The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 26, 2013

Thoma column: Improvement is a nonstarter for Twins rotation


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It’s been a brutal month of May for the Minnesota Twins.

The 10-game losing streak that ended Saturday re-exposed the problems inherent in such a strikeout-adverse starting rotation.

The view here of the Twins approach to the 2013 season has not wavered. This team was never likely to contend. The key to every decision should be less “How does this help us win now” and more “How does this help us win later?”

In that light, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are irrelevancies. The free-agent starters are placeholders waiting to be pushed out by better talents theoretically developing in the minors.

The problem is that the starters who matter — Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson — have either stagnated or regressed.

Worley, the biggest disappointment, was shipped out to Triple A Rochester last week sporting a 7.21 ERA, a home-run rate about doubled from his time in the National League and a plummeting strikeout rate that has gone from slightly better than league average to well below.

Is he fixable? When he was effective with the Phillies, a big part of his success stemmed from getting called strikes. Hitters are more aggressive against him now, and he doesn’t get swinging strikes. It’s a problem.

Diamond’s profile is different. He’s always been a low-strikeout guy whose success was based on very low walk rates (lowest in the AL among qualifed starters in 2012) and very high ground ball rates. The ground balls have been a bit less frequent and the walks bit more frequent this year, and that marginal regression has made a significant difference.

I still believe in Diamond as a rotation piece. He’s not going to be a true top-of-the-rotation guy for a playoff team, but he can be a third (or better yet, fourth) starter for a playoff team. But he’ll have to be better than he’s been this year.

Then there’s Gibson, the 2010 first-round draftee whose rise was stalled by ligament-replacement surgery. The Twins have given Liam Hendriks, Pedro Hernandez, Sam Deduno and P.J. Walters opportunities in the major-league rotation, but not Gibson, the arm with the highest ceiling.

I’m sure the organization has good reasons to hold Gibson back. The ones offered for public consumption don’t hold together logically — we’re supposed to believe he’s less consistent than Deduno? — which leads me to suspect they have lingering concerns about his health.

Add ‘em up, and the sum is a rotation that not only is bad now, but gives little reason for optimism ahead.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.