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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. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I was trying to play Devils advocate by stating what I think is the Twins philosophy
      There's your problem.

      The Twins philosophy, on both sides of the ball: "Put the ball in play and let God sort it out."
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      Allow me to pile on here: from 2004-2007, Santana failed to pitch into the 7th inning 37 times. He also pitched into the 8th inning exactly 37 times. But one is rare and the other is common? Ha!
      I've addressed that twice...broke his game logs down...put all the info out there...
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      I've addressed that twice...broke his game logs down...put all the info out there...
      I know, I just thought it was funny that the number was exactly identical, so I had to chime in.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      I know, I just thought it was funny that the number was exactly identical, so I had to chime in.
      Not to sweat it, your post struck the statistical irony meter at "11" (especially when compared to Riverbrian, whose recent attempt only hit "7").

      Puck gets attacked so often, he has sharpened his survival skills to such a degree that at times, even his issue-to-issue allies become accidental fair game.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      CMat is the Dark Knight.
      He's the hero we deserve, just not the one we need right now.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      LOL, this thread is awesome. I just read through it and love it.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Even though the Dark Knight crack did this effectively, I might have a bridge to offer here:

      I think the Twins do prize innings most of all from starters. You hear it in the FO and managerial rhetoric all the time. So what if the problem is precisely what cmat has been demonstrating: the errant belief that less Ks = more innings.

      It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Twins were factually ignorant about this and truly believed that their pitch to contact philosophy is more effective for starters "lasting deeper into games". This entire discussion may be more representative of the problem than we probably like to think.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Not to sweat it, your post struck the statistical irony meter at "11" (especially when compared to Riverbrian, whose recent attempt only hit "7").

      Puck gets attacked so often, he has sharpened his survival skills to such a degree that at times, even his issue-to-issue allies become accidental fair game.
      Did I make it sound like I was going after him? I was just pointing out I had already covered that. I'm glad he did too. :-)
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      I know, I just thought it was funny that the number was exactly identical, so I had to chime in.
      awesome!
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      He's the hero we deserve, just not the one we need right now.
      If Batman were into baseball he'd be....Bill James...
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      LEN III posted something recently, saying he was surprised that Correia has been able to get through 7 innings a start considering he is not a strikeout pitcher. This reflects a misconception: 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.

      This points up the reason the Twins prefer contact pitchers. In a word, innings. The two biggest strikeout pitchers in Twins history--Blyleven and Santana--tended to hit 100 pitches after six innings. Bert pitched before pitch counts and was an absolute horse. But Santana lived within pitch counts, and only rarely pitched into the eighth inning. Six innings was common for him. And he is exceptional in his own right. His combination of high Ks and low walks is almost unheard of in the game.

      Guys who have strikeout stuff but don't have Santana's control struggle to get through five innings, especially when they are developing. Because everyone wants strikeout pitchers, they are really expensive. Strikeouts are like home runs, they're expensive. So you can only really afford to have K pitchers when they are developing. Getting more than five innings out of a developing K pitcher is rare.

      If you have more than a couple of guys in your rotation who only give you five innings on a regular basis, and then you have a short start every other time through the rotation or so, you need 13 pitchers. That is a huge cost for the love of strikeouts.

      The Twins prefer to have guys who get quick outs and have a chance to get you into the eighth inning regularly. Then you bring in the strikeout guys to shut the door. Good contact pitchers are also rare, which is why we end up with the likes of Blackburn and Correia. But it makes sense to me to develop better contact pitchers. Not to abandon the philosophy of contact pitchers.

      I hope Gibson is the kind of contact pitcher we need. We could have the luxury of a strikeout pitcher with good control in Meyer for a while. And if he turns out to be that guy, we should find a way to keep him long term. May looks more like the prototypical strikeout pitcher, one who will pitch five innings with six Ks and four BBs.
      Yes but Texas operates on a 120 pitch count. IMO that should be the number for a "strikeout pitcher" who is on a roll.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      Yes but Texas operates on a 120 pitch count. IMO that should be the number for a "strikeout pitcher" who is on a roll.
      For what it's worth (and I realize my opinions are not worth much around here) I think rigid pitch counts are ridiculous. Some guys can throw 120 pitches without much harm. Other guys need to stay between 100 and 110 to reduce risk of injury. But I think the Twins' reliance on pitch to contact is so intertwined with pitch counts, it's almost impossible to separate them. I get that they want to protect their most precious commodity. But there comes a point when it is counter-productive to winning.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I think rigid pitch counts are ridiculous.
      Agree 111%.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      For what it's worth (and I realize my opinions are not worth much around here) I think rigid pitch counts are ridiculous. Some guys can throw 120 pitches without much harm. Other guys need to stay between 100 and 110 to reduce risk of injury. But I think the Twins' reliance on pitch to contact is so intertwined with pitch counts, it's almost impossible to separate them. I get that they want to protect their most precious commodity. But there comes a point when it is counter-productive to winning.
      I don't think anyone would disagree with the idea that some pitchers can throw more pitches per start than other pitchers without having harmful lasting effects. Some pitjchers can throw 98mph and some can only through 88mph. It stands to reason there differences in a pitchers stamina too. However, the only way to know which pitchers can throw 120 pitches per outing is to let all of them go out there and try. Then the ones that don't end up ruining their arms or going on the dl or losing 5mph are the ones you can trust to go the extra innings. How many arms are worth ruining to figure out who can go the extra inning in a ball game?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      I don't think anyone would disagree with the idea that some pitchers can throw more pitches per start than other pitchers without having harmful lasting effects. Some pitjchers can throw 98mph and some can only through 88mph. It stands to reason there differences in a pitchers stamina too. However, the only way to know which pitchers can throw 120 pitches per outing is to let all of them go out there and try. Then the ones that don't end up ruining their arms or going on the dl or losing 5mph are the ones you can trust to go the extra innings. How many arms are worth ruining to figure out who can go the extra inning in a ball game?
      I guess the Rangers will find out.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      Yes but Texas operates on a 120 pitch count. IMO that should be the number for a "strikeout pitcher" who is on a roll.
      Otherwise known as the "Nolan Ryan Rule"...
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Yeah, Santana is probably not a good example as he's one of the most efficient strikeout pitchers on the planet.
      It's sad that your "he's" is "he was" and not "he is."
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      About this thread: Damn . . .

      Well I will contribute to this conversation by offering up the claim that the Twins should trade for Justin Verlander.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see any mention in the thread that an undeniable cost of 'pitch to contact' is its greater dependence on defense.

      When you raise the overall organizational bar on what's acceptable defensive ability for a position compared to what less defense-dependent franchises will live with, your odds of ending up with less offense from a given position increase.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by LaBombo View Post
      Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see any mention in the thread that an undeniable cost of 'pitch to contact' is its greater dependence on defense.

      When you raise the overall organizational bar on what's acceptable defensive ability for a position compared to what less defense-dependent franchises will live with, your odds of ending up with less offense from a given position increase.
      I have no idea what you just said, but it sounds really smart, so I'm forced to agree.
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