This is part 2 of 5 of TheYankeeU’s preview of the 2010 American League Division Series. Part 1 covered the Twins’ ace Francisco Liriano.
Yesterday I took the long route towards analyzing and breaking down the Twins’ Game 1 starter for the American League Division Series, Francisco Liriano. Today I’m looking at the rest of the rotation for the Twins in the ALDS: Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn.
Game 2 starter: Carl Pavano
Unlike Liriano, I’m not going to discuss the circumstances that led Pavano to Game 2 of the ALDS for the Minnesota Twins, as doing so would fill me with murderous rage. Instead, I’ll focus directly on his 2010 campaign. Pavano has thrown an astounding 221 innings in 2010, a number that represents his career high. For what it’s worth, Pavano threw 199.1 innings in 2009. The last time he combined for that many innings back-to-back was in 2003 and 2004, right before he signed the disastrous contract with the Yankees. On the year Pavano has a 3.75 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Unlike LIriano, his strikeout rate of 4.8 per nine innings is abysmal, but he does manage to limit the walks with a 1.5 BB/9 rate. This leaves him with a 3.16 K/BB ratio, just shy of Liriano’s 3.47 mark. Yet his K/BB ratio is formed out of an entirely different statistical profile. Liriano averages high strikeouts and a fairly low walk total, while Pavano has a low amount of strikeouts and a microscopic walk rate.
Despite the fact that Pavano isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, he still registers a FIP close to his ERA at 4.02. His xFIP is nearly identical to his FIP at 4.01. Pavano features a nearly identical repetoire to Liriano, although it’s not nearly as good. He throws a fastball, slider and changeup, relying heavily on the fastball. Unlike Liriano, Pavano prefers to go to his changeup as his put-away pitch. According to Texas Leaguers he relies heavily on the changeup on 0-2 and 1-2 to try to get batters to strikeout. On 3-2 he’s more reliant on the slider, but also throws the changeup with great regularity.
The Yankees faced Pavano last year in Game 3 of the ALDS, and he pitched as well as anyone could have expected – going 7 innings, allowing 5 hits, 2 runs and no walks and striking out 9. The runs came on a home run to Alex Rodriguez, and Pavano was simply outdueled by Pettitte and the Twins dropped the game and the series to the Yankees. The positive sign for the Yankees this time around is that Pavano has faltered a bit in August and September. His ERA since the start of August is 4.85, with the Rays, the White Sox, the Tigers and the Rangers all hitting him well. While he closed the season on a high mark against Toronto, it’s worth noting that his good performances in the second half came largely against weak hitting teams: Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Oakland and Seattle. The Yankees are no Kansas City, so hopefully they can hit Pavano early and often.
Game 3 Starter: Brian Duensing
The Twins’ Game 3 starter in the ALDS is lefty Brian Duensing, who was the Game 1 starter in the 2009 ALDS against CC Sabathia. After opening the year in the bullpen, Duensing moved to the rotation in late July and proved to be a valuable weapon for the Twins down the stretch. In 14 games, Duensing threw 87.2 innings and posted an ERA of 3.08, striking out 51, walking 23, allowing 8 HR, good for a FIP of around 4.00.
Since returning to the rotation, Duensing has relied most heavily on his fastball. According to Texas Leaguers he’s thrown a sinker 34% of the time and a straight fastball 21% of the time. After that he leans heavily on his changeup and mixes in a slider infrequently (around 15% usage). His repetoire allows him to generate a lot of groundballs (FG has him at 53% on the year), and he’s also notably tougher on lefties than righties. Of the 11 home runs Duensing has yielded in 2010, 10 of them have come off the bats of right-handed hitters. Righties OPS .751 against him this year, compared to .457 OPS-against when facing lefties. As such, one has to imagine Marcus Thames will see some playoff action in Game 3.
One final note about Brian Duensing is the state of his left shoulder. In his final start of the year he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings to the Blue Jays, and after the game manager Ron Gardenhire said that Duensing had some shoulder discomfort: “Duensing left with a little bit of a sore arm…I think it’s muscular. I think everything’s going to be fine, but it’s something we’ll definitely have to look into, and we’ll let you know more as we find out more.” According to Duensing it wasn’t so much pain as tightness, due in part to the cold weather: “It’s not necessarily sore, it was tight…I think the cold weather had a little bit to do with it. It just took me a little while longer to warm up before the game.”
Weather.com indicates that the low temperature on Saturday in the Bronx will be 46 degrees, and the game will be starting at 8:30 pm.
Game 4 Starter: Nick Blackburn
Robert Nicholas Blackburn is the Twins’ game 4 starter. This is an unfortunate turn for the Twins since it indicates how poorly things have gone with Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey this season. After receiving a rather generous contract extension this offseason (4 years, $14M), Nick Blackburn promptly turned into the worst-case iteration of a pitcher of his type. In his first 19 appearances on the year he threw 104 innings of 6.66 ERA and averaged an OPS-against of 0.943. Nick Blackburn essentially turned lineups facing him into a bunch of Troy Tulowitzskis and Matt Hollidays. The Twins banished him to Triple A, and when he returned a month later he looked more like the Blackburn of 2009, throwing 57 innings of 3.16 ERA ball in 9 appearances (8 starts, 1 relief appearance).
Yet, it’d be foolish to pronounce Blackburn cured. His first outing against Texas was decent enough, but his next outings were against the following teams: Seattle, Texas, Cleveland, Oakland, Cleveland, Kansas City and Toronto. Like Duensing, Blackburn has seen some weak opposition in the last few months of the season. It’s true that his 3.95 FIP over that time is impressive, but it remains to be seen whether Blackburn can succeed against more patient and better-hitting lineups.
In Pavano, Duensing and Blackburn the Twins have three guys who are in many ways the polar opposite of Francisco Liriano. They don’t throw particularly hard and they don’t strike many guys out. Like Liriano, they’re good at limiting the free passes, but they all pitch to contact and rely on the Twins’ overall solid defense to convert the balls in play into outs. As good as these pitchers have been, though, one has to wonder if the pitch to contact strategy could come back to bite them in a short series. If the Yankees are able to have patient at-bats and get free passes, they may be able to put up runs in a hurry. And if the Yankees start the series by beating Francisco Liriano, the Twins may find it getting late early again this postseason.