Yesterday I started the first part of a three part series about the pitchers that are on the bubble for the final spot in the Twins rotation. Ron Gardenhire has sloted Pavano, Liriano, Duensing, and Blackburn into the first four spots in the Opening Day rotation. This leaves Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Kyle Gibson as the final three battling for the fifth spot in the rotation.
In the first part of the series, I looked at Kevin Slowey and his journey in recent seasons. Today is day two of the "3 for 1 Special" and the player to be examined is Scott Baker.
Scott Baker is the longest tenured Twin to be part of the starting rotation. He has been part of the rotation for the last four seasons and he pitched in parts of the two seasons prior to that streak. There have been high and low points along the way. The 2008 season may have been his best season from a statistical stand point. He had his only sub-4.00 ERA (3.45) and he managed a 1.178 WHIP.
Baker has much more experience in the rotation by appearing in 54 more games than Slowey. Baker has shown the ability to eat innings for the Twins by having 170+ IP in each of the last three seasons and he hit 200 IP in 2009. Both of these players have very little experience pitching out of the bullpen at the major league level. So the Twins need to decide who is able to pitch out of the 'pen or is it time to part ways with one of these pitchers.
Some followers of the Twins team have given Baker the various nicknames that have to deal with his tendency to give up HR, like "Big Shot Scott" or "Long Shot Scott." Over the course of his career Baker has given up 1.2 HR per 9 innings. This is slightly less than the 1.4 HR per 9 innings Slowey has shown over his career. Baker also gives up a decent amount of hits, 9.4 per 9 innings pitched. In 2008 and 2009 he was able to keep that number under 9, but last season it escalated to 9.8 hits per 9 innings pitched.
Baker was last year's Opening Day starter and now the club is at the point where he might be relegated to the tail end of the rotation. An arm ailment has also caused some set backs with Baker and that could be holding him back at this point in Spring Training. Baker has given the standard line about being ready to fill whatever role the club needs him to fill, but it is hard to imagine him being comfortable in a bullpen position. Even though Baker was used in a long relief role against the Yankees in last year's playoffs.
The Twins had hopes for Baker over the last half of a decade. The organization had hopes that he could develop into a Brad Radke type starter that would be a fixture at the front-end of the rotation for the better part of a decade. Baker might be running out of opportunities, especially if he loses a spot in the rotation. He would be another expensive addition to the bullpen for the Twins and that is a role that I can not see Baker filling for the club.