By Matt Tschida
Seemingly every time Twins hitters have struggled over the past two seasons, the masses have made Joe Vavra the scapegoat. He's a convenient target who took a lot of heat last season despite an absurd amount of injuries to his lineup (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Span, etc.). Meanwhile, the 2011 pitching staff was mostly healthy and returning basically the same staff from 2010, yet their collective ERA jumped by nearly a half a run (from 4.17 in 2010 to 4.64 in 2011).
I have never been one to call for a person's head, especially a pitching or hitting coach, because their job performance can be very intangible. However, I think it’s time to put a little heat on Rick Anderson’s seat. Gardenhire has more affection for Rick Anderson than he did for Nick Punto, so he’s not likely to get fired, but it might be the change they need.
Rick Anderson is as likeable as any coach the Twins have on their staff—perhaps that's part of the problem. The Twins need someone with fire, or at least someone who can handle pitchers who are fiery competitors. Many people blame the front office for the lack of pitching talent coming through the system, but realistically, if Rick Anderson could have gotten along with some of their players, this starting rotation wouldn’t be worst in baseball. For example, here are just a few pitchers who, for various reasons, are no longer part of the Twins' rotation:
- R.A. Dickey – This is probably the easiest guy on the list to look past because of his age (now 37) and ineffectiveness during his stint with the Twins. If Anderson and the Twins staff could have stuck with Dickey during his transition to a knuckleball pitcher, they’d likely have a top 5 pitcher in the league. I personally don’t blame them for letting him go, because no one could have projected this type of progression for Dickey.
- Kyle Lohse – It was widely publicized that Lohse did not get along with Gardenhire and his staff—at one point he got so upset that he struck the manager’s door with a bat. The Twins rotation has a bulldog in Carl Pavano, but there really isn’t anyone other than him who has shown the fire needed to be a No. 2 or even No. 3 starter. Can you imagine this Twins staff trying to deal with Jack Morris, who was as fiery as they come? For some reason, Anderson and Gardenhire cannot handle these types of pitchers, but it is exactly the type of pitcher this squad needs.
- Matt Garza – Garza, like Lohse was another pitcher with a fiery attitude that didn’t see eye to eye with the Twins staff, prompting his trade to Tampa Bay. He may be stubborn, but Garza is another very competitive pitcher who would be a boon to this rotation.
- Kevin Slowey – Slowey was one of the Twins' prized pitching prospects, as he dominated at every level until he made it to the majors. Once he got to the show, he was actually fairly solid, going 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA in his first full season. Despite good win-loss totals (which are pretty meaningless) in 2009 and 2010, his ERA ballooned to the 4.50 range (still would be solid for this current rotation) and he was sent to the bullpen. As we know, he balked at the demotion, and was eventually traded away this past offseason.
- Glen Perkins – Given the success Perkins has had as a set-up man the past two seasons, many people forget the feud he had with the Twins staff. There was a point in 2009 where he and his agent were looking into a claim that the Twins were keeping him in the minors because of future free agent status requirements. The Twins staff was upset with Perkins for not disclosing a so-called injury after a poor start, but thankfully, the two sides made up before the club lost another solid arm.
These are just a few examples in the recent history of feuds between pitchers and the Twins coaching staff. Now, I understand that every team has some bad eggs, but this seems like a pretty obvious trend and it’s really being overlooked right now.
The Twins have scored the most runs out of any team in the MLB since mid-May, and their defense has been much better than last season, but the starting pitching staff (second worst in baseball) has prevented them from contending for the division. In fairness to Anderson, the Twins obviously miss Carl Pavano and Scott Baker, but their starters' No. 29 ERA (6.06) is more than a full run worse than the No. 28 Royals.
It's become painfully obvious that the Twins need to reevaluate Rick Anderson.