I won't spend too much time on this, but something blew me away this morning and I just need to vent a little on the topic.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Nick Blackburn has earned a spot in the starting rotation, leaving two pitchers batting for the fifth spot -- Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey.
That's the opening to an article from last week on StarTribune.com. I still don't know how people haven't been blown away by this. Nick Blackburn is locked in as the club's fourth starter over not only Scott Baker, but Kevin Slowey as well? Are you freaking kidding me?
It's not that Blackburn is a bad pitcher. He was worth 5.5 WAR in 2008-2009, and he's probably good enough to start for a bunch of teams. The problem here, though, is that he's not good enough to start on his own team. It was odd enough when Gardenhire announced that Duensing was a lock for the club's rotation before even discussing Baker or Slowey. But at least Duensing thrived in a starting role down the stretch for the contending Twins last season, posting a 3.05 ERA and 3.91 FIP in 13 starts last season.
Blackburn, on the other hand? He put up a 5.42 ERA last year, and his 5.07 FIP isn't much kinder. Compare those numbers to Baker and Slowey, and you have to wonder what exactly the Twins are doing. Slowey put up a 3.98 FIP in 155 innings last season, and has been worth 6.6 WAR in the past three seasons. Baker's been even better, notching WAR marks between 2.5 and 3.5 in each of the past four seasons.
I'm not sure exactly what Gardenhire and the Twins are so enamored with Blackburn and Duensing, compared to Baker and Slowey. My first guess is that it's a batted ball profile thing. Blackburn and Duensing are extreme groundball types- they both had GB rates over 50% last season. Baker and Slowey are extreme flyballers, though- Baker's career GB rate sits at 34.1%, while Slowey's is even lower at 31.6%. But Baker and Slowey do a great job of making up for all those fly balls by putting up exceptional K/BB marks, and they've both proven that they can succeed with their current approaches.
I get that the Twins are concerned with their outfield defense- that happens when you start Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer on the corners- but they seem to be choosing worse pitchers on the basis that they induce more grounders. It could certainly be more complex than that, and I'm guessing that it is. I'm sure that Blackburn's contract, which runs through 2013, has been a consideration in all of this. But Baker's signed through 2012 as well, and he's proven to be a more effective pitcher than Blackburn anyways.
What it all points to, and something that corroborates with previous reports, is that the Twins are souring on Slowey. There have already been reports that the Twins are willing to deal Slowey, and the reality that he's seemingly being forced out of the club's rotation only supports that notion. He's not signed long-term, although he's under team control through 2013, and given the club's desire to use Blackburn and Duensing in favor of him, it would seem that they simply prefer their other options.