The Minnesota Twins had the worst starting pitching in baseball in 2013. That’s no secret. It’s highly likely that the Twins starters didn’t get used very often in most standard fantasy formats as they were chock full of low strikeout arms with crummy peripherals and unlikely win prospects. But for Twins fans, and your fantasy team, there’s reason for some optimism in the Minnesota rotation in 2014.
Ricky Nolasco was the big splash in free agency for the Twins, and Terry Ryan and company no doubt hope he can bring some stability to the starting rotation. It’s possible he could even bring some stability to your fantasy rotation. Nolasco has rather famously under-performed his predictors for most of his career, with FIP thinking he’s about a half an earned run better than his actual ERA over the course of his career. 2013 was no different — he posted an ERA higher than his FIP with both the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but was still effective in fantasy formats given his solid strikeout numbers and fairly low WHIP. He finished 2013 with a 3.70 ERA, 20% strikeout rate, and a 1.21 WHIP and managed to eek out 13 wins along the way. That profiles as a pretty decent #4 or #5 in a good fantasy rotation.
But the move to Minnesota might hurt his fantasy value. Derek Carty has probably done the most research on the impact of switching leagues, and his results suggest that simply by moving to the American League it’s likely to have negative impacts on Nolasco’s strikeout rates, ERA, and WHIP. It’s not all because of the Designated Hitter, but it’s a lot of the reason why. It’s difficult to know if the projection systems took this into account or not, but the Steamer projection is almost a picture perfect representation of those declines — 4.37 ERA, 16% strikeout rate, 1.30 WHIP. At that rate, he’s a marginal fantasy starter, although he could still be a solid back-end feature in AL-only leagues.
Phil Hughes slots in behind Nolasco as the other rotation acquisition for the Twins. He’s likely to be the strikeouts leader for Minnesota, but he’ll need to stay off the trainers table. His 5.19 ERA in 2013 was at odds with a 4.50 FIP, and it was pretty apparent that he didn’t like pitching in the new Yankee stadium. At home, Hughes posted a 6.32 ERA, allowing opposing batters to hit .311/.355/.554 on the year. Away from New York, Hughes posted a respectable 3.88 ERA over almost 70 innings pitched, and opponents slashed .254/.321/.414. It’s worth noting that Hughes is an extreme fly ball pitcher and in the new stadium his HR/FB rates jumped markedly. It’s not that pitching in Minnesota is dreamy, but Hughes ought to benefit from the move and the projections reflect that. Steamer pegs Hughes at a 4.23 ERA with a 19% strikeout rate and 1.29 WHIP. If he can give you 190 innings or so, he should be good enough to roster, and as always with a guy like Hughes, there’s some upside.
Whether it’s Kevin Correia or Mike Pelfrey at #3 or #4 probably doesn’t matter much (in fact, they might very well be the Twins #2 and #3 with Hughes behind them — no biggie). Correia is kind of the classic pitch to contact, no-strikeout, strike thrower who benefits from a solid defense given his typically above average ground ball rate. If you’re starting Correia, you’re probably doing it to benefit from a two-start week or you’re doing some streaming. You shouldn’t be relying on him in your regular five.
Pelfrey had a couple very good years with the Mets, a couple stinkers, and then there was last season with the Twins where his ERA was a full run above where FIP thought he should land. Since FIP is our tool for future performance, it’s likely his 5.19 ERA settles in a little closer to his career 4.48, and his WHIP ought to come down off the miserable 1.55 from 2013 as well. But Pelfrey is also a pitch to contact kind of guy who might strikeout a few more than Correia, but also walks too many batters and doesn’t miss enough bats to be all that interesting in fantasy formats.
Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, and Vance Worley probably battle it out for the last slot in the rotation, with Deduno probably having a leg up. Probably two legs up. Deduno is a curious arm based on his minor league track record of missing bats, but he’s also got a history of a base on balls problem. His walks weren’t all that horrible last season at a 9% clip, but in throwing more strikes, he seemed to sacrifice the strikeouts which registered at just over 14%. Deduno is a bit of an unknown given his experience at the major league level, but the predictors pretty much suggest you should pass on draft day.