At 21-48, the Twins have the worst record in the majors and are seven games worse than the next-worst American League team (Oakland, at 28-41). There have been no shortage of stories and opinions about exactly what has gone wrong, along with heaps of discussions of who is to blame.
A fair amount of the finger-pointing has been directed at Twins GM Terry Ryan, and he in turn has said he deserves the heat.
But one point I keep coming back to is this one: even if you were skeptical of the roster coming into the season, nobody would have predicted this dismal record after 69 games. And in particular, if Ryan can be given any sort of pass, I believe it rests with the pitching staff. Even the biggest cynic would have been reaching to foresee that the 12 pitchers who broke camp and started the year on the big league club — and in particular the ones the Twins were counting on the most — would struggle to the level they have.
If the offense was (and perhaps still is) too reliant on young players such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and co., the struggles of the pitching staff are more defined by track records going off the rails. The starting staff alone has gone 10-34 with a 5.61 ERA. Clayton Kershaw won his 11th game of the year last night, giving him more wins than all the Twins starters combined.
Here is a look at the 12 pitchers who started the year on the roster:
Ervin Santana: The Twins could have reasonably expected a 2016 season on par with his 2015 half-season, when he posted a 4.00 ERA and logged 108 innings in 14 decent starts. Instead, his ERA has bloated to 4.83, even after a better outing over the weekend, to go with a 2-7 record.
Kyle Gibson: He’s been hurt, and when he hasn’t been hurt he’s posted a 0-5 record with a 6.06 ERA in six starts. The injuries and ineffectiveness might go hand-in-hand. Regardless: The Twins thought he was primed to take a step forward, and he has instead so far taken a step back from last year’s 3.84 ERA in nearly 200 innings.
Phil Hughes: He’s 1-7 with a 5.95 ERA and is out for a long time with a fracture in his leg. Hughes’ velocity has been down, a continuation of a trend from last year. But even if the expectation for this year was closer to his 11-9, 4.40 ERA in 2015 than his very good 2014 numbers (16-10, 3.52), it’s been an unexpected downturn.
Tommy Milone: He was penciled into the back end of the rotation after going 9-5 with a 3.92 ERA with the Twins last year. This year, he struggled early (5.79 ERA) before getting sent to Rochester. He dominated there, much as he did last season, and is now back on the major league roster.
Ricky Nolasco: He’s generally been considered the Twins’ most consistent starting pitcher this season, gaining the benefit of a comparison to his past struggles here and the struggles of his teammates. Nolasco’s ERA is 4.91 — his FIP, which tries to isolate a pitcher’s true performance, is much better at 3.46. But still it’s hard to say a guy with an ERA near 5 has been good. We can only say he has slightly exceeded very modest expectations.
Glen Perkins: The former All-Star closer was slated to once again anchor the back end of the bullpen. Instead, arm troubles continued to hamper his velocity. He appeared in just two games this season and has been shut down for season-ending surgery.
Kevin Jepsen: The Twins clearly overvalued Jepsen based on two very good months in 2015 (1.61 ERA after being dealt to Minnesota), but even if they were just planning on an average version of Jepsen it hasn’t happened. His 5.46 ERA towers over his career mark of 3.76.
Trevor May: Again, there were high hopes based on May’s strong work down the stretch in the bullpen in 2015. He started out effective — if wild — in 2016, but a brutal stretch bloated his ERA to 6.08 before he landed on the DL with back problems.
Casey Fien: After posting nearly identical seasons with the Twins form 2013-15 (ERA between 3.5 and 4, between 62 and 64 medium-leverage innings), Fien’s ERA bloated to 7.90 in 14 games with the Twins before he was dispatched. The Dodgers grabbed him, and he has a 3.27 ERA in 10 appearances with L.A.
Fernando Abad: He’s been the feel-good story of the staff, posting a 2.28 ERA after making the club in the spring — though his last few outings have been rocky.
Michael Tonkin: Another pretty steady performer with a 3.09 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning.
Ryan Pressly: His 4.06 ERA is about what would have been reasonably expected.
So basically the top four starters and top four relievers have either been injured, ineffective or both — and all have performed far below their established track records. You can question Ryan for signing some of those guys and overrating others. But you cannot say their level of performance has been anywhere near even a reasonable expectation.