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Pitching Staff: Are the Twins Already Better Than They Were Last Year?

You play the games for a reason. But comparing 2010 projections to last season's WAR totals for position players tells us that the Twins are one marginal win better going into next summer. That's a good thing. Now, how about the pitchers?

Name '09 WAR Projected
'10 WAR
Scott Baker 3.5 3.9
Kevin Slowey 1.4 3.6
Carl Pavano 3.7 3.0
Nick Blackburn 3.0 2.8
Francisco Liriano 1.1 1.7
Glen Perkins 1.1 0.7
Brian Duensing 1.1 0.8
Anthony Swarzak 0.0 0.2
Starter Totals 14.9 16.7

For those pitchers who split time between the rotation and the bullpen, I've assigned their WAR to whichever role they pitched the most innings. Most of these samples are small enough to not make much of a difference, at least for our purposes.

For each of these players it would be easy to alter their projections based on playing time alone, but I feel this is a pretty fair assessment of the whole. A full, solid season from Baker could very well make him a 4+ win pitcher, for example, but assigning him a value of 3.9 is accurate enough.

Pavano was worth 1.8 wins as a member of the Twins (last year's staff WAR totals include just those 1.8 wins, not the whole 3.7), with the remaining 1.9 coming from his time in Cleveland. After his first healthy and effective season in five years, some regression is to be expected. There's also a little bit of regression plugged in for Blackburn, although not enough to really notice a difference watching him pitch day-to-day. The biggest jump, and the guy who can have the biggest effect on the quality of the starting rotatin, is Slowey. A full and healthy season from him alone could make this rotation two wins better.

While Liriano also has some expectations for a bit of a rebound, I don't expect Perkins, Duensing or Swarzak to make significantly larger or smaller contributions than they did last season. If Liriano is beaten out by Duensing or Swarzak for the fifth slot in the rotation this could change.

Overall the rotation looks strong. It could get messy and start costing the Twins a few wins if two or more of the top five go down at the same time for an extended period.

The bullpen and totals after the jump.

Name '09 WAR Projected
'10 WAR
Joe Nathan 1.9 2.0
Matt Guerrier 0.4 0.5
Jon Rauch 0.7 0.7
Jose Mijares 0.6 0.8
Jesse Crain 0.4 0.6
Pat Neshek -- 0.7
Jeff Manship 0.1 0.2
Bobby Keppel 0.2 -0.1
Rob Delaney -- 0.0
Anthony Slama -- 0.0
Alex Burnett -- -0.1
Bullpen Totals 3.1 5.3

Like third base, the bullpen is an area from last season that could easily be improved. Unlike third base, the Twins already have the in-house options to make that possible. In fact, the Twins have so many in-house options that are major league ready that between the rotation and the 'pen there are going to have to be a few odd men out. It's a great problem to have, but it also means that the Twins might have the option of dealing guys like Perkins, Crain, Liriano or a selection of other replacement-level parts (see: prospects) to make everything fit.

Back to the project at hand, last year's 3.1 wins from the bullpen include performances from Luis Ayala, R.A. Dickey, Craig Breslow, Sean Henn, Juan Morillo, Armando Gabino and Philip Humber; only Ayala had a positive contribution (0.1).

Rauch contributed 0.3 wins to Minnesota after his arrival from Arizona, which means only that number was added to the relief corp's total. Having him around for an entire season should be a big help, and he should be a part of one of the American League's better pens.

Having said that, there may be some optimism plugged in. Nathan, Guerrier, Mijares, Crain and Manship (whose WAR totals from last season are actually included with the starters) all see incremental bumps in value, and expecting Neshek to be worth that much after being gone for most of the last two years might be asking for a bit much, but it's all achieveable. Nathan continues to be the only superstar reliever, but there is a luxury of bullpen depth this year. And as long as Neshek is healthy and can still stike guys out like it's going out of style, 0.7 wins is very achieveable for him.

That makes the pitching staff a total of 22.0 wins above replacement, an improvement of roughly four wins from 2009. There will be unexpected slumps and surprising stretches of shut-down pitching, but although four wins is a massive jump it's not unrealistic.

Add those 22 wins to the 23.3 wins estimated yesterday for position players, and on paper it looks like the Twins could be a 45.3 WAR ballclub. That translates into about 94 wins.

In 2010, if the Twins manage to win 94 games they should clear the AL Central with little trouble. Wins in the upper 80's are the most valuable because each one gives you a significantly better chance of making the post-season, and that's something it appears the Twins have been able to accomplish. Payroll reflects this, as Minnesota has assumed the luxury of paying a bit more money to guys like Crain and Young where they're numbers may not justify the salary. But where in the past the Twins may have opted for the less expensive route and taken a win or two off of their season total, this year the front office is paying extra to keep those wins on board.

There are still free agent options on the market, and there are players available via trade, that could help the Twins upgrade further. Kevin Kouzmanoff has been worth 2.73 wins over the last three seasons. Felipe Lopez would probably be worth a couple of wins. If the front office wants to upgrade, the options are still there, but if the Twins really are a 94-win team as they sit then the reality is this: additional upgrades won't be brought in to help the Twins in their bid to take the AL Central...they'll be brought in to help the Twins make their run through October.