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Twins 2017 Season Preview: The pitchers

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WARNING: Viewer discretion is advised.

Minnesota Twins Photo Day
“What have I gotten myself into?”
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Yesterday I went over the probable position players on the 2017 Twins Opening Day roster, so today we’ll take a look at the pitchers! This is a lot more terrifying.

Everybody knows that pitching has been the biggest problem for the Twins over the past Johan Santana-less years, and this year looks to be much of the same. There is some solace for Twins fans, though, in that a number of young arms—including highly-touted youngster Jose Berrios—are expected to be called up sometime during the season and hopefully not suck so bad.

As for the guys likely to make the roster for Opening Day, I have them presented below along with their 2016 numbers and 2017 ZiPS projected numbers.

The Starting Rotation

Starting Pitcher #1: Ervin Santana

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 26 156.3 4.32 121 50 19 80 75 4.14 2.1
2016 30 181.1 3.38 149 53 19 78 68 3.81 3.2

As the only starting pitcher with some record of consistent competency, Ervin Santana is the defacto “Ace” of the Twins staff. That’s not saying a whole lot.

ZiPS predicts that Santana, who will be 34 this season, willn’t do as well as he did last season, which is sadly probably the case. Still, he’s much better than nearly every other option the Twins have.

Starting Pitcher #2: Hector Santiago

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 30 152.3 4.79 127 68 24 87 81 4.91 1.1
2016 33 182 4.70 144 79 33 100 95 5.31 0.4

BEFORE YOU YELL AT ME, I did not make this decision! Paul Molitor already came out and said Santiago will pitch the second game of the season.

If you need a little refresher about why having Hector Santiago as the second starter in the rotation is a bit worrisome, go back and read Louie Opatz’s profile of him, “Hector Santiago is not to be trusted.” Or, you know, just look at the numbers above.

Starting Pitcher #3: Kyle Gibson

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 28 161 4.58 116 55 19 88 82 4.24 1.6
2016 25 147.1 5.07 104 55 20 89 83 4.70 1.1

Kyle Gibson did not have a great 2016 season, so most are looking for 2017 to be an improvement. Based on his spring training performance, which has been stellar, it should be an improvement.

Starting Pitcher #4: Phil Hughes

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 19 109 4.39 81 15 15 56 52 3.88 1.5
2016 12 59 5.95 34 13 11 40 39 5.08 0.2

As you may or may not remember, Phil Hughes missed most of last season when he broke his knee then decided what the hell he’ll get that pesky rib removed while he’s at it. Hughes has so far said that his throwing arm is feeling better without the extra rib, but his spring training performance has been pretty up and down.

If Phil Hughes can regain anywhere near his 2014 form, it would be a huge boon for the Twins, bu that’s a pretty big “if”, though. I’d be ecstatic just to see him only surrender fifteen dingers like ZiPS is predicting for some reason. For some context, Hughes has already given up seven dingers in his 22 innings of work this spring.

Want to read more about Hughes? Check out Andrew Bryzgornia’s profile, “The problem with Phil Hughes.”

Starting Pitcher #5: Tyler Duffey?

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 28 157.7 4.85 125 42 23 91 84 4.33 1.0
2016 26 133 6.43 114 32 25 103 95 4.73 1.0

As of now, the fifth spot in the rotation is the only one that is undecided, but I’m going to pencil in Tyler Duffey here. It’s either going to be him or Adalberto Mejia, whom the Twins received from the Giants in the Eduardo Nunez trade.

While ZiPS isn’t too high on the ol’ Duff, the PECOTA projections actually predict that he’ll be the Twins best starter in 2017. Weird right? It’s totally possible though, as Duffey is still pretty young and 2016 was considered some what of a down year for him.

If Mejia gets the starting nod over Duffey, Paul Molitor hasn’t ruled out sticking Duffey in the bullpen—though I don’t really expect that to happen.

The Bullpen

Closer: RHP Brandon Kintzler

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 52 52.3 3.96 32 12 6 25 23 4.12 0.3
2016 54 54.1 3.15 35 8 5 22 19 3.61 0.5

After Glen Perkins tore his labrum and he-who-shall-not-be-named blew what felt like fifty save opportunities in a row, old vet Brandon Kintzler took over as closer and did okay. Since Perkins still won’t be ready to pitch let alone close at the start of the season (if really ever), Kintzler will continue as the closer.

Will he stay the closer the entire year? Probably not.

Reliever: RHP Matt Belisle

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 43 45.7 3.74 33 12 4 20 19 3.69 0.4
2016 40 46 1.76 32 7 2 13 9 2.84 0.7

Matt Belisle is the reliever the Twins went out and signed this off-season at the suggestion of Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins to add some veteran presence to the bullpen. Don’t laugh, but it sounds like it’s working. Many of the younger arms in camp have been raving about how helpful Belisle has been.

As for how well he’ll actually pitch? Eh... he’s 36 years old and never pitched in the American League. Hopefully he’ll be consistently okay. Don’t expect him to replicate that ERA from last year, though.

Reliever: LHP Craig Breslow

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 39 47.0 4.98 35 19 7 28 26 4.97 -0.1
2016 15 14.0 4.50 7 4 1 9 7 3.93 0.1

The numbers above may be a bit misleading for our old friend Craig Breslow, because he basically had to reinvent himself to find a new job. After using a bunch of nerdy tools and changing his arm slot, Breslow drew interest from multiple teams, but ultimately turned down larger offers to re-sign with the Twins because he loved CBO Derek Falvey so much.

Because of the reinvention, it’s hard to know what to expect from Breslow this year. He’s been doing pretty well in spring training, so just knock on wood and hope none of the other teams figure out his new arm slot thing.

Reliever: RHP Ryan Pressly

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 58 66.7 2.78 58 23 7 30 28 3.77 0.6
2016 72 75.1 3.70 67 23 8 34 31 3.74 0.8

Ryan Pressly is a guy the Twins took in the Rule 5 draft a couple years ago, so if you’re a Twins fan you’re probably familiar with him. He’s grown up a bit now and is quite the little reliever these days. He can throw in the upper 90s, which is nice. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pressly closing games at some point this year.

Reliever: RHP Justin Haley

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 26 120 5.1 88 51 16 73 68 4.82 0.4
2016 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Justin Haley is the guy the Twins took in the Rule 5 draft this year (or who they traded for in the Rule 5 draft or whatever). That means—assuming the Twins keep him (and I think they will)—he has to remain on the 25-man roster for the whole season. He’s never actually pitched in the big leagues before, so this will be fun.

Haley has always been a starter, but the Twins are trying to hide him in the bullpen for his Rule 5 draft year as is customarily done. He’ll probably be used mostly in games where Phil Hughes gives up four home runs and is pulled after 1.2 innings.

Reliever: LHP Taylor Rogers

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 26 78.0 3.92 67 24 8 36 34 3.76 0.5
2016 57 61.1 3.96 64 16 7 29 27 3.57 0.6

Hey, a left hander! The Twins don’t have many of these. Taylor Rogers has had a fine spring training and is competent enough to maybe even be a step-up guy. So here he is, making the roster.

Reliever: RHP Michael Tonkin

Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
Year G IP ERA K BB HR R ER FIP zWAR/fWAR
2017 ZiPS Projection 64 68.3 3.95 69 20 9 32 30 3.77 0.4
2016 65 71.2 5.02 80 24 13 46 40 4.40 0.1

I have Michael Tonkin making the team here, despite the fact he struggled last year and has had a shaky spring. The fact of the matter is he’s on the 40-man roster and some of the other options are injured, so I think he’ll make the cut over a guy like Alex Wimmers.

Will Tonkin remain with the team all year? If he improves like the ZiPS projections think he will, maybe—but I’m not holding my breath.


On the Disabled list to start the year:

  • Ryan O’Rourke
  • Glen Perkins
  • Trevor May (out all of 2017)

Think these projections are wrong? Are you just terrified by them? I am.