With the playoffs right around the corner, certain playoff-bound rotations in the American League are shaping up in curious ways. so over the next week or so I’ll be taking a brief look at each of them as they head for the post-season.
I’ve briefly listed some of each player’s current-season stats, and since we’re interested in how these players are likely to perform in the playoffs, I’ve also included some numbers from CHONE’s August projections update. I’ve listed CHONE’s nERA, which is (I believe) a component ERA neutralized for context, and also a FIP that I derived from the projected lines.
1) Francisco Liriano CHONE: nERA 3.66, FIP 3.61
2010: 6.3 WAR, 2.44 FIP, 3.08 xFIP, 2.73 tERA, 3.44 ERA
Remember back in the pre-season when there were rumblings that the Twins were thinking of moving Liriano to the bullpen? Ahem. Most of the AL Cy Young Angst indignation is for the sake of Felix Hernandez, and its justifiable, but spare a moment of for Liriano (Cliff Lee, too), who has been somewhat forgotten. But about the playoffs: CHONE’s projection may seem conservative, but the program doesn’t know how much the past seasons’ performance was influenced by Tommy John recovery or not, and neither do I. I would tend to give a bit more weight on the current season, but that’s an non-expert opinion. A left-handed groundball machine with tons of strikeouts? Yes, please. With all due respect to David Price and CC Sabathia, I think that the only other playoff starter in the AL playoffs as good as Liriano right now is Cliff Lee (assuming Lee’s back is in working order).
2) Carl Pavano CHONE nERA 4.30, CHONE FIP 4.14
2010: 3.2 WAR, 3.92 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.10 tERA, 3.60 ERA
If the Twins face the Yankees, would the Yanks be looking for revenge on Pavano, or Pavano on the Yankees? While Pavano isn’t a strikeout machine, he rarely walks a hitter and keeps the ball on the ground, which will be doubly helpful given Minnesota’s terrible outfield defense. He’s somewhere around league average as a pitcher, but given the condition of some of the other playoff rotations, he isn’t a liability.
3) Brian Duensing CHONE nERA 4.36, CHONE FIP 4.41
2010: 1.9 WAR, 3.51 FIP, 3.99 xFIP, 2.73 tERA, 2.19 ERA
The 2010 stats mix in about 45 innings of relief with about 75 of starting, but Duensing has been a very pleasant surprise for the Twins’ rotation given the injuries to Baker and Slowey. CHONE doesn’t think he’s nearly as good as his current season line, and that is understandable, but while his strikeout rate isn’t impressive, the lack of walks and groundball rates are. Duensing might turn into a pumpkin, but a team could do much worse for an injury replacement.
4) Nick Blackburn CHONE nERA 4.83, CHONE FIP 4.72
2010: 0.5 WAR, 4.96 FIP, 4.68 xFIP, 4.96 tERA, 5.23 ERA
I’d be more concerned about having to start Blackburn than Duensing. The good groundball rate is there, but it doesn’t make up for the Horacio Ramirez-esque strikeout rate. Having a guy like Blackburn as your #4-#5 starter is okay in the regular season, but is a real weak spot going into the playoffs. He’s been better in August and September, but I’m unconvinced. Thankfully for the Twins he’ll only have to start once during a series barring something unforeseen.
The Question Marks:
Scott Baker CHONE nERA 4.10, CHONE FIP 4.11
2010: 2.5 WAR, 3.94 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 4.15 tERA, 4.52 ERA
I still think Baker is the Twins’ second-best pitcher when healthy, and if he can’t start in the playoffs it’s a blow to the Twins, especially if Slowey can’t go either, as would mean the Twins have to hope Duensing will keep it up and for the other pitchers to dominate the non-Blackburn starts. Baker’s not a dominating pitcher, and his flyball tendency plays into the Twins’ defensive weakness, but he has a good K rate and avoids walks. He’s a better match for other teams #2 and #3 starters than Pavano and Duensing when he’s healthy, but health is his issue at the moment.
Kevin Slowey CHONE nERA 4.38, CHONE FIP 4.27
2010: 2.3 WAR, 3.94 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.08 tERA, 4.18 ERA
Slowey is sort of a poor man’s Baker (flyball pitcher, fewer Ks, but also fewer walks). Duensing’s emergence takes some of the sting out of Slowey’s injury issues, but as said above, if Baker can’t go either, that means Nick Blackburn is probably starting a playoff game at some point.
In summary, while injuries have taken their toll on the Twins, Pavano is no slouch, Duensing has held his his own, and Liriano has been as good as any pitcher in the American League this season. Other rotations have had their problems too, and if Baker can get healthy, the Twins’ rotation stacks up against other playoff teams better than it has in years.