It does not come as a shock to fans when you bring up how underwhelming and untalented the Minnesota Twins pitching staff has been over the past few seasons. A combination of subpar performances, aging and injuries has derailed the pitching staff and has caused a shift in the way the Twins go about developing and acquiring young pitching talent. Gone are the days of a rotation filled with pitch-to-contact, strike throwing pitchers; instead, the Twins are attempting to build their rotation with power arms who can take over ball games and strikeout opposing batters at a high rate. One interesting point that keeps being brought up, however, is that the lack of development and performance by our pitching staff is not just confined to our talent, but instead linked to the perception that pitching coach Rick Anderson no longer is making an impact and needs to be removed. I find that perspective nearsighted and a case of fans and analysts looking for someone to blame for a larger problem.
When the Twins had comprised a rotation of Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Francisco Liriano and minor contributors Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse in 2006, people around baseball pointed to Anderson as being one of the better pitching coaches in baseball. During the late 2000s when the pitching staff of 2006 had begun to break apart and were being replaced by less talented pitchers, Anderson was still receiving rave reviews about the performance he was getting out of his pitchers; yet over the last two seasons—which have been two of the worst in over a decade for the Twins—all analysts and fans want to do is blame Anderson for the Twins’ pitching shortcomings.
For a pitching coach that developed a young pitching staff in the early 2000s and turned them into a rotation that was successful, Anderson demonstrated he was a very talented coach and could succeed with “Twins’ type, pitch-to-contact” pitchers if given the time and talent behind them defensively to succeed; so the question I pose is this: did Anderson all of a sudden forget how to coach or was it a lack of talent that was available to him?
I would argue that it is the latter of the two options. For example, if you had a big league pitching coach who had produced and developed the best pitching staff in all of baseball for over a decade—mentoring pitchers from a young age and prompting many of them to develop into All-Star caliber pitchers—and then was notified that the team could no longer afford the pitchers and must instead rebuild with cheaper, younger, more inexperienced and possibly a collection of aging arms, what do you think would happen?
The team struggles mightily because the pitchers are not as talented and developed compared to the last rotation and instead of having a rotation filled with number one and number two type pitchers, you now have a rotation filled with number four and five type rotation starters. Is this the fault of the pitching coach or the organization for not supplying the coach with adequate resources to be successful?
I would argue it is the organization’s fault because if a coach can prove he is successful over a long period of time with a variety of different pitchers, he probably understands how to coach pitching at a high level. When an organization goes through a down period—which every organization, especially small market ones, are bound to experience—the coach is at the mercy of the talent given to him and thus can only do as much or as little as the resources given to him to work with.
Coach Anderson has not forgotten how to coach pitchers; he instead has been the unfortunate beneficiary of a down period in quality Twins’ pitchers. To put the blame on him and ask for his firing would be a knee-jerk response and would only compound the problems the staff is already facing. As the next wave of Twins’ pitching prospects come up through the minors—ones who are highly touted and are said to have a lot of talent—I would not be surprised to see our staff flourish once again and Anderson will return to being thought of as one of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball. The key is whether or not the organization will be patient enough to wait until those pitchers are ready to contribute in the big leagues.