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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 Ė who both have histories of dominance and should get a chance to start when they're fully healthy Ė 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. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      You forgot Deduno. He should be able to help before May, Meyer, Gibson, or Perez are ready.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      I don't think healthy and Rich Harden fit in the same sentence.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Thank you for this post. This is the most frustrating part of the the Twins approach. Every other team has realized the most efficient way to get outs is by strikeout. This season and last the Twins have a team K/9 of 5.84 while the Indians are second lowest at 6.85. The Indians are actually closer to a top 10 team in terms of K/9 than they are to the Twins; the gulf is that large.

      Even if these guys were limiting hits, having five pitch-to-contact arms is never advisable. The good teams only have one per rotation. Why do they treat the pitching staff this way? They'd never put a lineup together with 9 leadoff hitters.

      This team is so set in it's ways it fails to adapt to the changing tides in this league. This is a multi-billion dollar industry and leaders like Ryan and Gardenhire belittle the one guy in the organization who deals in statistics. This "old school" way of managing a baseball team is crap. You now have these many tools to evaluate players, USE THEM. I don't know when stubborness became a positive attribute. Adapt or die.
    1. sorney's Avatar
      sorney -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Thank you for this post. This is the most frustrating part of the the Twins approach. Every other team has realized the most efficient way to get outs is by strikeout. This season and last the Twins have a team K/9 of 5.84 while the Indians are second lowest at 6.85. The Indians are actually closer to a top 10 team in terms of K/9 than they are to the Twins; the gulf is that large.

      Even if these guys were limiting hits, having five pitch-to-contact arms is never advisable. The good teams only have one per rotation. Why do they treat the pitching staff this way? They'd never put a lineup together with 9 leadoff hitters.

      This team is so set in it's ways it fails to adapt to the changing tides in this league. This is a multi-billion dollar industry and leaders like Ryan and Gardenhire belittle the one guy in the organization who deals in statistics. This "old school" way of managing a baseball team is crap. You now have these many tools to evaluate players, USE THEM. I don't know when stubborness became a positive attribute. Adapt or die.

      Agree times 100000!!!
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by fairweather View Post
      You forgot Deduno. He should be able to help before May, Meyer, Gibson, or Perez are ready.
      You're right, I meant to mention him as well. Another guy who has a chance to break that mold a little bit, which is why I'd like to see him added to the mix ASAP.
    1. DK's Avatar
      DK -
      What is the Harden situation as of now?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I don't think they are opposed to strikeouts, I just think they've done a terrible job of acquiring and devloping arms since they drafted Garza, Baker, Slowey. Hopefully that is about to change.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I don't think they are opposed to strikeouts, I just think they've done a terrible job of acquiring and devloping arms since they drafted Garza, Baker, Slowey. Hopefully that is about to change.
      I think they are opposed to A) the percieved risky price tag of strikeouts on the free agent market, B) the risk associated with young arms with a lot of torque which happens to generate strikeouts and C) the idea that young strikeout pitchers tend to allow too many walks.

      This team is just too frightened of risk.

      I think they are gradually getting away from B), likely because they've now realized all pitchers can get hurt. Still, they need to realize allowing an extra walk a game is better then allowing an extra hit as runners don't move over two bases on a base-on-balls and the runner on 3B doesn't score unless the bases are loaded.

      This team is about a decade behind the rest of the league in this facet of the game.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      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.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Guys, GUYS...

      The Twins don't pitch-to-contact anymore, remember? So says Rick Anderson.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      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.
      I'm going to need to see some evidence before I accept any of this. In fact, I'm pretty skeptical of your theory that strikeout pitchers pitch fewer innings than guys who don't strike anyone out.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      I'm going to need to see some evidence before I accept any of this. In fact, I'm pretty skeptical of your theory that strikeout pitchers pitch fewer innings than guys who don't strike anyone out.
      There's that word again. Evidence. What counts as evidence for you? Just stats? How about inductive reasoning from stats? How about quotes from the coaches? How about observations? Stats only provide you with a limited view of reality. If you're going to limit the discussion to stats, you're going to be disappointed with a lot of what I write. I don't have any control over whether you accept what I write or not. Give me a counter argument and I can work with you.

      My theory is you have to be able to get quick outs to get into the eighth regularly. If you strike everybody out, you're going to average around 15 pitches in inning. That's seven innings, assuming no hits and no walks. Best case scenario, you go seven, with today's pitch counts.

      The best pitchers pitch to contact and can strike people out when they need to. Verlander comes to mind. He throws sinkers in the low 90s early in the game. When he gets into trouble, he breaks out the high 90s four seamer and the curve. That's why he leads the league in innings every year. He primarily pitches to contact and only tries to strike people out when he gets guys on base.

      Then again, Verlander is a rare bird. Teams are lucky to have one such pitcher on their staff. Most staffs have a lot of middling pitchers. If you have those guys, what do you emphasize? I would emphasize getting quick outs if they can. It saves the bullpen and gives you a better chance to win.
    1. sorney's Avatar
      sorney -
      Re: K rate and innings pitched:

      The internet rules....
      2013 MLB Baseball Pitching Statistics and League Leaders - Major League Baseball - ESPN
      2013 MLB Baseball Pitching Statistics and League Leaders - Major League Baseball - ESPN

      The data is available to interpret as you wish
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      There's that word again. Evidence. What counts as evidence for you? Just stats? How about inductive reasoning from stats? How about quotes from the coaches? How about observations? Stats only provide you with a limited view of reality. If you're going to limit the discussion to stats, you're going to be disappointed with a lot of what I write. I don't have any control over whether you accept what I write or not. Give me a counter argument and I can work with you.
      Do we have to listen only to the Twins coaches? Because the other 29 teams seem to favor strikeout pitchers. My inductive reasoning tells me the more balls that are put in play means more opportunity for runners moving over on routine outs, sac flies, errors, seeing-eye-singles, Texas Leaguers, Steve Bartmans, Delmon Young pirouette triples and Jose Conseco-head-homers. All those are taken out of the equation if the ball hits the catchers mitt.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      Last season, 31 pitchers threw 200+ innings. Of those, 5 had a strikeout rate under 6 per 9 IP.

      It takes more pitches to get through an inning when the opposition keeps getting hits.

      Everyone in baseball knows you want pitchers who actually have good stuff. Why the Twins are so devoid of such pitchers is another issue.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      Last season, 31 pitchers threw 200+ innings. Of those, 5 had a strikeout rate under 6 per 9 IP.

      It takes more pitches to get through an inning when the opposition keeps getting hits.

      Everyone in baseball knows you want pitchers who actually have good stuff. Why the Twins are so devoid of such pitchers is another issue.
      This would count as evidence to me, CMat.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Santana lived within pitch counts, and only rarely pitched into the eighth inning. Six innings was common for him.
      '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?
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      The best pitchers pitch to contact and can strike people out when they need to. Verlander comes to mind. He throws sinkers in the low 90s early in the game. When he gets into trouble, he breaks out the high 90s four seamer and the curve. That's why he leads the league in innings every year. He primarily pitches to contact and only tries to strike people out when he gets guys on base.

      Then again, Verlander is a rare bird. Teams are lucky to have one such pitcher on their staff. Most staffs have a lot of middling pitchers. If you have those guys, what do you emphasize? I would emphasize getting quick outs if they can. It saves the bullpen and gives you a better chance to win.
      Strikeout pitchers CAN get quick outs. It's much easier for a strikeout pitcher to pitch to contact than for a contact pitcher to blow somebody away.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Thank you for this post. This is the most frustrating part of the the Twins approach. Every other team has realized the most efficient way to get outs is by strikeout. This season and last the Twins have a team K/9 of 5.84 while the Indians are second lowest at 6.85. The Indians are actually closer to a top 10 team in terms of K/9 than they are to the Twins; the gulf is that large.
      it's even worse than that. Starters have a K/9 of 3.76. RP'ers check in at a still unimpressive 6.89.

      I think there has been a shift in philosophy recently. Meyer, May and Berrios were added in the last year and they all have strikeout stuff but it will take awhile for this to pay off.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      How was 6 innings common for him?
      Inductive reasoning?
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