We’ve reached the All-Star break. The Midsummer Classic. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a welcome sight for a banged up Minnesota Twins team, and a chance for the club to get healthier with the tall task of repeating a strong first half after the break.
The Twins will go into the break with, at minimum, a five-and-a-half-game lead in the division while suffering zero losing streaks longer than two games through the season’s first four-plus months.
It’s hard to script a better start to the season, but Twins fans are hoping the best is yet to come. The continued evolution of the pitching staff under Wes Johnson’s watch will be one of the most important things to monitor in the second half, so let’s take this chance to hand out some grades for how each of the guys on the 40-man roster has fared to this point of the season.
Jose Berrios: A
It’s hard to know what more we can expect from Berrios, who’ll enter the break — which he’ll celebrate in Cleveland, fittingly — with a 3.00 ERA. The only thing really down for Berrios this year is strikeouts, but everything else is right in line or better than last year’s marks. Perhaps most impressively is that Berrios is allowing just 1.15 home runs per nine innings with the bouncy balls pitchers have been tasked with tossing this season. He’s on pace to easily set a career-high WAR this season.
Tyler Duffey: B
The only real issue with Duffey is that he’s allowed too many home runs this season (1.91 per nine). He’s expertly used tunneling on his two-pitch mix — fastball and knucklecurve — to rack up strikeouts like never before, he walks almost nobody and is still somehow inducing grounders at nearly the league average despite pitching up in the zone frequently. If he experiences any positive regression in home runs allowed — possible with his 22.2 percent HR/FB rate — he could be trusted with later innings, possibly.
Ryan Eades: C
Eades did well in his brief MLB stint and has managed to avoid the home run plague that has also hit Triple-A ballparks, but his 5.66 ERA at Rochester just doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence. He’s been bitten hard by the luck bug — 3.78 FIP due to low strand rate and .376 BABIP — so there may be better days yet to come. The raw pitch mix is semi-intriguing.
Kyle Gibson: B+
He hasn’t done so ultra consistently, but the overall numbers on Gibson’s season don’t look too bad. His strikeout rate is up — nearly a whiff per inning, which was unthinkable just a couple years ago — his walk rate is down and he’s still hanging around the 50 percent mark for grounders. As a reminder, 45 percent is about average, so he’s still able to clean up mistakes with groundball double plays when needed. His slider has been terrific, and coming into Sunday’s one-inning outing, he ranked 14th among qualified MLB pitchers in swinging-strike rate. The Twins should really, really think about signing him to a new deal.
Stephen Gonsalves: Incomplete
It’s been a completely lost season for the lefty who turns 25 on Monday, as he pitched briefly (two innings) and poorly (five walks) before hitting the shelf with a stress reaction in his elbow/forearm area. It’s unclear if/when he’ll return this season — but for now the “road to 95 (mph)” is under construction.
Ryne Harper: A-
Things have been a little dicier of late (6.23 ERA over his last 10 appearances) but overall it’s hard to argue with the total body of work the 30-year-old rookie has put together. He’s striking out nearly a batter per inning with his big, loopy curveball while walking nobody and doing an acceptable, if not ideal, job of keeping the ball in the park.
Everything went south on Hildenberger in a hurry. When he woke up on May 1, he had a 1.93 ERA. That day he allowed a pair of earned runs in the ninth inning of a 6-2 win over the Astros, and that was the beginning of an awful month — two weeks, really — that saw him allow 11 earned runs in 4.2 innings (21.21 ERA) before being sent out after his May 15 appearance. Things haven’t been much better in Rochester, as he’s posted an ERA of 8.44 in 10.2 innings before hitting the shelf with a right flexor mass strain in mid-June.
Zack Littell: B-
Since his recall in mid-June, Littell is unscored upon and has gotten some pretty big outs for the Twins in his five appearances spanning six innings. His secondary stats aren’t terribly exciting, but he’s done more good than bad to this point outside of his May 30 blowup at the Trop.
Matt Magill: C
For as much this can be said of a guy who throws 95 mph regularly with a nasty slider and curveball, Magill has really simply existed in the Twins bullpen this season. Due largely to a really ugly stretch in June — 7.43 ERA in 13.1 innings total — he’s really only been used in lower leverage spots, but it’s clear there’s potential for a really, really good reliever here. He didn’t allow a single earned run in May, for instance. The stuff and strikeouts are there, the execution has just been lacking to this point.
Trevor May: B-
The gripes with May’s season begin and end with command. He’s struck out hitters. He’s kept the ball in the park. He’s maintained an ERA in the low 3.00s and at times has looked dominant. But he’s also walked 5.0 batters per nine this season, and that’s largely what has kept him from securing late-inning duties with Taylor Rogers to this point. He 100 percent has the stuff to do so.
It wasn’t pretty before he went on the disabled list (8.74 ERA) and he’s only made one appearance since returning. There isn’t much hope in the secondary numbers, but at some point, the team probably has to just keep rolling him out there in low-leverage spots to see if something sticks. He’s out of options, left-handed, only 26 and can hit the mid-90s with his fastball.
Mike Morin: B-
Morin’s numbers are all good, but there’s significant regression potential. He doesn’t strike anyone out — though he mitigates that with grounders and no walks — and his .230 BABIP isn’t a good bet to remain stable. He might be the first reliever out the door if a July acquisition is made, though some other guys have options — which he doesn’t.
He defies convention in almost every way, but it’s impossible to argue with Odorizzi’s first-half results. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, lives up in the zone and as a result induces almost no grounders, but in this era of the juiced baseball, he’s allowed just 0.68 homers per nine. He won’t pitch because he’s on the IL with a blister, but he 100 percent deserves his selection to the All-Star Game.
Blake Parker: D
Parker has been a roller coaster ride all season long, as he’s done some good things — 3.77 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 47.2 percent groundball rate — but they’ve all been torpedoed by the fact that he’s allowed more than two home runs per nine innings this season. He probably still has a fairly long leash, but he could be on the outs if the Twins acquire more than one reliever this month.
Martin Perez: A-
He’s not pitching like he did in May, but he’s still been an overwhelming success based on how much he’s improved in some key areas from his days in Texas. He’s still inducing grounders like he did with the Rangers while adding on some strikeouts while keeping the ball in the ballpark. He’s allowing the lowest exit velocity among qualified starters in the American League, which can feel like death by papercuts at times, but overall, he’s done a nice job.
Michael Pineda: B+
For all the grumbling about how he was pitching in the early going, Pineda has been simply terrific since June 1: 3.21 ERA, .657 OPS against, two homers allowed and a K/BB ratio of 34-5 in 33.2 innings. Limiting the home runs is key for Pineda, as that has been his Kryptonite over the past three seasons he’s pitched. He wasn’t doing it early in the season, but has been much, much better as the weather has warmed up and his slider has improved.
Sean Poppen: A-
It’s hard to judge Poppen’s sole MLB outing — in which he soaked up the latter innings of a 9-4 loss against the Red Sox — but he’s been really, really good in the minors this season. Between Double- and Triple-A, he’s posted a 3.05 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 32 walks in 73.2 innings, including a 2.20 ERA in 45 innings with Rochester. Poppen showed good velocity (95.0 mph average) with a power sinker, slider and show-me changeup and could definitely get another look in the bullpen later this season.
Taylor Rogers: A
Rogers has been a godsend to Rocco Baldelli’s bullpen, working in whatever role his manager has asked of him while racking up a 1.82 ERA, 11.6 K/9 and a WHIP of 0.98. One could easily argue he’s an All-Star Game snub, though he’ll likely be perfectly content to go home to Colorado and get some well-deserved rest before resuming his role as fireman — something he’ll do for real after he retires, he says — in the Twins bullpen.
The lasting image for Romero’s season is his last appearance in the big leagues, where he faced four batters and recorded zero outs when he was used in mopup duty in a 10-5 win over the Mariners. His inability to record outs in the big leagues (7.88 ERA) has been evident in the minors as well, as he’s posted a mediocre 4.66 ERA in Rochester while being bitten by the home run bug (1.9 HR/9). The Twins still have the utmost faith and confidence in him as a pitcher, and he’ll likely get a chance to try reward their faith in the second half, but his stock is at an all-time low right now.
Even without his solid work in the big leagues this season, Smeltzer has been dazzling down in the minors. Between Pensacola and Rochester this season, Smeltzer has put together 79.2 innings with an ERA of 1.92, more than a strikeout per inning and a minuscule 0.89 WHIP. How does he do it? With a high spin-rate, 90 mph fastball and guts. He’s easy to root for.
Kohl Stewart: D
It’s just been a strange year for Stewart. He’s pitched acceptably in 17.1 big-league innings (4.15 ERA), but they’ve come with wacky peripherals (2.1 K/9!) as well as three homers allowed. He’s also got a 5.64 ERA in Rochester with iffy secondary numbers (1.61 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9), all of which lend themselves to one possibly pertinent question — would the Twins consider making him a full-time reliever?
Lewis Thorpe: B
Thorpe’s MLB cup of espresso in Chicago was largely successful — five innings, two earned runs with seven strikeouts — but his time at Triple-A has been a bit unusual. While he has a 5.50 ERA in 75.1 innings, he also has strong secondary numbers: 96 strikeouts, 21 walks and a 1.34 WHIP. Since June 1 — including his MLB start — he’s been quite a bit better, with a 3.77 ERA and 41-10 K/BB ratio in 28.2 innings. It’s likely he has a long future in this league — he’s a lefty, after all — but whether it’s as a starter or reliever is still up for debate. Given that three of the current five Twins starters — when healthy — are free agents at the end of the season (Gibson/Odorizzi/Pineda), it seems likely he’ll get every chance to stick as a starter.