COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Twins have one of the best crop of prospects in baseball. Fans are expecting to see a positive impact from it soon, but little was expected of Andrew Albers, whose major-league debut was the best in Twins history.
Albers is a soft-tossing left-hander from Canada and was pitching in an independent league only a couple years ago. Most fans hadn't even heard of him before the Twins announced he would be called up to start Tuesday, August 6, against the Kansas City Royals. That all changed Tuesday night.
Albers delivered the greatest outing by a starting pitcher for the Twins in his major-league debut. He delivered 8 1/3 scoreless innings for a team desperate for extended innings from its starter.
Prior to Tuesday, the most scoreless innings a Twins pitcher had delivered in his major-league debut was seven innings by Anthony Swarzak in 2009. The only other to not allow a run as a starting pitcher in his debut was Eric Milton, who went six shutout innings in 1998.
Only three pitchers had thrown more innings in their debuts. Allan Anderson went 10 innings in 1986; Jay Pettibone went nine innings in 1983, although he ended up taking the loss; and Jim Merritt pitched 8 2/3 innings in 1965. Merritt got the win but gave up five runs, four of them earned.
Bill James created a statistic called Game Score that attempts to quantify how well a starter pitched with one number. The score is derived by adding points for innings pitched and strikeouts and taking away points for runs, hits and walks allowed.
Albers had a Game Score of 76 in his debut, which was the greatest Game Score for a Twins pitcher in his debut. Prior to that, the best Game Score in a debut for a Twins pitcher was 69 by Bert Blyleven in 1970. Blyleven allowed one run in seven innings on five hits and one walk. He had seven strikeouts.
The real question is what can Twins fans expect from Albers going forward. Obviously, he's not going to pitch like he did Tuesday in every game. After all, Albers just replaced Scott Diamond, who was another soft-tossing left-hander from Canada.
Diamond was the Twins' best pitcher in 2012, but his low strikeout rate gave him little room for error. When he struggled with his command following offseason elbow surgery, Diamond was unable to get major league hitters out consistently and was sent to Class AAA Rochester to regain his command and confidence.
Albers is much like Diamond in that Albers has very good control and gets lots of ground balls. However, his strikeout rate was better in the minor leagues. Diamond has a strikeout rate in Class AAA of 6.2 per nine innings in 220 innings. In 132 innings at Rochester, Albers had a 7.9 strikeout rate.
Albers only had two strikeouts in his debut, but he didn't have a whole lot of chances for strikeouts with the Royals being so aggressive. His strikeout rate in the major leagues probably won't be as high as it was in Class AAA, but he could easily keep it close to average for AL pitchers.
That would give him the highest strikeout rate for Twins starting pitchers, and if he can be better than average at allowing walks and keeping the ball on the ground like he did against the Royals, then he would be a good bet to be a better than average starting pitcher, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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