The Duensing Dilemma

14 Feb

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A big Happy Holiday to everyone out there. NO, not that fake, made up holiday, but a much more important holiday… Happy First Day of Pitchers and Catchers!! No, the Twins don’t report until Thursday, but several teams are opening their training camps today! Spring is here… kind of!!

There has been a lot of debate about which of the six Twins starters should move into the bullpen. Obviously Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano will be in the starting rotation. Scott Baker is going to be making $5 million in 2011, so he’ll be in the rotation. Plus, his predictive numbers in 2010 indicate that he should be better IF he is healthy. That leaves two spots to be fought for by Nick Blackburn ($3 million), Kevin Slowey ($2.7 million) and Brian Duensing ($0.45 million). By dollars alone, maybe Duensing is the appropriate choice.

In Friday’s TwinsCentric blog, Parker asked the question, “What role should Duensing have in ’11?” In it, he made a very logical, compelling argument for Duensing being in the bullpen. Looking at the numbers, it is a very fair argument.

Of course, I have the opposite opinion. I believe that Brian Duensing should begin the 2011 season in the Twins starting rotation. My reasoning is because each of the past two seasons, he has been a terrific addition to the Twins starting staff in the second half of the season. In 2009, he made nine starts and went 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. In 13 starts in 2010, he went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.

Are those numbers he can maintain over the course of a full season? Who knows? I’m just of  the opinion that he has done enough to earn that opportunity. Visibly, I see Duensing as a pitcher who throws in the low-90s and has good control of the strike zone with his fastball. He has a good curveball/slider and a good changeup. Although he is not overpowering, he gets really good sink on his fastball which helped him to a very high groundball rate. And also, he is left-handed.

The Twins have a lot of left-handed options in the bullpen to team with Jose Mijares. None of them have experienced the kind of success in the bullpen in their careers that Duensing did in his 40 bullpen appearances in 2010, but the team has options. The Twins seem to really like their Rule 5 draft pick Scott Diamond. They were willing to DFA Rob Delaney to claim Dusty Hughes who pitched well against the Twins and apparently has four good pitches. Chuck James and Phil Dumatrait have pitched in the big leagues and were acquired on minor league contracts. And then there is Glen Perkins, who for all his struggles the last two years, has some good stuff and we have seen him pitch well at times in the past. He is also out of options.

The bullpen is full of question marks, and Duensing could help alleviate some of that if he were in the bullpen. However, I will maintain that because of what he has done the past two years as a starter, I would rather have him pitch 180 to 200 innings than 60 to 80 inning in 2011.

Just because he starts the season in the starting rotation doesn’t mean he’ll end up there. Obviously Duensing will have to prove over the season’s first two months that he deserves to be a starter. A year ago, Nick Blackburn was coming off of two straight seasons in which he threw 399 total innings and posted ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03. There was no question that he should be in the Twins starting rotation, but soon after the All Star break, he was in Rochester. Of course, when he came back in late August, he pitched seven or more innings in seven out of his eight starts.

Maybe Duensing doesn’t profile as a top or even middle of the rotation starter. He doesn’t have Francisco Liriano or David Price like velocity or sliders. But that does not mean that he can’t be a good starter. There are plenty of examples of guys that may not have the greatest stuff, but they have terrific careers because they know how to succeed with what they have. Sometimes they even succeed over a long period of time.

I’m not saying that Duensing is the next Cliff Lee. I’m not even guaranteeing that he will end the season in the Twins rotation. Once the season gets to July, changes could be made to make the team better for a playoff run. What I am saying, and what I believe, is that his performance over the past two seasons, maintainable or not, has been more than enough to put his name, in pen, in the Opening Day starting rotation alongside Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano.

UPDATE – After writing this, I went to Over The Baggy and in Parker’s OTB Twins Notes, his first note was, “Ron Gardenhire told Sid Hartman and Mike Max on WCCO on Sunday that Scott Baker experienced a setback in his rehab stint following his off-season elbow surgery.

If that is a setback that pushes into the regular season, it should make the decision for Duensing to start the season in the rotation even easier.

I’m curious what people think about this topic. Has Brian Duensing done enough to earn the right to start the season in the Twins starting rotation, or does he need to do something more? Feel free to post your comments here.


Here are some more blogs and articles for you to peruse today:

  • Let’s start with a great series that K-Bro started on Sunday called Why Baseball is Better than Football. (Let me count the ways, right?!) Day 1 discusses training camp/spring training. I look forward to following the series throughout the week!
  • Be sure to read the rest of the OTB Twins Notes which along with the Scott Baker setback news also discusses a plan for Ben Revere/Joe Benson/Aaron Hicks, possible competition for Alexi Casilla this spring, and more.
  • Aaron Gleeman asks if the Twins are giving up on Francisco Liriano.
  • In Roger’s Weekly Twins Minor League Report, he posted updates on the Australian Baseball League championship series which Perth won. Luke Hughes and Allan de San Miguel played a huge role for that team.
  • There is a ton of great stuff over at Twinkie Town. I assume most of you already go there daily, but if not, check it out.
  • Puckett’s Pond takes a look at the Twins non-roster invitees to spring training. The player that everyone will be watching is Kyle Gibson, but they brought in a couple of others that have a chance to contribute to the Twins over the course of the season. I’ve mentioned Carlos Gutierrez, but I also think that Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber have a chance to contribute if needed, as do Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait and maybe even Yorman Bazardo.
  • The Baseball Outsider takes a look at the thinness of the shortstop market.
  • Off the Mark wants your help Predicting the Bullpen.
  • When I got home from the weekend away, I checked the mail. In it, I found a copy of the FANTASY baseball magazine. It is the 2011 Fantasy Baseball & Prospect Guide. It will be on newsstands and the cover shows Roy Halladay surrounded by Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford and Robinson Cano. I wrote the Twins minor league content in the magazine which consists of a Top 20 list and a few paragraphs on the Twins system. I know I have a bunch of products available right now that people can spend their money on. I feel a little guilty always posting them, but in this case, I guess I would say that if you’re getting some Fantasy Baseball magazines anyway, this is a good option. They have bloggers like myself provide the same information for all 30 major league teams, plus a top 300 prospects lists. That all comes after a ton of great fantasy baseball information and rankings.
  • I have been told that many people have started receiving their copies of the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011. If you have not yet ordered a copy, you can get one here. If you pre-ordered a copy and have not received it yet, let me know if you still don’t receive it by Tuesday or Wednesday, and I’ll do some digging. As you do receive yours, please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, ideas for future books, and anything else you would like. I welcome all feedback.
  • Along with my Twins prospect book, I have also purchased the Baseball America Prospect Handbook and John Sickels Prospect Handbook. The Digital Prospect Guide from Project Prospect is also now available now in either the Video Version or the Text Version. I can never get enough prospect talk and reading!
  • And finally, I am going to blatantly steal from the Twins Geek who wrote the following last Thursday:

 One week from today, pitchers and catchers begin their first workout AND the 2011 Maple Street Press Twins Annual ships, hopefully to you. There’s a good chance you’ll have it before Jim Thome has a bat in his hands.

At first, it looks like a 128-page magazine previewing the baseball season. But unlike anything else you’re buying, it isn’t half ads. In fact, it doesn’t have any ads. It also isn’t a preview of every team in the league. It’s JUST the Twins. It is like nothing else you have ever read in its breadth and depth of coverage of your favorite team.

That’s one reason I’m so proud of it. Nobody else dares risk something like this. This is our chance to show that a product like this, created for Twins fanatics, can work. Needless to say, if you’ve been stopping by this blog all offseason, this magazine is your payoff.

And like this blog, it’s a product of TwinsCentric. Nick, Parker, Seth and I helped arrange and edit its 19 feature-length stories and player profiles. But unlike our other products, this is old-school: a collectible with paper and great pictures, available on your magazine rack in March.

But who wants to wait until March? Not you. All offseason you’ve been talking about how winter can’t end soon enough. Here’s a chance to put your money where your mouth is. Enjoy your early spring. 

You can find out a LOT more about it here.


8 Responses to “The Duensing Dilemma”

  1. TT February 14, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I think the question of who the five starters are is going to get settled in spring training. If you base the decision on where things ended up last year, then Duensing deserves a spot and Blackburn is probably the odd man out. But I don’t think last year will, or should, have much to do with this decision six months later.

    All these guys have their strengths and weaknesses. Being able to stay healthy is just one of them that applies to all six, including Liriano and Pavano. There is no reason to start to evaluate this decision for another four weeks. Thats what spring training is for.

    • Seth February 14, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      One of the biggest illusions of spring training is that there are position battles to be won. Look at that Ramos/Butera ‘battle’ last year. They knew who was going to ‘win’ that battle all along. With the five starters, we know they’re going into it knowing who their starting 5 will be. They won’t say it because you never know what is going to happen, like an injury, that will alter those plans. This Baker situation may make them re-evaluate, but they have a contingency plan for that.

      • ben February 14, 2011 at 10:58 am #

        Apples and oranges. Ramos was better served continuing to develop at AAA rather than be Mauer’s backup.

      • TT February 14, 2011 at 11:41 am #

        Seth –

        “One of the biggest illusions of spring training is that there are position battles to be won”

        Do you really think the Twins know for certain who will be in the bullpen too?

        “With the five starters, we know they’re going into it knowing who their starting 5 will be. They won’t say it because you never know what is going to happen”

        If you are saying the Twins start spring training with some ideas, that is no doubt true. But the idea that they have made up their minds is not. There are way too many questions about Duensing, Blackburn and Slowey to be certain of which two will give you the best chance of winning.

        “Look at that Ramos/Butera ‘battle’ last year.”

        Uh – what battle? You mean the battle on blogs? I think it was obvious from day one that Ramos was not going to be a backup in the major leagues. Much the same way its obvious Gibson is not really in competition for a roster spot.

  2. mike wants wins February 14, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Well, since Deunsing is better than Blackburn, and you want your best players on the field more, not less, I don’t understand the question. Blackburn to the bullpen (what a horrible signing, they saved no money from what he’d have gotten in arbitration, and took on injury risk to the team, just a bad decision).

  3. Ruth February 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Hey Seth,
    I was very excited to get my Prospect Handbook! I started reading it right away, and especially liked the Stories from the Draft…..very interesting. Can’t wait to take it down to Florida for spring training!
    And yes, I agree that Brian D. deserves a spot in the rotation as long as he has a good spring.

  4. Jim H February 14, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    TT, if you go by how they ended last year, Blackburn deserves a spot and either Baker or Slowey does not. But that was injury related. In any case, if everyone is healthy and pitching well I expect Blackburn will likely secure a spot. He was basically the Twins best starter for 2 years, and when he returned from Rochester, he again pitched well. Who will be left out will depend on a number of factors, but a trade could solve the problem, especially if Bromberg or Gibson look close to major league ready this spring.

  5. Scruffy Rube February 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    I think Duensing’s just right for the Twins short term and long term. He shows organizational development–going from steady Cornhusker to more productive than his college teammate (Joba the Hutt)–and a solid clubhouse presence who listens to Anderson and Gardy. He can be good this year and in the future (preferably as a starter). And as Jim H. says, if Blackburn, Slowey and Gibson are in good shape we can trade someone in our surplus and pluck some talent off a desperate “win-now!” franchise.

    We can’t pay for sure things like Strasburg or Sabathia, we can just take our chances on guys other teams overlook. But starting pitchers in baseball are like mirages in the Sahara: try drinking the sand and maybe someday it’ll taste like water.

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