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Similarity scores, impact pitchers, and the Twins rotation

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Maybe things aren’t as dire as we think

Divisional Series - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

How many guys on this list would you consider an “impact pitcher” if they are healthy and in their prime?

  1. Brad Penny
  2. Justin Verlander
  3. Sammy Ellis
  4. Len Barker
  5. Livan Hernandez
  6. Mike Leake
  7. Scott Bankhead
  8. Michael Wacha
  9. Yordano Ventura
  10. Odalis Perez

I would personally say most, if not all of those guys would fit that description. Those are the most similar pitchers (via baseball reference) to Jose Berrios through their age-25 season.

Here is the same list for Jake Odorizzi (though age-29.)

  1. Ian Kennedy
  2. Jeremy Hellickson
  3. Anibal Sanchez
  4. Erik Hanson
  5. A.J. Burnett
  6. Jhoulys Chacin
  7. Jose Guzman
  8. Homer Bailey
  9. Joey Hamilton
  10. Wade Miller

Not quite as many “elite” guys, but there are a good handful here I would trust in a playoff series.

Now for Michael Pineda (through age-30.)

  1. Matt Harvey
  2. Dillon Gee
  3. Wei-Yin Chen
  4. Alex Cobb
  5. Collin McHugh
  6. Mike Minor
  7. Donovan Osborne
  8. Mike Smithson
  9. Brett Anderson
  10. Brian Lawrence

Still a good number of guys here who good teams would, and have, let take the ball for the third game of a playoff series.

The fourth and fifth spot in the Twins rotation is still a bit of a mystery. At least one of these (and the other better go to an outsider) will likely go to one of Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, or Devin Smeltzer. All three will probably start games for the Twins this season, but all three are still in small-sample-size territory. As such, none of them even have similarity scores available yet.

Imagine if you would, that the Twins have a rotation lead by 26-year old Justin Verlander. The year is 2009, Velander is an All-Star, third in the Cy Young voting, and 20th in MVP voting. He owns a 3.45 ERA across a league-leading 240 innings, and only gets better across the next few seasons.

After having to run through that buzzsaw, the opponents come out the next day to face 30-year old Anibal Sanchez (from 2014 if you’re keeping track,) who is coming off his best season in which he was third in Cy Young voting. Age-30 was a slight step down for him, but he still posts a 3.43 ERA in only 126 innings. FIP says he should have done better, it was all the way down at 2.71

Next your opponent faces Mike Minor circa 2019. You might remember this, as he put up an All-Star performance that had many suggesting the Twins should trade for him at the deadline. In 208 innings, his ERA was 3.59 and he finished 8th in the Cy Young voting.

Did I cherry-pick here? Of course I did. There are comparable players to each of our guys that look like an utter disaster. But, if you squint just a little bit, you can see the Twins having a solid, playoff-caliber rotation, without adding an “impact arm.” I still think there is a route via trade for them to do just that, and if other things break right, have a great rotation. If a trade can’t come together though, signing a couple guys who can be a solid #4/5 might be okay, especially if they still have potential to be better. The bullpen and offense look to be good enough to cover a just-slightly-better-than-okay rotation.

What do you think though?