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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. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      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 you started this sub-thread with the statement "Strikeout guys struggle to complete more than six innings", which is just not supported by any evidence anyone has presented, in fact quite the opposite.

      I normally enjoy reading your posts and I kind of hate to seem to hammer on this, but it seemed so fundamental to your position.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      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.
      They are not that rare. This is the era of the three true outcome hitter. Everyone's striking out. Joe Mauer struck out 88 times last year for Pete's sake. 52 pitchers had a K/9 of 7.0 or higher last year. The Twins surely will have no such starter this year.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Here are the correlations for the 128 qualified starting pitchers since 2010.



      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5pI...it?usp=sharing

      Strikeouts will rack up your pitch count but the greater offender by far, is walks.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Here are the correlations for the 128 qualified starting pitchers since 2010.



      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5pI...it?usp=sharing

      Strikeouts will rack up your pitch count but the greater offender by far, is walks.
      where do giving up hits rate as far as raising pitch count? :-)
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      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.
      I don't think this logic is necessarily sound. For starters, the team objective is to minimize runs. So if you have to trade x number of baserunners (and runs) in order to gain y number of innings out of your starters, then you have at least ask, is it worth the tradeoff? Maybe when your starter gets ahead 1-2, the team would be better served by your starter trying to strikeout that batter every time, even if it raises his pitch count slightly.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      where do giving up hits rate as far as raising pitch count? :-)
      H%-P/IP Correlation
      -0.19166

      More hits, fewer pitches/IP

      edit: But,

      H%-ERA Correlation
      0.655375
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      They are not that rare. This is the era of the three true outcome hitter. Everyone's striking out. Joe Mauer struck out 88 times last year for Pete's sake. 52 pitchers had a K/9 of 7.0 or higher last year. The Twins surely will have no such starter this year.
      52 starters had K/9 rates above 7? I'm thinking a lot of those pitchers are relievers. And I think the Twins have several of those. Burton, Perkins and Fien all had K/9 rates higher than 7 last year.

      The only starter in the rotation right now who had K rates above 7 the last three years is Worley. Kyle Gibson has consistently put up K rates above 7 per 9 in the minors. So that would be two this year. By next year, they should have Meyer and May, who feature K/9 rates in the double digits i the minors. So that's four. We're getting there.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      H%-P/IP Correlation
      -0.19166

      More hits, fewer pitches/IP
      I meant, when ranking walks, Ks and hits, which one is affecting pitch counts the most? But thanks for that nightmarish flashback :-)
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      52 starters had K/9 rates above 7? I'm thinking a lot of those pitchers are relievers.
      You would be dead wrong. You've been watching and following the Twins philosophy too much.

      Seriously, you need to be able and willing to look at SOME stats when you are trying to defend your points otherwise you lose credibility. 52 qualified starters had K rates over 7. 108 relievers had more than 7 k/9 rates.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      I meant, when ranking walks, Ks and hits, which one is affecting pitch counts the most? But thanks for that nightmarish flashback :-)
      Walks, followed distantly by Ks and slightly after that, hits.

      But, I skipped a step, technically. We're merely talking balls in p lay, not necessarily hits. But if you assume nobody strays too far from the mean BABIP, you can basically equate H% to balls-in-play%
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      52 starters had K/9 rates above 7? I'm thinking a lot of those pitchers are relievers. And I think the Twins have several of those. Burton, Perkins and Fien all had K/9 rates higher than 7 last year.
      This is easy to check and you just should. Go to
      2012 Major League Baseball Standard Pitching - Baseball-Reference.com
      Scroll down to "Player Standard Pitching". After the full page has finished loading, click on "SO/9", to sort them by strikeout rate. You'll see a little check-box for "Hide non-qualifiers for rate stats", which by default I think is always checked anyway. This weeds out the relievers who didn't have enough innings for the ERA title.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      Walks, followed distantly by Ks and slightly after that, hits.

      But, I skipped a step, technically. We're merely talking balls in p lay, not necessarily hits. But if you assume nobody strays too far from the mean BABIP, you can basically equate H% to balls-in-play%
      I guess what I mean is...if a guy gives up three hits in an inning and averages 5 or more pitches per those three batters, you can rake up the pitch counts because people are getting hits forcing him to face more batters.

      I don't mean just the hit itself.

      It's fantastic info you gave me though.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      cmat, if I throw you a rope will you climb out of that hole?
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      You would be dead wrong. You've been watching and following the Twins philosophy too much.

      Seriously, you need to be able and willing to look at SOME stats when you are trying to defend your points otherwise you lose credibility. 52 qualified starters had K rates over 7. 108 relievers had more than 7 k/9 rates.
      I wasn't stating, I was asking. It wasn't clear from the post.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      This is easy to check and you just should. Go to
      2012 Major League Baseball Standard Pitching - Baseball-Reference.com
      Scroll down to "Player Standard Pitching". After the full page has finished loading, click on "SO/9", to sort them by strikeout rate. You'll see a little check-box for "Hide non-qualifiers for rate stats", which by default I think is always checked anyway. This weeds out the relievers who didn't have enough innings for the ERA title.
      Or use the Fangraphs leaderboards, if you select the starter or reliever sub-groups it will strip out whatever numbers you don't want to see.
    1. Alex's Avatar
      Alex -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      I wasn't stating, I was asking. It wasn't clear from the post.
      Okay, but I think the rest of the post still stands and it is why you are getting a lot of blowback on this thread. It would literally take less than a minute to look up the stats that have been discussed here (as others have pointed out).
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      But you started this sub-thread with the statement "Strikeout guys struggle to complete more than six innings", which is just not supported by any evidence anyone has presented, in fact quite the opposite.

      I normally enjoy reading your posts and I kind of hate to seem to hammer on this, but it seemed so fundamental to your position.
      Well, as I've written, it was badly stated in the first place. To add to that, I picked a really bad example in Santana, who is a very efficient pitcher who could strike people out.

      I've already tried to correct what I wrote, so I won't dig a bigger hole by repeating myself. I don't mind failing fast and learning from that. Not a problem.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alex View Post
      Okay, but I think the rest of the post still stands and it is why you are getting a lot of blowback on this thread. It would literally take less than a minute to look up the stats that have been discussed here (as others have pointed out).
      I did look up stats. I am not lazy in that way. In the original post I wrote, I was trying to play Devils advocate by stating what I think is the Twins philosophy. Philosophy is not about stats. When questioned, I did post stats. I get the blowback, and I don't mind. I can take it. I'm perfectly happy to play this role if it makes for a livelier discussion.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      But Santana lived within pitch counts, and only rarely pitched into the eighth inning. Six innings was common for him.
      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!
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      CMat is the Dark Knight.
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