The success of the Twins this year could depend on LSD. No, not the Dock Ellis type of LSD. Instead, Liriano, Slowey, and Delmon (LSD). Right now, we are all focusing on Joe Nathan's injury. But the performances of Liriano, Slowey, and Delmon could prove just as important to the 2010 season.
The Twins are probably high on LSD as we speak. Liriano had a lights-out performance in the Dominican Winter League and has 12Ks/1BB through 7.0 innings in spring training. Slowey has an 0.82 ERA, 10Ks, and 3BB over 11.0 IP in spring training. And Delmon Young hasn't done well in spring training, but the front office has been raving about how he lost 30 pounds this offseason.
Each of the three players will be important to the team this season. But should the Twins be high on LSD?
Francisco Liriano is an enigma. He had an amazing 2006 season: 2.16 ERA, 144 K and only 32 BB over 121 innings, worth 4.1 WAR. But since he returned from Tommy John surgery, his control just hasn't been the same. He still gets a good number of strikeouts, but he walks many more batters:
2006: K/9 10.71, 2.38 BB/9 , K/BB 4.50
2008: K/9 7.93, 3.79 BB/9 , K/BB 2.09
2009: K/9 8.03, 4.28 BB/9 , K/BB 1.88
The lower strikeout rate is concerning, but much less so than the high walk rate. We need to watch his walks - he's only issued one walk in spring training and only two walks in the normal winter league season, but he had 13/4 K/BB over 15 IP in the winter league playoffs. Let's hope he can keep his control and keep his calm. He won't return to the 2006 Liriano, but even the 2008 Liriano would be spectacular for this team (3.91 ERA / 3.87 FIP, worth 1.5 WAR over only 76 innings).
Kevin Slowey racked up 10 wins in 2009 before going down with a major wrist injury. His ERA wasn't great (4.86), but his FIP was much better (4.26), so we can hope that some of the runs against him were due to bad luck or poor defense. He still put up 1.3 WAR in 90 IP in 2009, and he had 3.0 WAR in 2008, his only full season in the majors (160 IP).
The concern with Slowey is less performance than it is injury. Will his wrist injury come back to haunt him? Can he keep the control that's so important to his game? Most importantly, can he stay healthy and pitch a good amount of innings?
It's too early to tell how Slowey will do in 2010, but at least his spring training has been a good sign.
Delmon Young had a horrible 2009 season, putting up an astounding -1.3 WAR. That's right... a negative WAR. Theoretically, Young was worse for the Twins than a replacement level, AAAA-type outfielder. He hasn't been much better the last few seasons: his WAR in 2008 was -0.3, and in 2007 it was only a little better at 0.2.
Our hope for Delmon should be that he improves his defense. Maybe weighing 30 pounds less will help him. Maybe the move out of the Metrodome will help - less interference from its lights in LF. His UZR numbers are horrible:
2008: - 16.4
2007: - 6.8 (with the Rays)
If Delmon can improve his defense, he can start adding some value to the team instead of taking it away. We can hope his bat will improve as well. Delmon may be the least important of these three players - we can always bench him, start Thome at DH, and start Kubel in the OF if we have to. I'm not sure that's sustainable long-term, given Kubel's knee problems, so it's still important that Delmon improve this year.
The Twins will start out the season on a 7-game road trip to LA and Chicago. If the Twins get some good performance from LSD, it could be a good trip. But if they don't, they might wish that the start to the season was just another hallucination...