderer’s row. Francisco Liriano had the best ERA at 3.62, which isn’t terribly impressive, but he also managed to work 191.2 innings. Kevin Slowey, not really known for his longevity, worked 155.2 innings that year. For the 2016 Twins, that would have been good for 2nd most in the rotation.
Granted, Hector Santiago had 182 innings of work over the course of the year, and no matter how bad the quality of his work will be, his endurance will be an improvement over the last half decade. The same can be said about a healthy Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, in conjunction with the already valuable Ervin Santana. Unlike previous years, however, there are some candidates to step in and fill out the rotation, or even replace one of the previous names mentioned, should they stumble or get injured.
The first obvious candidate is a Jose Berrios that takes a large stride forward. Other than that, there is my favorite prospect, Adalberto Mejia, who has been called major league ready since he was acquired last summer. Tyler Duffey was not very good last year, but did work well in a shorter stint in 2016, and will get a long look in 2017. Trevor May is also a leading candidate to be moved back to the rotation, where he started his career, and has the capability to excel in such a role.
The key this year will be for any of that group of 8, or 9 if Stephen Gonsalves can continue to develop, to try to work at least 150 innings as a starter. IT would be great if one of those starters, like Pavano in 2010 could reach 200 innings. This will take the burden off of a young, still developing bullpen. Instead of long relievers, perhaps they could focus on shorter, less frequent appearances from the hard throwing prospects in their farm system. This will make the bullpen better, and perhaps even reliable, as opposed to the undertalented and overused ‘pen of the last several years.
The Twins are trying to turn a corner and find their way back to relevance. They are also going to be smarter about spending their money and allocating their resources. One of the most important keys in the immediate future, until Derek Falvey’s proven pitcher development philosophies bear fruit, will be to get a lot more innings out of the pitching staff. Whether or not this year is improved will be dependent on how stable the rotation is.