Who’s Your #1 Starter?

Just as basketball positions have morphed from what we knew as kids – guard, center, forward – to specific numbered slots, starting pitchers are now referred to as a #2 starter, #5 starter, etc. So far as I can tell, this refers to the order of who’s the best, on down. But what does it matter? In basketball, the number refers to the characteristics of the position – the “4 slot” may be a “power forward,” the most physical of your forwards; the “2 guard” is more the shooter than the passer (I’m guessing here) – but that’s not the case with pitchers. Your #5 starter could be a power pitcher or a finesse pitcher; it just means he’s the fifth starter the team puts out there when the season starts. The #1 guy is your Opening Day starter, but after that, what’s the difference? Once the order is set, the pitchers follow one after another – that’s why it’s called the “rotation” – and you’re just as likely to start a series with #3 as #1. Yet every pitcher is now pegged, by quality if not practice, as a #1 to #5.

Twins Preview – 2014

I can’t think of  a baseball season in which I was less excited about the prospects of “my” team, in this case still the Minnesota Twins. It’s not just that they are universally picked to finish last in their division – with projected losses between 90 and 100 – it’s that there’s no individual player whom I eager to follow. The starters are all players I watched last year without much enthusiasm; perhaps they will be better, but that would just raise their batting averages from .225 to .250. Their only consistent hitter, Joe Mauer, hits a quiet .320, with as often as not a meaningless single resulting in a 1-for-3 box score.

The touted upgrade comes in the pitching rotation, where the Twins added two free-agent starters, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, to their two free agents from last year, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Both can generously be described as journeymen with their potential behind them. Hughes, it is said, pitched particularly well at Target Field for the Yankees last year, but let’s remember whom he was pitching against. I said last year that Glen Perkins was the only Twin not named Mauer (at that time a catcher) who could play for any team in the Majors, and his season justified my view. I was pleasantly surprised by other relievers – Jared Burton, Casey Fien and Caleb Thielbar in particular – but there’s not much they can do if the starters give up five runs and the offense can only muster two.

Are we already putting too much pressure on Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer to resurrect the Twins before they play a game?