The Minnesota Twins entered the offseason with a lot of roster uncertainty. Shortstop was No. 1, but Twins fans will pound the table for additional pitching help to the staff every year.
There was an opportunity to add some bona fide aces in Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom. Carlos Rodón was a more realistic target, though. They also could have tried to get Nathan Eovaldi, Sean Manaea, or Jameson Taillon. There was plenty of additional starting help the Twins could have pursued. However, none of them landed in Minnesota. Outside of picking up Oliver Ortega on waivers, their pitching staff has stayed the same.
Under Falvey and Levine, the Twins love to surprise everyone with a late offseason transition. Barring a sudden roster move, this will be Minnesota’s pitching staff, for better or worse. Adding a frontline starter or a solid veteran depth arm would have been helpful, but the Twins aren’t in a bad spot. Minnesota’s starting rotation is lacking a true ace but has depth. Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Joe Ryan will headline the rotation, with others mixing in. A bullpen with Jhoan Durán, Griffin Jax, and Jorge López will also be a respectable unit.
Last season, the Twins struggled to find the right length to leave their starters in the game. Starters were given a short leash, which meant more reliance on the bullpen. They had talented relievers, but the bullpen struggled as the season went on because Minnesota continually taxed their bullpen.
The Twins aren’t the only team limiting the number of innings their starters throw, though. It’s been a trend all around baseball. The league average of 5.2 innings/start in 2022 is down from a 5.9 innings/start clip a decade ago in 2012. The Twins embraced that philosophy almost more than any other team in 2022. Minnesota was one of the bottom teams in baseball, with a 28th-ranked 4.8 innings/start clip last season. Is it because the Twins’ rotation was bad on the back end? Or were they just fully embracing the trend? Probably a little bit of both.
Given the circumstances, the Twins have two options. Either demand more innings from the starting rotation or properly stack the bullpen so it doesn’t wear down as the season progresses.
A large part of the Twins fanbase would like to see the starters go deeper into games. One of the biggest criticisms levied at manager Rocco Baldelli last season was his short leash with starting pitchers. Gray and Mahle are established veterans with the experience necessary to navigate a lineup the third time through. Ryan was limited last year in innings to keep his arm fresh, but a full season without any major injuries should be a good sign moving forward in his career.
Twins fans want to see a starting pitcher continue deeper into a ballgame. They want to see a guy work and even chase history like Ryan was unable to do last September after being pulled while throwing a no-hitter.
- Mahle is coming off of shoulder fatigue serious enough to keep him sidelined in the final month and a half of the season.
- Gray is another year older, entering his 11th season at 33 when he only threw 119.2 innings in 2022.
- Bailey Ober was hurt most of last season dealing with a groin strain and only started 11 games and threw 56 innings.
- Kenta Maeda and Chris Paddack are coming off Tommy John surgery.
- Even the production from young depth arms like Josh Winder, Simeon Woods Richardson, Louie Varland, and others would likely be minimized to not overuse young arms who have never pitched in a full major league season like the Twins did with Ryan in 2022.
Maybe the Twins back off and don’t limit innings for starters. However, the team could be headed with the quick hook again this season. It can be frustrating from an entertainment standpoint. You could also argue that the Twins weren’t set up for the early substitution philosophy last season. Pulling starters early is fine if you can turn it over to a dominant bullpen.
The Twins had a reliable bullpen in 2019 and 2020. But Minnesota’s bullpens over the last two years have been unable to recapture the productivity of those playoff-caliber units. If the plan is only to let starters go until about the five-inning mark, then there need to be some major innings-eaters the team can use at their disposal.
Maybe the Twins rotation looks something along these lines heading into Opening Day:
- Joe Ryan
- Tyler Mahle
- Sonny Gray
- Bailey Ober
- Kenta Maeda
That still leaves the Twins with the other young arms to help out from the bullpen in the meantime. The starter can only get three innings today? That’s alright because Varland can come out of the bullpen and throw another three or four. Now the Twins can be in the late innings without burning some of their high-leverage arms in the middle innings.
The Twins sort of used this method last season when they paired Archer with former starting pitching prospect Cole Sands for a couple of starts. A method like this can give you the best of both worlds, where the team can keep the short leash while also allowing more of their young arms to get MLB experience. It’s a move that can benefit them, given the log jam at the back of the starting rotation.
The Twins also ran out of arms last season. Injuries played their part, but the philosophy from the 2022 Twins was “one and done” outings. That isn’t a bad strategy to keep guys from getting overexposed. However, it can mean that one misstep throws the entire train off the tracks. Relying on five or more other arms to do their jobs is riskier than limiting that number to three or four with more relievers who can throw multiple innings in the middle or even early part of games.
The regular season is still a handful of months away. If Minnesota’s Pitching staff is going to look like this heading into April, they should maximize their surplus of starting arms by putting them into the bullpen. Some of these arms need to be in the big leagues and help the team win. The Twins have this beneficial surplus of arms; they might as well get creative with them to unlock the potential of this unit in 2023.