Top Twins rookie starting pitchers

The Twins have a reputation now days of bringing their young players, particularly their young pitchers along very slowly but that has not always been the case. In today’s game pitches are counted and innings are watched from year to year to make sure that pitchers do not have a huge jump in innings pitched from one year to the next. We fans sometimes complain about how long it takes a player to reach the majors but think what its like for the team itself. They draft the guy and then they have to pay him as he develops his skills, they get no return on their investment unless the player reaches the major leagues and becomes a successful player. The temptation must be huge to push the guy along to get a quick return on the money spent, but if you push him too quickly all kinds of bad things can happen.

Let’s take a look at the case of RHP Roger Erickson who the Twins drafted in round 3 of the 1977 June amateur draft. Erickson signed and was sent to “AA” Orlando where he pitched 109 innings in 16 games (14 starts) with 10 complete games. This is all after he pitched in college that spring. I was not able to locate any of Erickson’s college stats. The next year Erickson gets a spring training invite and makes the 1978 Twins starting rotation. The 21-year-old rookie makes his major league debut when he starts the second game of the season for the Twins and beats the Seattle Mariners 5-4 at the Kingdome. Erickson goes on to start a club leading 37 games for the Twins with 14 complete games and an amazing 265.2 innings pitched. Erickson finished the 1878 season with a 14-13 record with a 3.96 ERA , a WHIP of 1.306 and 121 strikeouts. Erickson was not a strikeout pitcher but more in the mold of a Brad Radke type of pitcher.  In 1979 Erickson went 3-10 with a 5.63 ERA in 21 starts (zero complete games) and 123 innings, in 1980 his record was 7-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 191.1 innings and in 1981 Erickson went 3-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 91.1 innings. In May of 1982 after a 4-3 start the Twins had seen enough and traded Erickson and catcher Butch Wynegar to the New York Yankees for pitchers Pete Filson and John Pacella and infielder Larry Milbourne and a suitcase full of cash. Roger Erickson pitched in a total of 21 games for the Yankees in 1982 and 1983 and at the age of 27 his big league playing days were behind him. Erickson tried to come back in 1984, again in 1987 and still again in 1989 in the minors with the Tigers and the Cardinals but he never again put on a big league uniform.

This is one of baseball classic cases of pitcher abuse, a situation where Twins manager Gene Mauch and pitching coach Camilo Pascual could not see the forest for the trees and killed a promising career before it really had a chance to get started. Erickson’s career ended prematurely at the age of 27 primarily because he pitched too many innings at too young an age. When he last pitched in the big leagues he was just 27 but he had already been in the majors for 6 seasons and he had already logged almost 800 innings with 265 of those in his first season. In the end the Twins lost a promising pitcher and Roger Erickson was robbed of his career. A loss-loss for both sides. Just a sad story all around.

Almost every day you hear about another big league pitcher having forearm or elbow tightness and the next thing you know they are off to see Dr. Andrews or someone like him to get a second opinion before undergoing “Tommy John” surgery. Are there more problems of this type now even with all the attention given to limiting innings and pitch counts. What are today’s pitchers doing differently that is causing these problems? Is it all about the fact that the pitchers today seem to throw harder than the pitchers of the past did? Are pitchers just not getting enough rest between seasons end and the start of the next season? Or maybe it is just the opposite, maybe the pitchers are not throwing enough? Is specialization of the athletes at much younger ages adding to the pitching arm woes? Or have these problems always been there and we just called it elbow tendonitis or a sore arm in the past and prescribed rest and/or retirement?

 

Roger Erickson

Roger Erickson

Here is a list of Twins pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings in their rookie seasons. *

Rk Player IP GS Year Age G CG SHO W L W-L% SV H BB SO ERA BA
1 Roger Erickson 265.2 37 1978 21 37 14 0 14 13 .519 0 268 79 121 3.96 .263
2 Jim Hughes 249.2 34 1975 23 37 12 2 16 14 .533 0 241 127 130 3.82 .255
3 Paul Thormodsgard 218.0 37 1977 23 37 8 1 11 15 .423 0 236 65 94 4.62 .280
4 Ken Schrom 196.1 28 1983 28 33 6 1 15 8 .652 0 196 80 80 3.71 .266
5 Nick Blackburn (RoY-8th) 193.1 33 2008 26 33 0 0 11 11 .500 0 224 39 96 4.05 .292
6 Gary Serum 184.1 23 1978 21 34 6 1 9 9 .500 1 188 44 80 4.10 .266
7 Brad Radke (RoY-9th) 181.0 28 1995 22 29 2 1 11 14 .440 0 195 47 75 5.32 .275
8 Scott Diamond 173.0 27 2012 25 27 1 1 12 9 .571 0 184 31 90 3.54 .274
9 Eric Milton 172.1 32 1998 22 32 1 0 8 14 .364 0 195 70 107 5.64 .282
10 Joe Mays 171.0 20 1999 23 49 2 1 6 11 .353 0 179 67 115 4.37 .270
11 Vic Albury 164.0 22 1974 27 32 4 1 8 9 .471 0 159 80 85 4.12 .259
12 Bert Blyleven 164.0 25 1970 19 27 5 1 10 9 .526 0 143 47 135 3.18 .232
13 Kevin Tapani (RoY-5th) 159.1 28 1990 26 28 1 1 12 8 .600 0 164 29 101 4.07 .264
14 Les Straker 154.1 26 1987 27 31 1 0 8 10 .444 0 150 59 76 4.37 .257
15 Mark Redman (RoY-6th) 151.1 24 2000 26 32 0 0 12 9 .571 0 168 45 117 4.76 .281
16 Glen Perkins 151.0 26 2008 25 26 0 0 12 4 .750 0 183 39 74 4.41 .301
17 Bill Zepp 151.0 20 1970 23 43 1 1 9 4 .692 2 154 51 64 3.22 .266
18 Frank Viola 126.0 22 1982 22 22 3 1 4 10 .286 0 152 38 84 5.21 .302
19 Pete Redfern 118.0 23 1976 21 23 1 1 8 8 .500 0 105 63 74 3.51 .241
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/12/2014.

* = From 1947 through 1956, each BBWAA voter used discretion as to who qualified as a rookie. In 1957, the term was first defined as someone with fewer than 75 at bats or 45 innings pitched in any previous Major League season. This guideline was later amended to 90 at bats, 45 innings pitched, or 45 days on a Major League roster before September 1 of the previous year. The current standard of 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club (excluding time in military service or on the disabled list) before September 1 was adopted in 1971.

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