Twins Management: Rocket Scientists, by ESPN's Jonah Keri

By Jonah Keri

Francisco Liriano made his first start of the season yesterday. Liriano tossed six shutout innings. Also, the Twins cruised to a 6-2 win and took over first place in the division.

This was not a coincidence.

In 118 innings at Triple-A Rochester this year, Francisco Liriano struck out 113 batters, walked just 31 and allowed just 102 hits and eight homers. Over his last 10 starts, he was even better, doing a fair imitation of Sandy Koufax in his prime.

Meanwhile in 139.2 major league innings with the Twins this year, Livan Hernandez allowed 199 hits (by far the most in the majors) and 93 runs (also the most in the majors). He’d allowed five runs or more in nearly half of his starts (11 out of 23). On July 25 he ceded five runs along with a ridiculous 15 baserunners in an eight-inning, complete-game loss to the Indians. After the game, Hernandez essentially told reporters that you can’t ask for much more than a complete game from a pitcher.

So wait, are we to believe that a pitcher who was the dominant force in the game two years ago, who then returned to Triple-A this year and made grown men beg for mercy at the plate for the past two months, would give the Twins a better chance of winning than the pitcher who’s given up more runs and hits than anyone in the game this year, who believes that allowing two baserunners an inning is the gold standard for pitching in today’s game?

Forgive the sarcasm, but the way Twins management handled this whole situation has driven me completely insane, and I’m not even a Twins fan. To wait until August 3 to slot Liriano into the rotation and (presumably) dump Hernandez is so, so… myopic? Dumb? The best word to describe it may be…crizazlebeans.

Here’s what I wrote about the Liriano vs. Livan situation a week ago in another publication, just before the Twins finally came to their senses.

There are four possible reasons that could be preventing the Twins from calling up Liriano, even though he's pitching like vintage Dwight Gooden at Triple-A:

1) They’re keeping him in the minors to limit his big league service time.

2) They’re trying desperately to find a taker for Livan Hernandez so they can get something in return for him and not have to eat his contract.

3) They’re being stubborn after Liriano's agent made legal threats over the Twins keeping his client in the minors.

4) They actually believe that Livan Hernandez is a better major league starter than Liriano.

Whether it’s tightwad accounting, wishful thinking, intentional sabotage, or plain old incompetence, it has to stop. Liriano would provide a huge boost to a team that's in the thick of a playoff race.

No-duh. City Pages' own Judd Spicer made this argument himself a few short weeks back.

Numbers-obsessed baseball analysts (like myself, actually) can talk all they want about the Twins being lucky to be where they are with their so-so run differential. They can point to the Twins hitters’ performance in clutch situations being vastly superior to their overall numbers and suggest that they’ll soon regress to the norm and start losing close games. They can point to a Sunday lineup that includes a minor league underachiever leading off, a guy with 10 homers in 559 career games hitting second and a washed-up, 37-year-old backup catcher hitting third and conclude that this team is doing it with smoke and mirrors.

But those 62 games in the Twins’ win column are all in the bank—they don’t have to give them back. With less than two months to go in the season, the Twins have a real shot to win the AL Central. To help them achieve that goal, they’ve finally made a move that could have a bigger impact than Manny to L.A., Teixeira to Anaheim, Bay to Boston or any other transaction this season.

Stay tuned for other realizations by Twins management, including the groundbreaking discovery that uranium is delicious, but also deadly.

--Jonah Keri, [email protected]

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