Closest Thing to an Ace

One of the more notable moves Terry Ryan made this off-season involved sending the Twins second starting center fielder Ben Revere to the Phillies for Vance Worley and Trevor May. To be honest I thought the trade would have been fair had it been Revere for Worley straight up.  To get a high-upside prospect to boot was a haul for Ryan and the Twins farm system.

It’s been well-documented that the 2012 Twins pitching staff finished 13th in the AL in ERA, last in hits allowed, 13th in runs allowed, 13th in home runs allowed, and dead last in strike outs – 143 strike outs shy of the 13th-ranked Indians staff.  The only starter on the staff with an ERA under 4.00 was Scott Diamond; and only Diamond, Francisco Liriano, and Brian Duensing pitched over 100 innings.  Diamond was the only pitcher with at least 10 wins, with Sam Deduno finishing 2nd with just 6. This staff lacked anything close to what you would call an “ace”.  Enter Vance Worley.

In 2011 Worley was an ace buried in the 5th slot in a rotation behind pitchers with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt stitched on the backs of their jerseys.  That season he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings. Impressively, he struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings that season with his fastball hovering right at 90.3 mph on average – not exactly overwhelming velocity.

Last season he struggled to a 6-9 record and a 4.20 ERA in 133 innings. He gave up 2.5 hits per 9 innings more in 2012 than 2011, and his strike out rate dropped to 7.2 K/9. His fastball followed suit decreasing almost a full mph to 89.6 on average.  The Phillies eventually shut him down at the end of August with an elbow injury.

Worley has been hit hard this spring in 5 starts, giving up 25 hits so far in just 15 innings of work. He’s only struck out 7 batters in those 15 innings, not looking like the front of the rotation starter the Twins staff needs him to be. It’s tough to put too much stock in these spring training numbers, however, as pitchers usually use these starts to work on pitches and get back in a groove.

One other thing that jumped out at me as I looked through Worley’s first couple of years in Philadelphia was that he only pitched more than 7 innings twice in 46 starts, earning just one complete game. Part of the reason for this could be that pitching in the National League, he was often pinch hit for in the late innings even if he was pitching strong. However, in most of his starts, he did throw 90-110 pitches, leading me to believe he was removed even in the 6th and 7th innings because of high pitch counts. To put this in a little bit of perspective, in 2011 Carl Pavano pitched more than 7 innings 10 times in 33 starts, throwing about 100-110 pitches each outing.

By 2014 or 2015, Worley probably won’t be considered the ace of this Twins pitching staff, with the likes of Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May climbing the ladder. However, even his down year in 2012 would have been considered possibly the best performance out of all of the Twins starters last year. I truly believe once he is completely recovered from his off-season elbow surgery, he will be the closest thing to an ace the Twins have.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.