MINNEAPOLIS - Originally published on TwinsDaily.com
Baseball is certainly going to look different in 2020 and this will force managers to be creative in how they approach in-game strategy. From pitching changes to line-up construction, managers are facing an unprecedented 60-game schedule where decisions will be scrutinized at every turn. In this unique season, the Twins seem to be lining up a two-starter system as Opening Day approaches.
Like many managers, Rocco Baldelli isn’t always forthcoming with specific information in relation to the strategies his team is employing. However, a picture of Minnesota’s rotational strategy seems to be emerging from the information available.
Starters won’t likely be able to pitch late into games when the season starts, so pairing pitchers makes strategical sense. Let’s examine the team’s potential pitcher pairings.
RHP Jose Berrios/RHP Randy Dobnak
Jose Berrios had already been named the team’s Opening Day starter back in spring training, so it makes sense for him to get that opportunity when the shortened season commences. Randy Dobnak was fighting for a rotation spot in the spring, but his pairing with Berrios is intriguing. He surprised a lot of people last season as he pitched at three different minor league levels before making his debut. Berrios and Dobnak were two of the team’s starters during last season’s playoff series with New York and they could help the team get off to a strong start.
RHP Jake Odorizzi/LHP Lewis Thorpe
Jake Odorizzi accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer this winter and now he has fewer games to prove he is worth a potential long-term deal. There was a lot of buzz surrounding Lewis Thorpe back in spring training, but he left to deal with some personal matters and was eventually sent to minor league camp. With those issues behind him, he has a good chance to be back on the pitching staff. Odorizzi, a right-handed pitcher, and Thorpe, a left-handed pitcher, could make it tougher for opposing teams to create an optimal batting order.
RHP Kenta Maeda/LHP Devin Smeltzer
Kenta Maeda, Minnesota’s big off-season trade acquisition, has something to prove as a starter after being used as a starter and reliever with the Dodgers. Like Maeda, Devin Smeltzer started his professional career in the Dodgers organization. Smeltzer found success last season even though his pitching repertoire would hardly be called overpowering. He relies on a fastball that ranks in the 6th percentile for velocity and in the 86th percentile for spin. As with Odorizzi and Thorpe, this pairing gives the Twins another righty-lefty pitching combo.
LHP Rich Hill/RHP Homer Bailey
Following off-season surgery, Rich Hill wasn’t scheduled to be available to start the season. However, the delayed start means he’s ready to join the rotation. A shortened season might be just what the doctor ordered for Hill. He turned 40-years old in March and he’s averaged less than 110 innings pitched over the last four seasons. Over that stretch, he has a 3.00 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 10.6 SO/9. Homer Bailey is coming off a bounce-back season where he had a 4.57 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over 163 1/3 innings. Together, they would comprise the team’s third right- and left-handed duo.
RHP Jhoulys Chacin/RHP Sean Poppen
Both Jhoulys Chacin and Sean Poppen were on the outskirts of the team’s original rotation plans, but expanded rosters to start the season allow for alterations. Chacin struggled last season in Milwaukee and Boston by posting an ERA north of 6.00. From 2015-2018, he posted a 3.97 ERA with a 1.28 WHIP, so he could be a good candidate to bounce-back in 2020. Poppen was the Twins 19th round pick back in 2016. Last season he made his big-league debut, but most of his innings came at Double- and Triple-A. Across 20 minor league appearances, he had a 4.01 ERA with a 10.7 K/9.
Minnesota’s two-starter strategy could be key for the team getting off to a good start going into a shortened season where the Twins already have a great chance to win their first championship since 1991, according to the World Series odds we found at SBD.