"I'm still going, guys." - Ramon Ortiz - Stephen Dunn
Warne examines the worst pitchers to make starts for the Twins over the past 13 seasons.
I don’t know about you, the reader -- I suppose I could stop right there -- but to me the current Twins era probably starts about 2000.
Essentially, it was right around the changing of the guard. From Kelly to Gardy. From bad to good. From AstroTurf to FieldTurf...my eyes are starting to well up a bit.
But 2000 to anywhere in the past couple seasons basically bookends what was likely the best Twins run in history. No, the Twins didn’t win any World Series titles, but it’s not hard to see the agony and misery that losing caused pretty much directly prior to each of the club’s championship runs.
It was the first time in quite some time that the Twins sustained multiple playoff runs, and that period seems to be on life support at best. In light of the 2012 season, I thought we might look at the list of the worst pitchers to start a game for the Twins from 2000-’12, before hopefully turning the page on this two-year run of futility.
Let’s start from 2000:
Games Started: 9 ERA w/ team: 5.94
Ryan’s ERA is skewed by a decent ‘99 run with the team, as his ‘00 was completely disastrous (1.81 WHIP, 7.62 ERA). In Ryan’s lone ‘00 start, he went three innings, allowing five runs (three earned) and took the loss. This would probably be the highlight of his season.
Games Started: 19 ERA w/ team: 7.70
Lincoln actually hung around until 2010, latching on with the Pirates and the Reds as a reliever. In fact, his post-Twins stats were at least stomachable (4.51 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 6.3 K/9), but he was an absolute mess in ‘99 and ‘00. Lincoln’s ‘best’ start in ‘00 resulted in 4.1 innings pitched, four earned runs on seven hits with two home runs, and lowered his ERA to 9.87.
Games Started: 22 ERA w/ team: 4.35
Before Romero was an inconsistent middle reliever for the Twins, he was a brutal starting pitcher. Romero made 11 starts apiece in ‘00 and ‘01, and hurled -- literally -- 122.2 innings of 6.60 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 73 ERA+ ball. Like LaTroy Hawkins before him, Romero would hang around a long time as a decent, and then not as decent reliever. Voting for Romero would require not weighing his entire career, but rather just his starting days against him, of course.
Games Started: 4 ERA w/ team: 10.25
Johnson has to be the worst draft pick in Twins history. Selected second overall in the 2000 draft, Johnson was promoted quickly, and despite being obliterated at Triple-A, was promoted to make meaningless starts for the Twins in 2001. In 26.1 career innings, Johnson allowed seven home runs, a 2.05 WHIP, and 41 percent of the batters he ever faced to reach base (54/132). Johnson was out of organized ball after two brutal seasons in Indy ball in ‘08 and ‘09.
Games Started: 5 ERA w/ team: 9.89
Thomas’ career is about a spotty as one can be, as he surfaced with the Twins in ‘01, again in ‘03-’04, and then latched on with the Tigers for the ‘10 and ‘11 campaigns. Thomas is a big lefty and has the imposing body of a strikeout guy, but carried strikeout rates hearkening back to his date of birth. Thomas made all of his starts for the Twins in 2001, including once going six innings while allowing only two earned runs. Problem: in the other 10.1 innings, he allowed 15.
Games Started: 3 ERA w/ team: 3.69
Like Romero, Rincon would eventually go on to modest success in some pretty awesome Twins bullpens. And like Romero, Rincon’s career would peter out, though Rincon probably flamed out more than anything. The Twins dumped him in mid-’08, and he a 6.75 ERA in the two full seasons he played away from Minnesota. But we’ll always have those three starts Rincon made in 2002, with the .917 OPS against and the 5.79 ERA in those starts. *swoons*
Games Started: 15 ERA w/ team: 5.98
Pulido made 14 starts on the ‘94 team that was pretty crucial to my formative years as a baseball fan; I first watched in ‘93 and was a regular watcher by ‘94. Then, Pulido was the typical Twins pitcher; ugly ERA, more walks than strikeouts, and carried an extremely ugly penchant for home runs. It was almost like they grew those sorts of pitchers down in Salt Lake. But Pulido strangely re-surfaced to make a spot start in ‘03, going three innings while allowing as many runs, throwing 68 pitches (40 strikes). Oddly, he came back and pitched again in ‘04 before disappearing altogether.
Games Started: 1 ERA w/ team: 7.36
The ‘Real Deal’ proved to be anything but, with a 6.19 big league ERA in only 72.2 innings pitched. Durbin only made one start with the Twins, and it summed up his career: 3.0 innings pitched, five earned runs, four walks, two strikeouts, only 34 of 67 pitches were strikes. The flamethrower effectively flamed out, pitching his last big league game at 25. He did pitch in Indy ball last season, but had limited success.
Games Started: 9 ERA w/ team: 6.18
The 2004 Twins were dang good, but inexplicably could not commit to a fifth starter. Terry Mulholland took the ball 15 times, Greisinger another nine, with Matt Guerrier and Durbin splitting the last handful. It was a testament to the Twins not feeling the need to add a fifth starter to the payroll, but also a testament to the fact that Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, and Kyle Lohse all combined to make 135 starts. Predictably, Greisinger faltered, as mid-80s heat will often do for a northpaw. The righty surfaced with the Braves the next season, but only tossed five more innings before his big league career ended. Greisinger might have been the start of the line for guys like Jeff Gray, to be honest.
Games Started: 2 ERA w/ team: 5.87
It was over almost as quickly as it started. Gassner’s first big league appearance was April 16, 2005, with his last coming five days later. Gassner effectively stymied the Indians for six innings, allowing only a second-inning two-run home run to Jose Hernandez before hitting the showers for his first and only big league victory. Gassner wasn’t so fortunate the next time out, as the Royals were less forgiving to his "Twin Cities in June" variety of heat, pounding out five runs (four earned) in just 1.2 innings. Gassner might be the only pitcher on this list with an unblemished, winning record.
Games Started: 1 ERA w/ team: 12.00
Smith was Matt Fox before Matt Fox was Matt Fox. Smith was called upon just once in his time with the Twins in a late-season game, but unlike Fox, Smith got shelled. The righty allowed four earned runs in just three painful innings pitched (80 pitches, 46 strikes), getting only nine outs despite allowing 10 fly balls and three line drives. Smith went on to pitch in the Cardinals system the next season before becoming a sort of Indy ball star from 2008-2011. It doesn’t appear that he’s still toiling anywhere.
Games Started: 7 ERA w/ team: 6.93
If Twins fans get upset about how the Twins have handled current affairs, they ought keep in mind that it used to be even worse. For around a three-year span, the Twins continually brought in retreads despite really only being a player or two away from being arguably the best team in the American League. In 2007, Sir Sidney was one of them. Ponson, who at one time was a pretty good pitcher for the Orioles, made seven forgettable starts on the first Twins team to finish under .500 since ‘00. Ponson’s only two wins came against the Devil Rays, a team which finished 66-96 in Joe Maddon’s second season at the helm. Everything about Ponson was off putting, including his body shape, how much he would sweat during starts, and his freaking mullet. Ponson somehow managed to hang on for another couple of seasons after the Twins exiled him, but the stories that followed him late in his career were more must-read than his on-field exploits.
Games Started: 10 ERA w/ team: 5.14
Ortiz was another part of the awfulness that was ‘07, as he tag-teamed with Ponson to give the Twins arguably the lowest-upside Nos. 4-5 starters in team history. Ortiz was shifted to the pen after getting blasted by Toronto in late May, and actually pitched OK out there (4.15 ERA) in mopup duty. Ortiz wasn’t long for the Twins, as he and his ears were shipped to Colorado for the venerable Matt Macri. Despite not pitching in the majors in ‘08 and ‘09, and carrying an ERA of 5.54 after that, Ortiz has somehow procured a contract with the Blue Jays for the upcoming season. So there’s that.
Games Started: 23 ERA w/ team: 5.48
Lest you thought the Twins learned their lesson in ‘07, the Twins did exactly the same thing the next season by inking the portly righty. Hernandez struck out nobody (3.5 per 9) walked even fewerbody (1.9), and gave up hits like they were bushel loads of bananas (199 in only 139.2 IP). The Rockies couldn’t possibly overcome themselves, and for the second straight season dealt for a Twins castoff, though this time it was as a waiver claim so there was no real payoff for the Twins except Hernandez’ pro-rated $5 million (!) salary. Hernandez, to date, has pitched for 12 teams, and did in fact pitch in ‘12, despite doing so very poorly. It’s hard to imagine he’ll resurface in ‘13 at age 38ish, but wilder things have happened.
Games Started: 1 ERA w/ team: 17.18
The long and short of it is that Gabino got piss-pounded in a game against his future club, the Baltimore Orioles. Gabino allowed four earned runs in only 2.2 IP, and he quite frankly didn’t fare better with the O’s the next year. Assuming his big league career is over, Gabino faced 51 big league batters and allowed 26 of them to reach.
Games Started: 28 ERA w/ team: 5.03
I know he was a top prospect, but I just cannot fathom why the team feels to married to Swarzak and his career 5.00-plus ERA. As a starter, Swarzak’s career ERA is 5.79, so he’s obviously better -- but still not all that great -- as a reliever.
Games Started: 7 ERA w/ team: 8.47
The Twins love retread ground ball guys with questionable control and results, it seems. Marquis was sort of the precursor to this offseason, and in some ways, has prolonged the bad dream that just won’t seem to end. Oddly enough, Marquis went to San Diego and succeeded, somehow turning into a strikeout guy (7.2 per 9) like LITERALLY never before in his career. He’s signed through 2013 with the Padres presently, but if I’m not mistaken he’s coming back from another injury.
Games Started: 6 ERA w/ team: 5.68
Vasquez couldn’t do what Samuel Deduno did, which was basically evade bad peripherals and turn it into good numbers. In other words, all of Deduno’s bad luck was basically lumped onto Vasquez, who throws extremely hard but has absolutely no idea where it’s going. Vasquez has seen limited big league success as a reliever, and it seems like that’s where he has his only chance to ever resurface again.
Games Started: 2 ERA w/ team: 3.92
Just doesn’t seem fair to hold it against a guy that was otherwise OK as a reliever. Plus, he threw a freaking palm ball!
Games Started: 1 ERA w/ team: 3.18
Exempted because he was actually awesome in his spot start.
Games Started: 137 ERA w/ team: 4.85
Seems unfair based on how good he was for a while. Still, another clunker of a season and he probably belongs due to volume.
Games Started: 0 ERA w/ team: 0.00
Unfair to be too presumptuous, you guys.
Games Started: 15 ERA w/ team: 4.44
He was actually sort of good when he was so bad.
Games Started: 12 ERA w/ team: 5.69
Walters had a few moments, and would probably make the list if the competition wasn’t so stiff the last couple seasons.
Which pitcher was the worst to start a game for the Twins since 2000?
Jason Ryan (0 votes)
Mike Lincoln (7 votes)
J.C. Romero (1 vote)
Adam Johnson (50 votes)
Brad Thomas (3 votes)
Juan Rincon (1 vote)
Carlos Pulido (3 votes)
J.D. Durbin (17 votes)
Seth Greisinger (2 votes)
Dave Gassner (0 votes)
Mike Smith (3 votes)
Sidney Ponson (98 votes)
Ramon Ortiz (7 votes)
Livan Hernandez (15 votes)
Armando Gabino (14 votes)
Anthony Swarzak (7 votes)
Jason Marquis (77 votes)
Esmerling Vasquez (1 vote)
Other (please specify) (7 votes)
313 total votes