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March 24, 2011

BP Unfiltered

The Slowey Situation

by R.J. Anderson

As Christina Kahrl noted yesterday, the Twins have decided on their Opening Day rotation, and it does not include Kevin Slowey. Instead, Nick Blackburn will bump Slowey into the bullpen or as trade bait for another reliever before the season begins. The Twins’ search for more bullpen help further confuses their decision to designate Pat Neshek for assignment rather than optioning him to Triple-A.

Slowey is not the most durable of pitchers in the league, as he has missed more than 180 days due to various injuries since 2008. Last season, he suffered right elbow soreness and a right elbow sprain, continuing a trend of throwing arm issues. As a result, Slowey’s CHIPPER ratings suggest he’s a moderate risk to miss 15-29 days this season. The Twins know Slowey’s medical records better than anyone else, so perhaps the decision to part with the former Winthrop attendee is more about health than performance. It almost has to be about more than performance, because there is no argument as to whether Slowey is one of the Twins’ five best starting pitchers:

Pitcher

2010 ERA

Projected ERA

Francisco Liriano

3.62

3.75

Carl Pavano

3.75

4.22

Brian Duensing

2.62

4.37

Nick Blackburn

5.42

4.64

Scott Baker

4.49

3.88

Kevin Slowey

4.45

4.00

The giant elephant in the room is Blackburn’s contract. The Twins signed him to an extension worth $14 million over four years prior to the start of the 2010 season. Blackburn responded with a career worst ERA of 5.42, but his SIERA remained nearly static from his previous seasons (4.83 instead of 4.68 and 4.69). Minnesota is no longer working with a severely restricted budget, but few teams, regardless of budget, will take the hit of a possibly poor move within 13 months of signing the documents in the first place.

The truth is, the Twins probably want to upgrade their bullpen while keeping Blackburn in the rotation and moving on from Slowey before a season-ending injury occurs. Otherwise, shifting Duensing to the bullpen and allowing Slowey and Blackburn to work in the rotation seems like the optimal choice, but not the one the Twins are likely to make.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Nick Blackburn,  Kevin Slowey

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Brock Dahlke

As a twins fan I am disappointed at the decision to leave Slowey out of the rotation, not only because he is a better pitcher than options like Blackburn, but he is also fun to watch with how fast he works on the mound. Now we have to watch more Contrerasian antics on the mound from the likes of Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn.

Mar 24, 2011 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Brandon R. Warne

You're exactly right RJ. The only thing I can think of is that they're giving Blackburn a shot, but would replace him with Slowey or even Gibson if/when he slips.

But even that seems to convoluted to be true. Blackburn is one of "Gardy's Guys", which is a new meme around the Twins blogosphere.

Mar 24, 2011 13:38 PM
rating: 0
 
thepain

This is exactly what I was going to say. I'm a Twins fan, and it's no secret that Gardy favors certain players even if they aren't very good options. Gardenhire himself said that Blackburn was one of his guys.

Mar 25, 2011 19:03 PM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

My reaction when Blackburn and Duensing were prematurely named to the rotation was, great, now the 3rd and 4th best starters on the team are competing for the 5th spot in the rotation, that makes perfect sense. And here we are, destined to watch Blackburn and Duensing flail away in the rotation while Slowey works middle relief. Between Blackburn's propensity to suck and Pavano's to get hurt, we'll probably see Slowey in the rotation soon enough, but I just can't help but feel this is yet another year the Twins will willingly give away games in the first half with bad personnel decisions only to hope that rectifying them in the second half will allow them to steal away another division title. The blogosphere rumor is that Slowey is another talented player who isn't subservient enough to the "Twins way" to win playing time over inferior players who are. I don't know if that's true or not; it's plausible, and if it is in fact true it sure is frustrating as a fan.

Mar 24, 2011 17:28 PM
rating: 1
 
Brandon R. Warne

Why can I only give this post +1?

All kidding aside, this is exactly right.

Mar 28, 2011 21:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Peter Benedict

I'm a Twins fan, and Slowey is my favorite Twins starter (has been for three years). Perhaps the rush to lament this decision is premature? I can think of all sorts of scenarios where this is a good idea. Blackburn's contract makes him untradeable, and giving him a chance to reestablish himself is a good idea if they believe he can do it. If he fails, they can eat cost and do the right thing, but eating that cost now would be dumb if there is any behind-the-scenes indication that it's not absolutely necessary.

On top of this, perhaps there are trading partners for Slowey that are willing to pay what he's worth, in which case trading a SP asset for a player where we have greater need is also defensible. I'm not confident in the Twins to identify their own areas of greatest need (cough, SS, cough), but they seem to do pretty well following their own priorities rather than mine.

Mar 24, 2011 20:13 PM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

It's Duensing, not Blackburn, who should be in the pen in lieu of Slowey, and I don't know why he's getting a free pass. The rotation should be Liriano, Pavano, Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. If they don't like Slowey or think he can't stay healthy in the rotation, they should try to trade him. Every day he's in the bullpen his trade value diminishes. On top of that who wants a flyball-oriented right-handed control artist in the pen? He's completely unusable in high-leverage situations. If they trade him, Duensing moves into the rotation and Gibson is brought up. If they don't trade him, Gibson gets called up when somebody gets hurt. With Duensing in the pen there's no need to carry two mediocre lefties in addition to Mijares, so Neshek can get an extended look in middle relief instead of being dumped for nothing, or Slama can get a look, or Burnett, etc. etc. Blackburn stays in the rotation and gets a chance to get back on track and stay there. Forget about the sunk cost argument - the contract is indicative of the Twins seeing enough in Blackburn that they shouldn't be giving up on him yet. So I agree with Peter that he should be in the rotation. The odd man out should be Duensing, who is no surer of a thing than Blackburn despite 200 BABIP-enhanced innings in the majors, not Slowey, who is better than both.

Mar 25, 2011 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
Brandon R. Warne

My original take was go with Blackburn in the roto, and move on from him once he falters/Gibson is ready.

Now I have no idea what to think.

Mar 28, 2011 21:00 PM
rating: 0
 
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