Replacing Scott Baker


Entering this 2012 season, the Twins’ projected rotation included Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Jason Marquis, and Nick Blackburn. Two of those pitchers, however, are not currently on the team’s active roster. We’ll see one of them shortly, as Marquis is currently in the minors, tending to an ailing child and also preparing for the season; I figure we’ll see him on the active roster by the end of the month. Baker, on the other hand, won’t be seen in a Twins uniform at all this year, and maybe not ever again.

Anthony Swarzak and Liam Hendricks are currently filling in the two vacant rotation slots. My hope is that Swarzak returns to his long reliever and spot starter role upon Marquis’ return, which I feel he’s suited best for. We’ve yet to see Hendricks pitch in 2012, and while I hope he flashes some brilliance on the mound, I won’t be disappointed if he does not—he’s only 23 and may need a little more time in the minors. I wouldn’t mind seeing Scott Diamond, who’s pitched over 12 shutout innings in Rochester to start the year, get a crack in the big league rotation. My hope is that those three—Swarzak, Hendricks, and Diamond—can adequately cover the starts Baker would have taken, and that no other injuries will decimate our starters.

The real reason behind this post is actually to look to who will replace Scott Baker in 2013, not 2012. It’s likely we’ll already be losing Pavano, Liriano, and Marquis to free agency, and Baker may follow them if the Twins feel the combination of his $9.25m price tag and his injury history is too risky. In the event of this happening, what are the positives that Baker brings to the table that would need to be replaced?

  • Strikeouts – more than any other Twins right-handed starter, Baker has a solid career 7.2 K/9, and was even better than that last year, averaging 8.2 K/9. Pavano (4.1), Marquis (5.2), and Blackburn (4.6) don’t come close to that.
  • Low walk rate – this is a quality Twins management always searches for, and Baker’s a prime embodiment of that, having never walked more than 2.3 BB/9 in a season in his career.
  • Low steal rate – the last two years combined, only 7 bases have been swiped off Baker, while 11 attempted base stealers were caught. That 61% caught stealing percentage is double the league average that typically hovers between 26-28%.
  • Other – Baker had a career year last year, having posted his lowest ERA ever and an outstanding ERA+ of 128. He had his lowest HR/9 rate in the last four years, All told, he’s had a record of 46-28 for a 62% win-loss percentage these past four years. To be thorough, it is important to remember that Baker does have his weaknesses, including durability issues (only having started 30+ games or thrown 200+ innings in a season once in his career) and having never started a playoff game for a team that’s been to the postseason many times while he’s been a mainstay in its rotation.

If Baker takes his talents elsewhere for 2013, who are options to replace him? Obviously, the trio of Swarzak, Hendricks, and Diamond are all possibilities. Hendricks can hopefully be a lock for the rotation, given his potential, and I also like Diamond as a fourth or fifth starter. I like his left-handedness and also the fact that a few of his minor league stats mirror Baker’s major league stats: a K/9 rate over 7, a BB/9 rate under 3, and a miniscule HR/9 rate. There would be some translation to major league hitters and more maturity/experience needed, but I believe Diamond could be a key rotation piece for next season.

Other in-house names to watch are Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers, David Bromberg, and Andrew Albers. A year from now Gibson will just be back from Tommy John surgery, so I hope they start him in AAA, easing him back so he can join the big league squad firing on all cylinders come midsummer. Wimmers begins this season at AA, so I figure they’ll have him at least start 2013 in Rochester as well. Bromberg is a big kid who pitched great in 2010 but had an ugly 2011. It looks like they’re trying him at relief to begin this year, but I hope he figures it out and can make it to the big leagues as a starter, since he’s got the big build and height of Baker and could be an imposing presence on the mound. Albers is an older southpaw prospect who pitched great last season at two levels. His peripherals in the minors match those of Diamond, so perhaps he, too, could find major league success.

With potentially four open rotation spots next season, GM Terry Ryan may also look to the free agent market to look for help. Five names I hope he looks at are Colby Lewis, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Anibal Sanchez. They wouldn’t necessarily come cheap, but they could become that elusive “ace” the Twins have lacked the past few seasons. That elusive “ace” was something many predicted Scott Baker might become in 2012—while that won’t happen this year, I’d be more than happy if he could still pull it off come next year. On that note, here’s a potential rotation a year from now that I wouldn’t mind watching pitch:

  • Scott Baker/free agent pitcher listed above – #1/elusive “ace”
  • Liam Hendricks – #2
  • Nick Blackburn – #3 (I’m actually prematurely excited about him right now)
  • Scott Diamond – #4
  • Andrew Albers – #5 (hopefully he could hold the spot until Gibson and/or Wimmers were ready)

Good luck to Scott Baker on his recovery; we hope to see him pitching well for us next year. Until then we’ll take who we have and root for them to succeed. Go Twins.