I'm Gonna Say It: Lewis Thorpe Should be in the Twins Rotation
Sometimes I think I’m the king of dumb videos on the internet, so I thought why not combine two of my favorite things: being the dumb video king and also writing about baseball.
Here’s the video in question. I’m not even sure how to set this up, so I’m just going to ask you to hit play:
If you’ve followed my Twitter account for more than about 10 minutes you’ve probably seen me us a still of this in some form or fashion.
So weekly, I’m going to use this as an excuse to write about something I’m thinking the Minnesota Twins need to do, in my opinion.
For the first subject of such series, it’s my opinion — I’m gonna say it — that Lewis Thorpe needs to be in the team’s rotation on a full-time basis.
There’s really no reason for Matt Shoemaker to keep making starts for the Twins. He’s failed spectacularly through seven starts with a 6.62 ERA and no underlying stats that say it’s going to get much better.
I’m not saying the Twins necessarily have to DFA Shoemaker, but maybe his repertoire will work better in a relief role. Through 34 innings, he’s allowed a home run nearly every three innings he’s pitched, isn’t striking anyone out (6.1 K/9) and is in no way getting any relief from a .257 BABIP.
The only thing I can see potential relief, ahem, in is that his slider and splitter have both induced reasonably good swinging-strike rates of 12.5 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively. They are, however, his two most-thrown pitches and he’s still where he is right now.
Shoemaker’s sinker has been obliterated. Opponents have hit .333 on it with an OPS of 1.200. The four-seam fastball hasn’t been good, either, with a .348 average and a .966 OPS.
In the interest of full disclosure, the slider and splitter haven’t been all that great in batted-ball terms, either. Opposing batters are hitting .239 on his slider and .250 on his split, but that comes with slugging percentages of .565 and .458, respectively.
On a four-seam fastball, that would be understandable. On a pitcher’s primary breaking stuff — and primary pitches, besides — it just won’t work.
So maybe the Twins can transition Shoemaker to the bullpen and have him work in long relief while tweaking his repertoire to the point where his stuff can play up a bit. I’m not really thinking it’s a viable idea, but it’s something.
J.A. Happ is in a better spot, but if he keeps pitching like he did on Monday it’s probably not for terribly long. Happ had a 1.96 ERA through four April starts, but through his three May appearances, he’s posted an 11.68 mark (16 earned runs in just 12.1 innings) while opposing batters have smoked him for a .370/.435/.667 line.
Happ deserves a longer look for his recent track record and the fact that he kept it together for a handful of starts before things went sideways. He’s also a pitcher the Twins have far more invested in ($8 million) than Shoemaker ($2 million), so that plays a part as well.
Prior to Tuesday’s spot start by Bailey Ober in place of Michael Pineda, the top-five starters in the team’s rotation had made 37 of a possible 39 starts.
It’s time for that to change.
The pitcher who has made those two spare starts is Thorpe, who was largely a non-factor last year and carries a career 4.50 ERA in 54.0 big-league innings.
What I want to focus on with Thorpe, however, is that he’s looked fairly good in the two starts he made.
Thorpe, not unlike Happ, doesn’t light up the radar gun. He’s touched 92 mph with his fastball this season and 94 mph in the past, but he settles in around 89-91 with a pretty good ability to spot it when he needs to.
The slider has looked pretty good this season with a 17.0 percent swinging-strike rate, and for his career, it has an 18.8 percent swinging-strike rate and a .574 OPS against.
Now it’s hard to make any sort of serious analytical points based off 10 big-league innings. That’s undeniable.
And it doesn’t appear that the Twins are all that interested in having him as a contingency plan in the rotation as opposed to the bullpen — both of his appearances for the Triple-A Saints this season have come in relief, albeit on the longer side — so maybe this is speaking out of turn.
But one thing that’s intriguing about Thorpe this year that hasn’t been the case in the past is that his groundball rate has spiked significantly.
According to a Fangraphs post by Piper Slowinski dated Feb. 12, 2010, groundball rate stabilizes with 70 balls in play. Between St. Paul and with the Twins, Thorpe has seen 47 balls in play. But while that isn’t quite up to the 70 balls in play we need to say with any reliability that it’s a trend, it’s on the path to where it’s going to be hard to override significantly over the next 23 batted balls.
In St. Paul, Thorpe has posted a groundball rate of 54.5 percent; with the Twins, he’s at 59.4 percent.
It’s not an absolute necessity to induce grounders, but think of it this way — grounders never leave the ballpark. They sometimes don’t even leave the infield. They rarely go for extra-base hits.
This season, MLB hitters have put 6,483 grounders into play entering Tuesday’s action. None of them, of course, have been home runs. Collectively, they’ve gone for a slash line of .232/.232/.256.
Only 155 of the 1,501 hits on grounders in MLB this season have gone for extra bases — 149 doubles, six triples — or just a shade over 10 percent (10.3 percent, to be more precise).
It’s certainly not a crime to cobble together a fly ball-reliant staff like the Twins have. They when healthy, they have Byron Buxton and Max Kepler out there to flag down just about everything they can get to.
The Twins have the fifth-lowest groundball rate in MLB as a staff (41.3 percent) and it’s even low for their starters (41.0 percent).
MLB hitters have hit just .222 on fly balls this season — but with a slugging percentage of .674 as 81.8 percent of fly balls that were hits this season have gone for extra bases.
But foundationally, why not just give Thorpe a chance to see if the groundball thing is for real? The team has more than $32 million tied up in premier defensive players on the left side of the infield, and Jorge Polanco has performed acceptably at second base.
Statcast has Polanco at minus-1 outs above replacement, with his struggles primarily coming moving to his right. Simmons can help clean some of that up, and moving to his right is a lot less of an issue for a second baseman than a shortstop, for what it’s worth.
OAA doesn’t hate Miguel Sano at first base, either (plus-1, ninth among qualified 1B and the same mark that Alex Kirilloff has on fewer batted-ball events).
The Twins have a good defensive infield.
It’s time to put it to work.
Call up Lewis Thorpe.
There was a bit of an uproar — and that’s really overselling it — about Yermin Mercedes tattooing a 47-mph junkball from Willians Astudillo beyond the fence in center field on Tuesday night.
Jomboy, as he tends to, got to the bottom of it:
Hilariously, Mercedes’ own manager didn’t even like it.
Seriously — why does baseball hate fun so much? If you don’t want guys hitting 3-0 dingers, don’t throw three straight balls. If you don’t want guys hitting homers up 15-4, don’t fall behind 15-4.
Most of the "angst” — and I say this lightly — comes from Roy Smalley saying he “didn’t like it” but he’s a part-time announcer who played in the big leagues 30-40 years ago.
Of course he doesn’t like it. But he doesn’t speak for the fanbase, and I don’t even think if Justin Morneau was in that seat — as he usually is — he’d have had any issue with it.
Let the kids play.