Sunday, April 13, 2008

Twins Pitching: The Pendulum Swings at the Star Trib

Tonight, Boof ("BOOOOF!") Bonser had his third straight quality start. Francisco Liriano, whose early promise we documented well before most folks did, is slated to start next. The Star Tribune is suddenly giddy.

You may remember we documented the total freakout that happened at that paper (aside from Jim Souhan, to his credit) over the Johan Santana trade. Things are beginning to slide in the other direction, towards overly optimistic ridiculous. I read a lot of blogger/beat writer Joe Christenson, so I trust he is very tongue in cheek when he writes, "This Francisco Liriano guy better be good if he wants to keep pace with the rest of the Twins' starting pitchers."

The rotation is of course, extremely young (aside from Livan Hernandez, who is older than your average Oort Cloud) and therefore, extremely vulnerable, and not yet proven by any stretch. The starting rotation is a big game of Who's That? (again aside from Hernandez, who has been around for awhile). Scotty Baker (who we've alternatively loved and hated), Nick Blackburn (who?), Boof Bonser (who we have always loved, because he made his legal name "Boof"). Kevin Slowey was supposed to be a starter but got hurt, which just goes to show how fragile the success of the Twins will be. In Slowey, we are talking about a guy who has less than 15 career starts being a planned key component of the Twins plans. Regardless, it is an entire rotation of guys not drafted in your Fantasy Baseball league.

The New York Media (and by extension everyone else) is going a little crazy on Johan Santana's early struggles. He always struggles early. Take for example, last year, when at about this time, Ramon Ortiz was the better pitcher. The idea that batters have keyed on how to hit him (don't wait for the change-up, which will make you look stupid; swing on the fastball) is crazy dumb. Santana can throw curves and changes all day long. You want to make him into a junk pitcher? He'll comply, and then probably throw a high fastball for the third strike.

All of that prefaces the fact that in a number of key stats, the young and stitched together Starting Rotation for the Twins has played better than anyone expected thus far into a very young season.

We won't pretend we're Aaron Gleeman, or anything, but we can crunch some numbers.

First things first--Santana, despite his 1-2 record, isn't actually having a slow start. Two out of his three starts have been Quality. In almost 21 innings, he's struck out 18, and his WHIP is a damn good .97. His ERA is a respectable, if not fantastic 3.05, and his opponents are hitting all of .211 against him. It's the Four Runs and Four Walks that stand out the most.

But the Twins have a pitcher on the roster who has done better than Santana in almost every statistic. Boof Bonser has 3 quality starts in 3 starts. His ERA is under 3. Livan Hernandez is also under 3 ERA, and is 3-0. He's pitched a third of an inning more, averaging 7 innings per start, and has given up 0 Home Runs (after averaging one a start last year) and only 1 walk. Nick Blackburn has pitched 10 less innings and has only 7 less K's.

I'm not saying that anyone should expect the Twins starting pitching to stay as good as they have been. We can expect the bullpen (Guerrier, Neshek (The Sub-Mariner!) and Twitchy Joe Nathan to stay really good. We can expect the hitting to improve. I'm just wondering as the praise starts to flow for this young, exciting (and unpredictable) team, will the sportswriters (and Nick Coleman) admit they completely overreacted to the loss of Torii "Gates of Shinto" Hunter and Johan Santana? I can almost guarantee there will never, ever be a mea culpa.

Being a professional sportswriter means never having to say you are sorry.


matt said...

What about the Royals? Meche, Bannister, and Greinke are quite a triumverate. If only they had some offense, that team could go places.

Big Blue Monkey said...

The Royals starters have looked good, though for some reason I have always been suspicious of Gil Meche.

Greinke, though, is like the pitching equivalent of Travis Hafner, in that he's been trouble for the Twins for years now, and the rest of the league is going to find out about him soon.

Hafner was like that when he first got called up to Cleveland. For like two years, he hit homeruns only against Twins pitching. Greinke was been trouble for the Twins ever since the Royals first threw him into the starter's role