Friday, August 06, 2004

Post-Trading Deadline Roster Review Part Two: Pitchers

We all know that the Twins did not make a significant move at the July 31st trading deadline, and that the current 25-man roster will probably be very similar to the 25-man playoff roster that will be set on August 31st. Yesterday I wrote up a brief overview of the Twins' hitters, position by position, highlighting some strengths, weaknesses, and minor controversies. Today we move on to the pitchers, also known as the "best athletes on the field" (with the exception of David Wells).

Starting Pitchers:
Despite the poor overall performance the Twins have received from Kyle Lohse (5.14 ERA) and from the #5 starter, starting pitching has actually been a relative strength of this team. The starters' 4.21 ERA (which includes Terry Mulholland's horrific "performance" yesterday) actually isn't too bad and is above league average. Who do we have to thank for this better-than-average number? Two men: Brad Radke and Johan Santana, as good a 1-2 punch as exists in the American League this side of Oakland, California. As well as these two have pitched this season they present a serious challenge to any team that has the bad fortune of matching up with the Twins come October. Radke has suffered from a lack of run support, as his 7-6 record is no where near indicative of how well he has pitched this season. He sports a nifty 3.77 ERA and a solid 1.16 WHIP in 148 innings (he's on pace for about 225). But here's the real kicker: Radke has walked just 12 batters in those 148 innings, for an average of .73 per nine innings. That's one walk every 12 and a third innings. When you have a good defense behind you and don't allow ANY extra baserunners, you are going to be pretty formidable. Especially when you have a changeup that is as good as Radke's. The only thing I worry is that Brad might go into one of his occasional funks where he doesn't have the impeccable control. As I've mentioned before in this space, because Brad doesn't throw that hard and is always right around the plate, he has a very little room for error. When his control does leave him for (usually) brief stretches he can get hit pretty good. But he has yet to endure one of those slumps thus far this year and I'm confident that he'll be just fine.

What more can I say about Johan Santana that hasn't already been said? The guy is a strikeout machine (172 in 152.2 innings). Opponents do not get hits off of him (just 37 hits allowed in 91.2 innings since June 1). And opponents rarely score runs against him (he allowed 6 runs total in 6 July starts). Is there really anything more you could possibly want in a starting pitcher? Johan is prone to the longball, as he has allowed 22 this season, but if no one ever gets on base anyway, how much could that possibly hurt? Santana is now among the elite pitchers in the game, right up there with Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson, Curt Shilling, and Jason Schmidt. There is no one else I would rather see on the hill in Game 1 of the ALDS than Johan, and I'm sure the rest of the Twins community feels the same way.

After the Big Two, things start to get a little sketchy. Carlos Silva, as I mentioned the other day, has been all that we hoped he would be and more. He throws strikes (1.48 BB/9), eats innings (140.1 so far), and gives his team a chance to win (he has 10 victories). Silva has been a key part of this team's success thus far and he will continue to be so until October. In a 162 game schedule you need guys like Silva to help take the pressure off your big guns, who were supposed to be Santana, Radke, and Kyle Lohse for the Twins before the season began. That brings me to my next point: Kyle Lohse. As you are all fully aware no doubt, Kyle Lohse has pitched like the second coming of Rich Robertson so far this year. His five wins and 5.14 ERA are very disappointing, as is his 1.65 WHIP and 50 walks allowed in 133 innings pitched. The walks have been a big problem, as Lohse only allowed 45 free passes all of last season. I was, however, encouraged by Lohse's last outing on Wednesday against the Angels. After squandering a three run lead Lohse didn't back out in the fifth on the defensive. He attacked the strike zone and the Anaheim hitters and retired 12 of his last 13 batters. That, my friends, is the Kyle Lohse that we know and love--not this imposter that we have seen for the previous four months. I'm cautiously optimistic that this will be the turning point for Kyle. He beat a very good hitting team and had to overcome some adversity to do it. Lohse is also key to the Twins' playoff hopes, because if he shows he is back to his old self I think the Twins probably make him their third starter in October.

I won't dwell much on the fifth starter spot, as I could easily write an entire post on this subject alone. Before his start yesterday Terry Mulholland had performed admirably in this role, picking up two wins while posting a 3.02 ERA. Yesterday was only a matter of time, however. You knew that the clock was ticking on Mulholland as he was FAR overdue for a bad outing. Maybe he'll be able to bounce back in his next start (whenever that might be), or maybe not. The Twins do have some options at Rochester. J.D. "Real Deal" Durbin pitched the brilliantly the other day in his AAA debut and is already on the 40-man roster I believe. Scott Baker, a second round pick last year, has also pitched well at both AA and AAA but would have to be added to the 40-man roster, making a non-September call-up very unlikely. I advocate giving Mulholland a couple more starts and then calling up Durbin and giving him a chance. As the #5 starter hopefully there won't be too much pressure on the kid, and it will be a good gauge for next year when he will probably have to inherit a more prominent role in the rotation.

Relief Pitching:
In all my ranting about the Twins starting staff I have neglected what is arguably this team's greatest strength: the bullpen. Much maligned in the off-season, this group of players has lived up to the high standards set by the Twins' 2002 and 2003 'pens. The Twins bullpen leads the league with 25 wins (a statistic that really only means the team has a lot of late-inning victories) and is 5th with a solid 3.74 ERA. Juan Rincon has been outstanding, seamlessly inherited the role left by the departed (and now combative) LaTroy Hawkins. Joe Nathan has been the best closer in the league and is unscored-upon in almost two months. J.C. Romero has seemingly emerged from his season-and-a-half long funk and is pitching very capably. Grant Balfour is currently on the shelf but has emerged as a relatively reliable and sometimes downright dominating option after Rincon. The Twins should be fine with those four guys leading the charge, but the bullpen's final 2-3 spots may see some change before playoff rosters are set.

I wasn't able to catch Jesse Crain's major league debut yesterday, but the Twins' coaching staff sounded positive after the game. He allowed two hits, one of them an infield single, and struck out two in an inning and a third of work. It will be interesting to see what the Twins do with their roster when Balfour comes off the D.L. next week. Will they keep 12 pitchers on the roster, even though it seems unnecessary given the team's recent success? That would be the easy way out, as Rob Bowen could easily be shipped back down to AA for about the 10th time already this year. Personally, I think that the Twins need to make a decision on Aaron Fultz and/or Joe Roa. Unless he falls flat on his face, Crain should not be sent back to AAA. Roa is the obvious candidate for release, simply because he is righthanded and Fultz is lefthanded. However, I think it is Fultz that should be the one to go. Fultz is a mediocre pitcher that doesn't even fare that well against lefties, the only guys he really needs to get out on a consistent basis. He has proven time and time again that he can't get the big outs in clutch situations. Roa, while he hasn't pitched that well lately by any standards, actually inhabits a much more important role in the Twins' bullpen. As a long reliever/mop-up guy, he has saved the rest of the bullpen on numerous occasions, protecting Rincon, Romero, and Nathan from overuse. It will be interesting to see what Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire do when this decision must be made in the coming weeks.

Well folks, there you have it. It took me two days, but I addressed nearly every player on the Twins' 25-man roster, some in greater depth than others. As always, if you have any qualms, questions, or comments pertaining to what was discussed above feel free to let me know below. I usually respond in a timely matter. The Twins have a big four-game series coming up this weekend against one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Oakland A's. We all know that the Twins have traditionally fared well against Oakland for some reason, but we'll have to see what happens. Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today.