The Twins rotation was another constant source of frustration posting numbers that were an eyesore to Twins fans throughout the season. The highlight was undoubtedly Scott Baker – who was a stud in the first half posting all-star caliber numbers with his K/9 innings rising to a career high 8.2 in the first half of the season. Baker’s numbers were impressive across the board, walking only 2.1 per 9 innings and finishing with career best ERA 3.14 and WHIP 1.17 before succumbing to injury in late July (broken record much?) and eventually being shelved late in the season.
In 2011 Baker’s K per 9 innings increased dramatically leading to a SO% of 22.5% and a WAR (wins above replacement player) of 3.8. If Baker can remain healthy (a big if given his history of elbow trouble) he should be able to function if not as a top of the rotation ace, certainly a durable and quality number 2 starter.
On May 3rd 2011 Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter against the White Sox. Sweet, right? Well, kind of. Liriano walked 6, struck out 2 and threw 123 pitches, only 66 for strikes in a performance that summed up his season; nasty stuff, not enough ability to use it to its full effect. Liriano is undoubtedly the most talented of the Twins starters, having a solid fastball, good change and a nasty slider. A lot has been made of Liriano’s various mental struggles which certainly seem to be apparent on occasion but are hard to quantify. Simply put here are the numbers that tell the story of Liriano’s 2011 year. Liriano logged just 134.1 innings in 2011 with his ERA rising from 3.62 in 2010 to 5.09 and his WHIP from 1.26 to 1.49 in 2011. Liriano’s strikeout rate fell from 9.4/9 innings to 7.5/9 innings while his BB/9 rose from 2.7 to 5.0 free passes in 2011. With stats like that, not matter how nasty your stuff is, you don’t have a chance against major league caliber hitting.
Desperately sad and devastatingly ineffective for a man removed from a stellar 2010 season that saw him finally recapture some of his 2006 rookie form. So what can we expect from Liriano in 2012? Most of the conjecture I have read regarding the Twins 2011 season surrounds collective outrage at the ineffectiveness of multiple players that had been the team’s stars in previous seasons, Liriano certainly seems to be the focus of this maelstrom of negative attention. There is no reason however, why Liriano cannot recapture some of his 2010 form. Consider his 2009 numbers which preceded his all-star caliber campaign. In 2009 Liriano had a WHIP of 1.51 a BB/9 of 4.3 and an ERA+ of 76 (which compares to his figure of 79 in 2011), eerily similar to his numbers in 2011. The pressure is on for Liriano, who is in a contract year, to turn his disappointing 2011 into a successful 2012, a feat he accomplished from 2009 to 2010, although admittedly after an off-season throwing program and playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.
Last off-season the Twins re-upped Carl Pavano to a 2 year deal worth $16.5 million. Pavano had a stellar first season and a half for the Twins after being acquired from the Indians for the stretch run of the 2009 season. 2010 was a particularly strong year for Pav-Stache – who benefited from BAbip of .283, which rose to .303 in 2011. 2011 was a return to earth for Pavano, who had a rough start to the year. Pavano did steady the ship in the mid-summer months and produced a typically workhorse season – logging 222 innings – a number the Twins oft-injured starting staff desperately needed.
In 2012 we can expect more of the same from Pavano – who has to be credited from making the conversion from flamethrower to effective control, pitch to contact guy. Pavano should benefit from a more effective defense behind him in 2012 (Pavano received Rdef or runs of support from defense of -6 in 2011 compared to 3 in 2010, an unacceptable drop-off for a control pitcher who relies on steady defense to maintain his effectiveness), expect 200 innings with an ERA in the 4.00 – 4.30 range but again a good middle of the rotation contributor.
Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn; two names that became consistently associated with a grimace on the face of Twins fans by the end of the 2011 season. Many Twins blogs, including Nick Nelson’s, predicted moving Duensing to the rotation would backfire on the man who had previously been outstandingly effective as a left specialist out of the bullpen, how right they were! Duensing’s 2011 numbers were ugly, posting an ERA of 5.21, a WHIP of 1.51 and a SO/9 of just 6.4. Duensing’s BAbip also went from an incredibly fortunate .275 in 2010 (which was made up of a mixture of spot starts and relief appearances) to a whopping .334 in 2011. With the recent trade of Kevin Slowey to the Rockies the Twins will need to acquire another starter (Jeff Francis or Edwin Jackson anyone?) in order to keep Duensing out of the rotation, which they would be well advised to do. If they can find another starter the Twins can utilize Duensing and Jose Mijares as historically successful lefty specialists as well as Glen Perkins as a truly dominant option giving the Twins a solid left handed relief corps for 2012.
I believe Blackburn has frustrated many Twins fans because he has often been viewed as something he is not, namely a middle of the rotation starter. Blackburn’s numbers over the last 4 seasons show one thing – he is a number 5 starter, and not a particularly good one. Blackburn has fooled Twins fans by turning in the occasional hot month but we should expect similar numbers to those he offered in 2011. Let’s look at Blackburn’s numbers a little more closely. Over the last 4 years he has averaged 29.5 starts per season so we have a good sample size to look at. Over these seasons Blackburn is averaging a putrid 1.44 WHIP, pause, averaging! In 2011 he managed 1.58, dead last in the majors. Blackburn also had a SO/9 of 4.3 over those same 4 seasons – hardly overpowering stuff. Admittedly Blackburn was subjected to the same comical defense that the rest of the Twins rotation was during 2011, but is on average over 4 full major league seasons giving up 10.8 hits per 9 innings. Simply put there is absolutely no indication that Blackburn will show any lasting or significant improvements in 2012 and this is a man Bill Smith saw fit to lock up through 2014 – why? I do not know.