There seems to be something special in the air across baseball in recent years and pitching is at the center of this change. Following an era of baseball that was full of steroid filled sluggers, pitching seems to have regained the upper hand. Entering play on Sunday, the top 16 pitchers in the National League and the top 7 pitchers in the American League all had sub-3.00 ERAs. In contrast to the 2011 season, there were a combined 16 sub-3.00 ERAs between both leagues.
For the Twins in 2012, there is only one starting pitcher that has a sub-3.00 ERA, Scott Diamond. He doesn't have enough innings under his belt to qualify for a position on the AL leaders board and the rest of the starters are in the same position. Most of the other Twins starting pitchers have an ERA that is well over 5.00 and the team's combined ERA of 5.12 is the second worst in all of baseball.
But a change in ERA isn't the only sign of a shift in baseball, there seems to be a rise in the amount of hard throwing pitchers. There are plenty examples in both leagues with Justin Verlander winning the AL MVP last year and Aroldis Chapman emerging for the Reds. According to FanGraphs, the hardest thrower in both leagues out of the players that qualify is Stephen Strasburg at 96.1 mph. The top 15 fastballs for starting pitchers are all above 93.0 mph; but if you expand it to include relief pitching, there are 35 pitchers with a fastball that averages over 95.0 mph.
Over the recent years of Twins baseball, the team has been known as a "pitch-to-contact" team and organization. This can be seen in the pitchers that make up the current roster for the Twins. Out of the starting pitchers, Francisco Liriano has the hardest fastball at over 93 mph but the rest of the starters sit around 90 mph or lower. The relief pitchers are lead by a former starter, Glen Perkins, and his fastball that averages over 95 mph. While there are plenty of relief pitchers across baseball with big fastballs, the rest of the Twins relief core sits around 93 mph with their heaters.
There are teams across baseball that have been able to create outstanding pitching staffs based on their team's drafting and scouting departments. The San Francisco Giants have a rotation composed of three very good pitchers that were brought through the farm system of their organization. There are ups and downs with Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner but for the most part these three pitchers have been very good on the mound. Another team with outstanding homegrown pitching staff is the Tampa Bay Rays. Their combination of James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson completes one of the deepest staffs in the game. Both of these organizations have used the draft to find pitchers from multiple rounds of the draft to build their pitching staff.
With the Twins knowing that something had to change for the future, they changed some of their draft philosophy for the 2012 season. Instead of looking for pitch-to-contact players like the team had been doing, the Twins front office made a conscious switch to finding players with more upside. The main qualities the Twins were looking for were "power and raw speed" and the team took four pitchers in the first two rounds. For the entire draft, the organization took 24 pitchers out of the 43 picks the team was given. In the end, not all of these players will sign but it seems like the team is finally moving in the right direction.
This change in draft philosophy could be a good start for the Twins but it will be quite some time before the team will know if they selected the right players in the 2012 draft. For now, the future of Twins pitching does not look like it is in the perfect place. There are plenty of question marks surrounding the 2012 Twins and how the rest of the season will go with the starting staff. Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, and Scott Baker can all leave via free agency and for most fans that would be a welcome sight. But the Twins would have to replace these pitcher and pitching doesn't come cheap. Scott Diamond, Nick Blackburn, and Liam Hendriks look to be the front runners for the 2013 rotation. But in the era of pitching, these three names leave the Twins and their fans wanting something more...