Terry Ryan and the Creation of Pitching Staffs


The Twins have long been known as an organization that builds itself from within, using the draft and young international free agents to build the team instead of relying on expensive free agents. The Twins had one of their most expensive off seasons this last year, and that was only in the price range of about $80 million for three players. The Mariners spent three times that this off season on Robinson Cano alone.

But there is a kink to this idea of the Twins as a team that builds from within. When remembering what could now be called the glory days of the Twins in the first decade of the 21st century, one sees that the foundation of the team, pitching, was much less homemade that one would think.

The 2004 season was one of the team's best. While the offense was lackluster, with over 400 games of Henry Blanco, Luis Rivas, Christian Guzman and Jose Offerman, the team and its fans were used to below average offensive efforts. What led this team to victory was of course its pitching. With offensive numbers inflated during the early 2000s, the Twins staff led the American League with a 4.03 ERA, but had the fewest amount of walks with 431, and had the third most strikeouts with 1123.

This great pitching staff, however, consisted of only a handful of players drafted and signed by the Twins. In fact, the Twins have a pretty lackluster record of drafting and developing pitchers, and the success they do have is generally relegated to starters-turned relievers. Lets break down the 2004 pitching staff to get a glimpse of this phenomena:

The 2004 Twins relied heavily on four starting pitchers, with the 5th spot in the rotation being split between Seth Greisenger (9 starts with a 6.18 ERA) and old man Terry Mullholland (15 starts with a 5.18 ERA in 38 total appearances). The four main starters were of course Johan Santana (20-6, 2.61 ERA) , Brad Radke (11-8, 3.48), Carlos Silva (14-8, 4.21), and Kyle Lohse (9-13, 5.34). Each of these pitchers starters started at least 33 games, with Santana, Radke, and Lohse starting 34. The durability of this rotation was remarkable, but that is for another article. A quick search of these pitchers show that only Radke was drafted by the Twins in the Amateur Draft: Santana coming to the Twins as a Rule 5 Draft Pick, Lohse coming in a trade with the Cubs, and Silva coming over the trade for Eric Milton that also introduced the Twins to Nick Punto.

The Twins Bullpen got major innings from Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, Joe Roa, and Aaron Fultz with Mullholland, Grant Balfour, and Jesse Crain also getting at least 20 innings (Matt Guerrier missed the cut with 19 innings in 9 games, 2 starts).

A simple breakdown of this pitching staff shows that of the 13 pitchers that pitched the most for the Twins that year, only five were drafted and developed by the Twins. Three of those maintained permanent spots on the roster, with Balfour's 39.1 innings being slightly less than a full season by reliever's standards. Of the three that were drafted by the Twins and maintained their roster spot (Radke, Rincon, Romero) only Brad Radke was in his original role, that of a starter. Both Rincon and Romero were failed starters who were moved to the bullpen.

When taking the lens off of the 2004 season and looking at the entire 2000s, the era of Terry Ryan (and Bill Smith, unfortunately) one can see that the lack of homegrown talent in the Twins pitching staff is not an isolated phenomena. Here is a list of Twins pitchers since 2001 that have started 28 games in a season and who were also drafted by the Twins:

Brad Radke
Scott Baker
Nick Blackburn
Kevin Slowey
Brian Duensing

And that is it! We do have a better list of starters turned relievers and the occasional minor league reliever who made it to the big show:

Eddie Guardado
Juan Rincon
J.C. Romero
Jesse Crain
Matt Guerrier
Glen Perkins
Anthony Swarzak

This list still is not that long. The other successful Twins pitchers of the last decade plus have come via trade (Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse, Carlos Silva, Joe Nathan), the Rule 5 Draft (Santana, Scott Diamond) or free agency (Carl Pavano, Jared Burton, Kenny Rogers)

I'm not certain of how the Twins' rate of successful homegrown pitchers stacks up to other teams in the league. What I do know is that the Twins have been at their best when developing pitchers drafted by other organizations, or bringing in veterans. Maybe the Twins lack the coaching talent to develop strong starters, maybe they have drafted too many hit-to-contact or two-pitch pitchers who are better suited for the bullpen. Maybe they are just better at picking up where other organizations left off, adding a change up and a bit of control to the young pitchers they trade for.

When Terry Ryan returned to position of General Manager, he began to make moves that reminded fans of the late 90s and early 2000s, picking up Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 Draft, trading for pitchers such as Vance Worley and prospects such as Trevor May and Alex Meyers. Ryan also began bringing in free agent starting pitchers like Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey. By drafting Kohl Stewart last year, the Twins may have their best chance at a long term rotation member since Brad Radke.

I cannot predict how Terry Ryan's moves to restock the pitching depth will work out. I can say, however, that he has been making moves similar to those that brought a decade's worth of success to the Twins by mixing homegrown talent with prospects brought in from other organizations.

Twins fans have a lot of expectations for the upcoming years, and rightfully so, with a large crop of talented prospects. One must remember though, that the Twins' way is not based completely homegrown talent, but the savvy moves of Terry Ryan. Now that the Twins' pitching depth is stocked with players we drafted as well as those the we traded for and signed from free agency, fans can finally look forward to decent pitching staffs and hopefully, success.

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