Do The Minnesota Twins Have A Pitcher Problem?

ARLINGTON, TX: Scott Baker #30 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after giving up a RBI single against Chris Davis #19 of the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It's quite likely that the name "Dan Osterbrock" doesn't mean anything to you, unless you're a devoted fan of the Minnesota Twins or you're related, by blood or custom, to Dan Osterbrock.

Doesn't mean he doesn't matter, though.

Osterbrook was a seventh-round draft pick in 2008, by the Twins, and spent nearly all of his four professional seasons, 2008-2011, pitching below Class AA. He never made Baseball America's list of the Twins' top 30 prospects, though he seems to have come close a couple of times. John Sickels wrote about him once, the winter after he was drafted: "Osterbrock is a classic finesse lefty with an average fastball, a strong changeup, a curveball, a slider and excellent command." John gave Osterbrook a C grade.

That was three years ago, and Osterbrock's stock didn't improve much afterward. His numbers have been solid, but his strikeout rate fell with each step up the minor-league ladder -- rookie ball to short-season Class A to full-season Class A -- which is exactly what you would expect from a finesse lefty.

Anyway, Osterbrock finally reached AA last summer. In two starts there, he gave up 14 runs in 6⅓ innings. In toto, he pitched only 24⅔ innings in 2011. Seems he was hurt. Seems it took a while for everyone to figure that out, though. Here's Osterbrock, just this morning:

Gosh. I'll bet that went over real well in the front office. Then again, Osterbrock's a 25-year-old finesse lefty who's barely pitched above Class A and just had shoulder surgery.

Oh, also: He's not a Twin any more.

Okay, so the Minnesota Twins aren't Dan Osterbrock's favorite baseball team. Does this mean anything?

Osterbrock's frustration reminded my colleague Marc Normandin of this:

While Scott Baker worked through elbow issues over the past two seasons, the Minnesota Twins right-hander heard the whispers both inside and outside Target Field.

"I knew I wasn't crazy," Baker said Friday. "I knew there was some speculation that maybe I was babying it or taking it easy, but good grief. I did everything I possibly could to get better and to try to pitch with it. But that just wasn't going to happen."

Baker battled pain in his elbow dating to 2010, and some urged him to try pitching through the pain. He was shut down for the season earlier this month and scheduled for surgery on his flexor pronator tendon. But once his arm was opened up, Dr. David Altchek made the decision that he needed Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament.

I'd love for someone to study how often "pitching through the pain" leads to a positive outcome. My guess is that it still happens far too often, even as old-timers lament these young kids who whine to the trainer every time they feel a little twinge in their pitching wing.

Anyway, lest one think there's an epidemic brewing in Minneapolis, Baker took the high road:

Baker also said there were no hard feelings with the Twins for not diagnosing the injury sooner. He admitted not being completely open with team athletic trainers and doctors early on, and said the injury couldn't have been discovered until he had surgery.

Annnddddd ... there you have it. Everything starts with the pitcher. If the pitcher isn't forthright about his problems, you can blame management only so much when the guy's elbow blows up. Which isn't to suggest for a moment that the Twins or any other team are blameless in these affairs. The Twins, in particular, have expressed a certain hostility toward new-age baseball analysis, which might include new-age caution when considering the care and feeding of tender pitching arms.

One thing we know for sure: Last year the Twins finished next to last in the American League in ERA.

Another thing we know for sure: This year they're dead last.

***


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