The Twins Pitch to Contact Like No One Ever

In a game Sunday against the White Sox, Kevin Correia made a valiant attempt at something no Twins starter had yet accomplished in 2013: a start with eight strikeouts. Correia would last seven innings, and he recorded his seventh strikeout to lead off the bottom of the fifth, when he fanned Tyler Flowers. The Twins’ TV broadcast started talking about Correia’s season and career strikeout highs. Correia would work through 10 more plate appearances before yielding to Jared Burton. None of the 10 wound up a strikeout. Correia remained stuck at seven; Twins starters remained stuck at zero.

Except for Minnesota, every team has at least one starter with at least eight strikeouts in a game. In fact, every other team has at least four starts with eight Ks. The Tigers have 31. The Rangers have 27. The Red Sox have 25. Chad Gaudin has three. Nick Tepesch has two. Charles Leesman has one. The Twins, of course, have zero. But the Twins do have five starts with seven strikeouts. The Twins have long had a reputation for putting together pitch-to-contact starting rotations, so in that way what they’ve done in 2013 is hardly surprising. But this year, the Twins have kicked it up a notch. Or down a notch. However you want to put it, the Twins no longer are at the same notch as before.

The Twins’ rotation has a group strikeout rate of 12.2%. Or, on average, they’ve racked up about one strikeout per eight batters or so. This is, not shockingly, the lowest rotation strikeout rate in baseball. There’s a problem with trying to compare this to historical performances, though. Strikeout rates keep changing; strikeout rates keep rising. A strikeout rate of 12.2% would’ve led baseball in 1948. Twins starters have about the same strikeout rate as Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn and later-career Walter Johnson. A straight-up historical comparison isn’t going to work. Not, at least, if we want to get anywhere.

Ten pitchers have started for the Twins this season. The highest strikeout rate is 13.5%, shared by Samuel Deduno and Mike Pelfrey. That puts them right between Joe Saunders and Kyle Kendrick. Eight Twins starters have thrown at least 30 innings. Overall, 188 starters have thrown at least 30 innings. All eight of those Twins starters rank in the bottom 29 individual strikeout rates. Not a one of them is above the 16th percentile.

There’s another way of putting this in perspective: Twins starters have that 12.2% strikeout rate. The next-lowest is 15.6%, which belongs to the Rockies. So it’s not like the Twins are in last but are nipping at another team’s heels. The Twins are so deep in last you’d almost think this would be something they’re proud of. You’d almost think it has to be deliberate, that the Twins have zigged where all the other teams zagged. But then, the Twins are middle of the pack in walks. They’re in dead last in adjusted ERA. The neat thing about strikeouts is they’re outs. And Twins starters haven’t gotten enough outs.

Comparing team numbers against league-average numbers gives us a way to fairly compare teams from any and all eras. You’re probably familiar with ERA-, which is basically ERA divided by league ERA. We can similarly construct an easy K%-, or “strikeout rate minus” or something, to deal with how much raw strikeout rate has changed. This can be accomplished using numbers right here on FanGraphs, and we have team and league strikeout-rate data going back to 1916. Given how this year’s Twins rotation compares to the league average, I had to know the historical rank.

I pulled every team rotation season from 1916 on, and then calculated a ratio of the rotation’s strikeout rate against the average strikeout rate. American League teams used AL rotation K% as the denominator; National League teams did not. The 2013 Twins rotation has a strikeout rate of 12.2%, against an AL average of 18.6%, yielding a ratio of 0.66. Where does this rank among the lowest-ever ratios?

Rotation K% / Average Rotation K%; 10 lowest, 1916-2013

Season Team K% lgK% Ratio
2013 Twins 12.2% 18.6% 0.656
1972 Yankees 9.8% 14.8% 0.662
1931 Reds 5.5% 8.2% 0.671
1930 Reds 5.4% 7.9% 0.684
1981 Cardinals 8.8% 12.8% 0.688
1932 Red Sox 5.8% 8.4% 0.690
1996 Rockies 11.5% 16.5% 0.697
1935 Braves 6.0% 8.6% 0.698
1936 Browns 5.8% 8.3% 0.699
1942 Braves 6.3% 9.0% 0.700

And there that is. If you think of this as simply adjusted strikeout rate, then so far this season, this year’s Twins starters have posted the lowest adjusted strikeout rate ever. Their rotation strikeout rate is less than two-thirds the league average, and though they’re close enough to other teams to climb out of last before the end of September, the general significance doesn’t change — and it’s not like any of these Twins starters have demonstrated much in the way of strikeout ability. Deduno flirted with a few strikeouts in 2012 but the Twins seem to have beat that notion right out of him. Correia flirted with a few strikeouts on Sunday, but then he stopped, lest he apparently lose his job for disobedience. Francisco Liriano has more strikeouts than Deduno and Scott Diamond combined.

In 2010, the Twins rotation had a strikeout rate that was pretty much exactly league average. In 2011 it dropped to 86% of the average. Then 77%, now 66%. This is, arguably, the worst strikeout staff ever. Which makes it the staff of the stereotypical Twins’ wildest dreams.



Print This Post



Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Benjamin
Guest
Benjamin
2 years 10 months ago

Albers was the perfect call-up, then. 17.1 innings, 4 strikeouts.

Ed Stohs
Guest
Ed Stohs
2 years 10 months ago

So sad. The game passed Terry Ryan bye 10 years ago but he remains employed because he is a nice guy and a yes man. Terry has ruined a once decent franchise.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
2 years 10 months ago

Ryan only came back after the season in 2011. And he left after the 2007 season. In the fangraphs era 2002-2012, the Twins finished first 6 times and had a record of 942-840, averaging 85.6 wins to 76.4 losses. Until 2011 they were consistent winners.

The twins also have a pretty stocked minor league system, with Buxton and Sano, Rosario, and recent graduates like Oswaldo Arcia. So the future seems bright as well.

Admittedly, they have a bunch of low strikeout innings eaters on the staff (Pelfrey may not so much eat innings as chew them a bit and spit’em out), so they need some of the young power arms like Meyers to come through.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 10 months ago

Nicely said.

Terry Ryan was brought back to dig the Twins out of the hole Bill Smith dug for the franchise. Coming out of 2012, Scott Diamond was the only returning starter and he needed off-season surgery, and really I don’t think another team in the league as a worse starting pitching outlook coming into 2013. The Twins are near competing but its admirable they’ve done as well as they have with limited talent.

Ian
Guest
Ian
2 years 10 months ago

Wow. So you have to troll Twins forums right?

Scott Marcus
Guest
Scott Marcus
2 years 10 months ago

The theory that I’ve heard most is that the Twins draft “safe” college pitchers. They are averse to drafting high-risk, high-upside high school arms. So they get a plethora of league-average pitchers who can’t miss bats. They need to change the way they draft — and that might mean changing some of their front office staff.

Brian
Guest
Brian
2 years 10 months ago

they’ve started doing that more with drafting Berrios last year and Kohl Stewart this year, plus trading for Alex Meyer and Trevor May.

I think the Twins hitters are leading the league post all star break in K’s, so apparently ‘swing to contact’ isn’t quite as important as ‘pitch to contact’.

Wass
Member
Wass
2 years 10 months ago

If the Twins actually thought that the best thing a pitcher can do is allow contact, than obviously the best thing for their hitters to do would be to not make contact. Logic! I’m obviously joking around, but unfortunately as a Twins fan that is way too close for comfort to things I’ve heard the team leadership say.

Ian
Guest
Ian
2 years 10 months ago

It’s a bit of a myth though, they haven’t been drafting like that for years. (Mike Radcliff was known to draft safe guys but did grab Matt Garza when he fell to the Twins in 05. And drafting late in the first round for a decade doesn’t help). When Ryan retired, Bill Smith put Deron Johnson in charge of the draft. He started picking flame throwers over the soft tossers but only Kyle Gibson has made it to the majors so far (BA ranked him #41, I believe. He needs time but should be a solid pitcher). Anyhow, Johnson drafted a ton of big arms – Hunt, Gutierrez, Jones, Bard, Bullock, Tootle etc but none have made it. (And it’s not completely fair to say that he only drafted flame throwers b/c he also took Alex Wimmers). Johnson has also added Stewart, Gonzalez and Berrios more recently.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t remember hearing the “safe” pitcher story before, but would say the Twins have one of the most strict minor league development systems around, which I think could be an issue with the low K’s. Like the A’s are about hitters taking walks, the Twins are (conversely) about pitchers giving up walks — guys just don’t get promoted if they can’t consistently throw strikes. A guy like Yovani Gallardo wouldn’t make it in the Twins organization because he’d get held back for his BB% rate, rather than promoted for his K%. By nature, that means guys keep the ball in the zone more.

The Twins are the same way about bunting — every player must bunt and be proficient at bunting. One of the reasons cited as to why the Twins cut David Ortiz (aside from 3 injury filled seasons and poor production) was that he sucked at bunting and didn’t take coaching to fix it. Its silly in hindsight, but the organization is that strict on coaching.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 10 months ago

The only real reason the Twins cut Ortiz is because of arbitration. And they’ve been scared of non-tendering anyone since, even when it was obviously the right thing to do.

Bryz
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

The Twins didn’t cut Ortiz because of bunting, it was due to money and he was often injured.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
2 years 10 months ago

Fun fact: Yu Darvish has as many starts with 14 or more strikeouts as the entire Twins rotation has starts with 7 strikeouts.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
2 years 10 months ago

I saw a stat on MLB network showing who had the most 10+ strikeout games this year. In was yesterday after Darvish’s 15 K day. It looked something like this…

1. Tigers @ 13
2. Darvish @ 9
3. Giants @ 8
4. Reds @ 7

I don’t remember the actual numbers, but it was an epic graphic.

philkid3
Guest
philkid3
2 years 10 months ago

I find this absurdly hilarious.

Jaack
Guest
Jaack
2 years 10 months ago

Obligatory Kirk Reuter mention.

Mike C
Guest
Mike C
2 years 10 months ago

Does this mean Andrew Albers exists yet? Still no contract, no major league team showing on his player card.

yosoyfiesta
Member
yosoyfiesta
2 years 10 months ago

Twins starters…puke

Freddy
Guest
Freddy
2 years 10 months ago

Wow! The Twins need to clean out their front office and upgrade with folks who understand modern baseball. There is a reason they haven’t won a playoff game in a decade despite being in the weakest division in baseball over that time period.

NRJyzr
Guest
NRJyzr
2 years 10 months ago

If you emerge on top in the weakest division in baseball (in some cases, barely), doesn’t it stand to reason your playoff opponents are better than you, and should beat you?

N8*K
Guest
N8*K
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t like the “weakest division” argument for why the Twins haven’t been successful in the post season. I believe in their last appearance, they entered with the best record in the AL. You can’t judge a front office based a small sample of playoff games.

Ian
Guest
Ian
2 years 10 months ago

Those 5 Twins teams that lost avg 92 wins. Their opponents avg 101. And in many years they didn’t have some big players healthy for the post season (Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Nathan etc)

David
Guest
David
2 years 10 months ago

I bet you (Jeff) could create a post with all the gifs of twin pitcher k’s and it wouldn’t take very long to write, load, or read.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 10 months ago

“The Twins are so deep in last you’d almost think this would be something they’re proud of. You’d almost think it has to be deliberate, that the Twins have zigged where all the other teams zagged.”

They’ve made this approach explicit, repeatedly. They talked a little bit after the draft last year about how they were trying to change things up, but obviously that’s going to take a while to get to the big-league level. But they’ve been desperately trying to recreate Brad Radke for a long time, and they haven’t made any secret of it.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 10 months ago

Technically, you’re supposed to genuflect after you mentioned Radke

Jesse A.
Guest
Jesse A.
2 years 10 months ago

This is my favorite Fangraphs comment, ever.

Krog
Guest
Krog
2 years 10 months ago

If the Twins are targeting low-upside pitchers because they are inexpensive it may not be a bad strategy, but if they are training their young pitchers to eschew strikeouts they are only hurting themselves. I guess the question is, is it nature or nurture? Are the Twins voluntarily giving up on trying to strike out batters or are they trying to exploit an inefficiency by using low strikeout pitchers?

Franco
Guest
Franco
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t think Mike Pelfrey will ever be the new market inefficiency.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 10 months ago

Yes, because Nick Blackburn is inexpensive.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
2 years 10 months ago

Combine the Twins offense with the White Sox pitching, and you’d have yourself at least a .500 team!

adohaj
Member
adohaj
2 years 10 months ago

This is what happens when a team has low strikeout pitchers then goes out and gets a few soft tossers in the later parts of their careers.

Mark Reynolds
Guest
Mark Reynolds
2 years 10 months ago

Challenge accepted!

Maverick Squad
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t know if you’d call it ‘pitching to contact’ rather than ‘we can’t strike anyone out’.

payroll
Guest
payroll
2 years 10 months ago

Since 2011, the the Twins and Astros are the only teams in the bottom 6 for average pitch values for all the main four pitches: Fastballs, Sliders, Curveballs, and Changeups.

In other words, the Twins am dont have good pitchers.

dt
Guest
dt
2 years 10 months ago

Do they at least average a short game? Trying to find a silver lining in this.

Scott Strandberg
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I tackled this same topic over at The Hardball Times in May. My conclusion was that Rick Anderson is at least somewhat responsible. Check it out here if interested: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/rick-anderson-and-pitching-to-contact/

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 10 months ago

The “Twins Way” needs genocidal treatment at all levels of the org!!!

spycake
Guest
spycake
2 years 10 months ago

Does the Twins extreme BIP philosophy have any impact on their advanced defensive stats? They’ve got a pretty stellar middle infield this year, and pretty bad corner OF… just curious if those could be exaggerated due to opportunity.

Joe L.
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

Now, in addition to our Twins pitchers being historically bad at striking guys out, we have set a team record for most offensive strikeouts. Pitchers who can’t miss bats and batters that can make contact…it’s not a good combo.

wpDiscuz