The Minnesota Twins came into the season with a bit of a mixed bag when looking at projections. ZiPS saw the Twins winning 80 games while PECOTA projected an 88-win season for Minnesota. Through the first 15 games of the season, the pitching staff has carried the team to a 10-5 record. The Twins are 21st in runs scored so far, so the hitting hasn’t been up to par with the pitching, though that’d be hard to emulate.
Minnesota’s pitching staff currently ranks first in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and batting average against. They are second in walks given up with 34 all season. The only thing they don’t do great is keep the ball in the park, as they’ve given up 18 home runs in the 15 games played. The starting pitching for the Twins has been exceptionally good and there are some names that look to have revived or revamped their careers in the early going for Minnesota.
Kenta Maeda, Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, and Tyler Mahle have all pitched well for the Twins in 2023. These are pitchers that have had success in the past and have name value, but they have come out hot to start the season and are helping fantasy teams along the way. With the way these guys are pitching, along with the addition of Pablo Lopez to the rotation, it’s feasible that Minnesota has five starters who can help fantasy teams all season. Let’s take a look and see how sustainable they are for fantasy owners.
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Maeda has two starts to begin the season as he deals with arm issues that have forced him to miss a couple of starts. Through those two starts, he has an ERA of 4.09, but he has 12 strikeouts in 11 innings and an xERA of 2.77. He has also not walked a batter during those two starts. Maeda is only in the 10th percentile in fastball velocity, but has a good spin on it and has great chase rates with all his pitches.
The Japanese-born starter missed all of last season due to Tommy John and wasn’t all that solid in his 21 starts in 2021. However, he pitched to a 2.70 ERA in the shortened 2020 season, starting 11 games. During that season, Maeda had a 4.0% walk rate, well below his 8.4% career rate. That may just be the determining factor when it comes to his success this year. If he is able to keep the walks to a minimum, as he has in his first two starts, he has the stuff to replicate his 2020 success. 2020 was a great season by all measures with Maeda, and though that may be an outlier in his career, he should still be a useful fantasy option moving forward.
The former Athletic, Yankee, and Red, has over nine years of MLB service on his ledger and is now 33 years old. During his career, Gray has looked like an ace, a bust, a serviceable pitcher, and a really good pitcher. During his time in Minnesota, he’s looked like a really good pitcher, counting his three starts to begin this season. He currently has two wins and an 0.53 ERA. Even though he pitched to a 3.08 ERA last season, he ended with eight wins, so he’s well on his way to eclipsing that total this year.
Gray has a bunch of light red on his Baseball Savant percentile rankings page, indicating he’s been above average in a bevy of categories. Last season, his fastball spin rate was in the 98th percentile. This season his strikeout percentage is in the 73rd percentile. His current ERA is unsustainable at best, but his 2.70 FIP is still a great number. He’s currently 10th on Razzball’s player rater for pitchers, and though you might be let down if you expect that return for the rest of the season, Gray looks to be a steal going forward based on where he was drafted.
Ryan might be one of the best surprises in fantasy baseball this season. He came into the season with a 148 ADP but has been Razzball’s second-best pitcher to start the season. Ryan had a 3.55 ERA and a 3.57 xERA last season, so his hot start isn’t out of nowhere, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many managers expecting this return from him. He’s pitching to a 2.84 ERA but with a minuscule 0.63 WHIP and 26:3 K:BB ratio over 19 innings pitched. Part of that success can probably be attributed to his new pitching repertoire.
The former Rays farmhand added a sweeper in place of his slider and a splitter in place of his changeup, and the outcome has been incredible. He’s getting 14.3 inches of break on his sweeper compared to 3.1 from his slider in 2022. Last season his changeup averaged 29.1 inches of drop and his splitter is averaging 40.1 inches of drop this season. Some of his dominance may be attributed to hitters not being accustomed to this new mix, so he may go through an adjustment period once hitters adjust, but there’s reason to believe the stuff isn’t good enough to continue his ways of mowing hitters down.
Mahle has been a good pitcher for a few seasons now and had a great first game to start the season in Miami. His ERA isn’t as nice as Gray, Lopez, or Ryan’s, as it sits at 4.09, but his xERA (2.27) and FIP (2.74) both paint a prettier picture. He has a 29.5% strikeout rate and just a 4.5% walk rate. He’s struck batters out around this rate before in his career, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary. He hasn’t had such a low walk rate in his career, however. If he’s able to improve on his 8.4% career walk rate, he will be a dangerous pitcher.
He has also given up zero barrels to begin the season. At 28 years of age, it’s not out of the possibility that Mahle has found a way of pitching in Minnesota that lends to his stuff, thus making him more valuable than he was in Cincinnati. Mahle may not be the most exciting pitcher in Minnesota or have the best fantasy profile, but he is still a pitcher that can help managers in most formats.
Minnesota pitching has been dominating the scene to begin the year and they have five valuable fantasy starters. There is some injury history with Maeda and Gray and a lack of track record this good for Ryan, but there’s no reason to believe these pitchers can’t be good all season. Gray and Ryan probably have some regression coming their way, but Maeda and Mahle have pitched better than their ERA. Not to mention Pablo Lopez, who has been brilliant as well this season, and it looks like Minnesota has found some magic in their staff.
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