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  • Twins Being Crushed by Constant Contact

    During spring training, I observed a trend. It seemed that, all too frequently, a Twins starting pitcher would get knocked around in an outing and then remark after the game that he felt good about his performance. He executed his pitches and just didn't get results. I asked a beat reporter in Ft. Myers about this and he mentioned that he'd noticed the same pattern.

    Of course, there's nothing groundbreaking or especially noteworthy about this. Pitchers are generally not concerned with their numbers in March and often work on strengthening their weakest offerings.

    Still, to see shellackings dismissed with the shrug of a shoulder struck a chord in me, in light of the rotation's performance in 2012 and my fears that the unit grew only more contact-heavy in the offseason.

    One particular incident stands out in my memory. The Twins were playing against the Rays in Port Charlotte in mid-March. Vance Worley was facing Luke Scott. With an 0-2 count he delivered a sinking fastball in on the hands. Scott turned on it and drilled it over the fence for a home run. After the game, Worley expressed little regret over the pitch, telling reporters, "It did what it was supposed to do", tipping his cap to Scott.

    I don't know if I've ever before heard a major-league hurler say that an 0-2 pitch "did what it was supposed to do" if the hitter made any type of contact with it. In that count, the pitcher is in complete control, able to fling anything that might fool his outflanked opponent. Worley's signature pitch did what it was supposed to do, and an unspectacular hitter deposited it in the stands? Not encouraging.

    Worley expressed the same type of sentiment after his meltdown against the Mets on Friday night. "They're hitting it where my guys aren't at," he told reporters. "I feel I'm not giving up real hard hits. It's just a matter of where they're hitting it."

    Here's the thing about these quotes: they're not wrong. Even when Worley is in his element, he relies on batted balls ending up in gloves. On certain nights the opposing lineup is going to string together hits and beat him, even when he's executing his plan. That doesn't make him a bad pitcher, but that is the attitude of a guy who throws his stuff around the zone and doesn't expect to miss many bats. Some have voiced frustration over what they see as a lack of accountability in Worley's remarks. I see an intelligent guy who knows what he is and realizes that he'll always be at the mercy of his fielders and plain old luck.

    Worley was a fitting Opening Day starter and tone-setter for this rotation. Each of the members behind him follows essentially the same blueprint, so it wouldn't be surprising to hear any of them respond similarly to a dud performance.

    It's not impossible to excel with this approach and when it's clicking the outings tend to be longer and more efficient. Nick Blackburn circa 2009 and Carlos Silva c.2007 are prime examples of this. They logged 200 innings and healthily outweighed their bad starts with solid ones. But these examples also attest to the downside of a pitcher who lives and dies by contact; should he lose the slightest bit of movement on his sinker, or should an injury alter his mechanics a tad, hitters begin feasting. Suddenly those pitches look like beach balls.

    It's a fine line and it is one the Twins are walking far too much in their starting corps this year. The rotation consists entirely of pure pitch-to-contact guys and as a result starters have totaled only 27 strikeouts through 13 games.

    Defensively, they've proven themselves ill-equipped to handle so many attempts, with bungled plays already piling up. But even with stellar glove support, a starting staff cannot expect to succeed while striking out only 9 percent of opposing hitters, as the Twins have up to this point. I think that number may slightly understate the strikeout proficiency of the current group but not by a whole lot. I just don't see how a rotation with this makeup can possibly expect to stay afloat.

    The good news is that the unit's makeup is likely to change as we move forward. There are some interesting arms on the horizon with a chance to break the contact-heavy trend. Kyle Gibson should be up from Triple-A before long and while not a strikeout machine he'll likely miss more bats than any current Twins starter. Newly acquired fireballer Alex Meyer is off to a strong start in Double-A. He has a chance to join the big-league club later this season, as does fellow New Britain Rock Cat Trevor May, who led the Eastern League in strikeouts last year.

    Add in veteran wild cards Rich Harden and Rafael Perez who both have histories of dominance and should get a chance to start when they're fully healthy and you've got a solid mix of potential options to enter the fold and add an element that is completely missing in the Twins' rotation right now: intimidation.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins Being Crushed by Constant Contact started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 80 Comments
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      I'm not sure why Cmat is getting so much flack for what is a pretty straightforward and logical statement. The idea behind pitching to contact is very much aimed toward efficiency and lasting deeper into games. I remember Carlos Silva once pitched a complete game on 60-some pitches, and that was during a 2005 season in which he was in the zone.

      The problem (and I don't think I've seen Cmat deny this) is that pitchers who can't strike many hitters out tend to not be very good, or they're prone to extended slumps, so poor results prevent them reaching the seventh rather than pitch counts. As a case in point, outside of Correia's three outings, how many times has a Twins starter completed six innings this year? That's not because they've been reaching 100 pitches too early...
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      This whole strikeout pitcher and pitch count issue has gone a little too far. Imo this is true of guys with high K and BB rates. These guys tend to extend AB's to a lot of full counts and because they are walking batters they also face more batters/inning.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Given the choice, I'm sure the Twins would love to have a staff full of Harveys. If memory serves, he was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. That year, we drafted in the late 20s, as we have for most of the last decade. There just aren't a lot of pitchers with the kind of stuff to get a high K rate available when we draft. Shooter Hunt does not count.

      Point is, we can rail against the team's lack of K pitchers. But true K pitchers who don't also have high BB rates are actually really rare, and difficult to acquire. To get a sense of the value of them, look at the Span trade. Given the pitchers who we do have an opportunity to get, it makes sense to me to not have them try to strike everybody out. 'Cause they will fail at it.

      Of course guys with high K rates eat a lot of innings. Those are the best pitchers. They just are not that easy to acquire. And when you get them, they are expensive to keep. Given what you can get, I don't think pitch to contact is a bad philosophy. The Twins are not the only team in the league to adopt it.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      I'm not sure why Cmat is getting so much flack for what is a pretty straightforward and logical statement. The idea behind pitching to contact is very much aimed toward efficiency and lasting deeper into games. I remember Carlos Silva once pitched a complete game on 60-some pitches, and that was during a 2005 season in which he was in the zone.

      The problem (and I don't think I've seen Cmat deny this) is that pitchers who can't strike many hitters out tend to not be very good, or they're prone to extended slumps, so poor results prevent them reaching the seventh rather than pitch counts. As a case in point, outside of Correia's three outings, how many times has a Twins starter completed six innings this year? That's not because they've been reaching 100 pitches too early...
      If "the idea" matched reality, you'd routinely see low K guys toward the top of the league in IP, no? The idea itself is flawed. BTW, it was 74 pitches in that game for Silva, not that it matters. For the record, though, even in that season where he was "in the zone" Silva put up 188 IP.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      What counts as evidence for you? Just stats? How about inductive reasoning from stats? How about quotes from the coaches? How about observations?
      An observation is nothing more than a possible conclusion your mind has reached based on the quantitative things you've experienced and suffers from a lot of perception errors (sample size, confirmation bias, etc). When you make an "observation" after you've seen something 10 times out of 20... you could word that a little differently to call it a stat, just a very inaccurate one.

      Now, being too lazy to back up your claims is a whole different issue.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Given the choice, I'm sure the Twins would love to have a staff full of Harveys. If memory serves, he was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. That year, we drafted in the late 20s, as we have for most of the last decade. There just aren't a lot of pitchers with the kind of stuff to get a high K rate available when we draft.
      Well, we drafted 2nd last year, and still didn't get that type of pitcher...how much higher of a draft pick do we need to have?
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Quote Originally Posted by jay View Post
      Now, being too lazy to back up your claims is a whole different issue.
      That reads harsher than I intended. Not referring directly to you with that, cmathewson.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      If "the idea" matched reality, you'd routinely see low K guys toward the top of the league in IP, no? The idea itself is flawed. BTW, it was 74 pitches in that game for Silva, not that it matters. For the record, though, even in that season where he was "in the zone" Silva put up 188 IP.
      No, because the best pitchers are the ones who rack up the most innings and typically those are the guys who are able to throw the ball past opposing hitters while also limiting walks. Those kinds of pitchers are clearly the most desirable but they're also incredibly hard to get. Cmat is framing this as contact pitchers vs. high-K/high-BB pitchers, which is more relevant because then we're talking about players that might be realistically available to the Twins.

      Also, Silva threw 188 innings in 27 starts in 2005, meaning he averaged 7IP/start. He also topped 200 innings in '04 and '07.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Given the choice, I'm sure the Twins would love to have a staff full of Harveys. If memory serves, he was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. That year, we drafted in the late 20s, as we have for most of the last decade. There just aren't a lot of pitchers with the kind of stuff to get a high K rate available when we draft. Shooter Hunt does not count.

      Point is, we can rail against the team's lack of K pitchers. But true K pitchers who don't also have high BB rates are actually really rare, and difficult to acquire. To get a sense of the value of them, look at the Span trade. Given the pitchers who we do have an opportunity to get, it makes sense to me to not have them try to strike everybody out. 'Cause they will fail at it.

      Of course guys with high K rates eat a lot of innings. Those are the best pitchers. They just are not that easy to acquire. And when you get them, they are expensive to keep. Given what you can get, I don't think pitch to contact is a bad philosophy. The Twins are not the only team in the league to adopt it.
      Of the AL top ten in IP in 2012, only two (Verlander and Price) were drafted ahead of where the Twins would have had a chance at them. Two were FA's (Hernandez and Kuroda), the other six were drafted in the 2nd round or later.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Also, Silva threw 188 innings in 27 starts in 2005, meaning he averaged 7IP/start. He also topped 200 innings in '04 and '07.
      And that's fine, but he also used Santana as an opposing view on Ks saying 6 innings was common for Santana and that he rarely pitched into the 8th inning.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Inductive reasoning?
      Looking at the game logs from 2006, he had 6 games when he left in the sixth or before. He had 4 games when he left after six. He had 15 games when he left after seven. He had eight games when he pitched through the eighth. So he pitched 6 or fewer in 30% of his starts. That was common for him throughout his career

      Also, it's worth noting that the games he had his best stuff, he got more strikeouts. Not surprisingly, those were the games where he pitched deeper into the game. When he didn't have his best stuff, he left in the sixth with just a few strikeouts.

      I get the math. It's kind of a law that you will pitch more innings if you have more strikeouts. But not everybody can get strikeouts when they need them. In fact, most guys can't. So they muddle through pitching to contact. I'm suggesting that for the Nick Blackburns of the world (in his prime) it worked a lot better to get ground balls than to try to get strikeouts.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Yeah, Santana is probably not a good example as he's one of the most efficient strikeout pitchers on the planet.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      There are different ways to succeed (or not) as a pitcher. The clearly correct strategy is to target the best available pitchers regardless of their particular approach.

      If someone is a 5.50 ERA pitcher, who cares if the reason is excessive contact or poor control? The outcome is the same. The problem with the Twins is that they are ignorant of DIPS theory and thus prone to overpaying for low-strikeout pitchers.

      But, catching up with everyone else in baseball philosophically doesn't magically add talent to the staff. The problems in drafting, player development, etc. probably don't have too much to do with the "pitch to contact" mantra.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Looking at the game logs from 2006, he had 6 games when he left in the sixth or before. He had 4 games when he left after six. He had 15 games when he left after seven. He had eight games when he pitched through the eighth. So he pitched 6 or fewer in 30% of his starts. That was common for him throughout his career

      Also, it's worth noting that the games he had his best stuff, he got more strikeouts. Not surprisingly, those were the games where he pitched deeper into the game. When he didn't have his best stuff, he left in the sixth with just a few strikeouts.

      I get the math. It's kind of a law that you will pitch more innings if you have more strikeouts. But not everybody can get strikeouts when they need them. In fact, most guys can't. So they muddle through pitching to contact. I'm suggesting that for the Nick Blackburns of the world (in his prime) it worked a lot better to get ground balls than to try to get strikeouts.
      'Santana lived within pitch counts, and only rarely pitched into the eighth inning.'

      Santana became a full time starter for us in 2004. From 2004-2007, Santana pitched into the 8th inning 36 times between. That's more than 1/4 of his starts. So that's not 'rarely'

      'Six innings was common for him.'

      In 2004, he had 25 games where he pitched into the 7th inning. 22 games where he went 7 inning or more.

      In 2005, he had 24 games where he pitched into the 7th inning. 22 games where he went 7 innings or more.

      In 2006, he had 26 games where he pitched into the 7th inning. 24 games where he went 7 innings or more.

      In 2007, he had 20 games where he went 7 innings or more.

      How was 6 innings common for him?

      30% isn't often thought of as common and 25% is often thought of as rarely.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Cmat is framing this as contact pitchers vs. high-K/high-BB pitchers, which is more relevant because then we're talking about players that might be realistically available to the Twins
      .
      Actually, cmat framed it thusly: "Strikeout guys struggle to complete more than six innings because Ks require more pitches than the quick outs a sinkerballer can get, when he's on his game." If he's backed off that statement, fine. Otherwise, I take exception to the idea that strikeout pitchers, by definition, use more pitches than non-strikeout pitchers. Anyone can find an outlier and throw that up as "evidence." But that doesn't mean they aren't the exception, or that guys who K a lot of hitters, in general, stuggle to complete more than six innings simply because they K a lot of hitters. In fact, in general, just the opposite appears to be true.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Given the choice, I'm sure the Twins would love to have a staff full of Harveys. If memory serves, he was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. That year, we drafted in the late 20s, as we have for most of the last decade. There just aren't a lot of pitchers with the kind of stuff to get a high K rate available when we draft.
      2010, the Twins took Alex Wimmers, the guy everyone said would go to the Twins despite them picking 20th. How did everyone know this "nearly MLB ready" college arm would go to the Twins? Because he had no upsided and everyone knew the Twins picked for saftey, not upside in arms.

      Had they had the stones, they could have taken HS pitchers Jesse Biddle, Zack Cox, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard or Tijuan Walker instead. Of the seven HS arms drafted after Wimmers, Cito Culver was converted to SS, Cam Bedrosian had TJ surgery and looks likely to bust and then these five guys who populate everyones top 100 lists.

      Their passive decisioning reeks with the fear of mistakes and because of this, their mistakes reek of passive decisioning.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Aren't the three guys they brought in this year supposed to be a bridge to Meyer, May, Berrios, and Gibson? Worley might be a guy they are counting on long term--not sure--but Pelfry and Correia likely won't be here in 2015 and probably before that. To me, the idea was to hope to catch lightning in a bottle with the new acquisitions and in the likely they didn't strike gold with those guys, either dispatch by release or trade and make way for the real prospects, who will strike out guys and miss bats.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I'm suggesting that for the Nick Blackburns of the world (in his prime) it worked a lot better to get ground balls than to try to get strikeouts.
      I muddled through writing a lengthy response to an earlier post, only to discover after posting that several others had answered more concisely. So I'll summarize my thoughts by saying that sure, once you have a Blackburn under contract, you may as well maximize what you've got. But that doesn't mean shying away from better talent acquisition under some misguided notion that strikeout pitchers don't go deep into games. Because, they do.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Actually, cmat framed it thusly: "Strikeout guys struggle to complete more than six innings because Ks require more pitches than the quick outs a sinkerballer can get, when he's on his game." If he's backed off that statement, fine. Otherwise, I take exception to the idea that strikeout pitchers, by definition, use more pitches than non-strikeout pitchers. Anyone can find an outlier and throw that up as "evidence." But that doesn't mean they aren't the exception, or that guys who K a lot of hitters, in general, stuggle to complete more than six innings simply because they K a lot of hitters. In fact, in general, just the opposite appears to be true.
      Actually, I was trying to frame it, albeit clumsily, as a case of trying to pitch as efficiently as possible given your limitations. If you can get strikeouts any time you want, you will not have a problem putting up innings. But if you can't, your only hope of eating innings is pitching to contact. If you try to strike guys out and you can't, you will end up throwing a lot of pitches and get pulled after five.

      Also this: To my knowledge, the Twins only preach pitch to contact for pitchers who struggle to get strike outs (most of their pitchers). When they had Santana and briefly Liriano, they were happy to have the strikeouts. The problem is not with the philosophy. The problem is with the lack of strikeout pitchers they have had. I can excuse that, though, because true strikeout pitchers are rare and expensive.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      How generous to "excuse" the Twins and their heavily subsidized stadium for striking out the fewest opponents of any Major League team.
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