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Minnesota Making Strikeouts A Priority

The strikeout has become an accepted and almost celebrated part of baseball. In 2017, 16 different pitchers recorded at least 200 strikeouts, and 20 starting pitchers found themselves averaging at least one strikeout per inning. Hitters are swinging for the fences more, and as they launch balls into the stratosphere, the strikeout has been (fairly) reduced to just another out. Thus far, the Twins have been behind the curve, but the tide may be turning.
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In 2017, Minnesota’s best K/9 among starters was recorded by Jose Berrios (8.6). No other starting pitcher posted better than Adalberto Mejia’s 7.8 K/9 and a combined 38 starts from Hector Santiago, Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon saw just 6.5, 6.4, and 5.3 K/9 marks respectively. In short, the Twins starting staff simply didn’t send batters back to the dugout on their own merits often enough. Unfortunately, 2017 wasn’t a simple outlier.

You have to go back to 2012 in order to find the last instance in which a Twins starter recorded a K/9 over 9.0 (Francisco Liriano 9.8). If you want to add a second starter to the requirements, the last time Minnesota had two starting pitchers with 9.0+ K/9 in the same season was 2006 (Liriano 10.7 & Johan Santana 9.4). It’s been a trail of misery both in the rotation and the pen when it comes to strikeout stuff, and all too often the Twins have been synonymous with pitching to contact. We may have finally reached a breakthrough however.

Last year, five teams in the big leagues had two starters with at least a 9.0 K/9 (Boston, Arizona, Washington, Cleveland, and the Yankees). While the goal for Minnesota should be to get one pitcher in that grouping of 20 averaging at least one strikeout per inning, they’re beginning to stack the deck. At the big league level, we’ve only begun to see what Jose Berrios is capable of, and he could be joined by some capable hurlers in short order.

For whatever it’s worth, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and whoever else may find themselves as holdovers in the rotation, aren’t going to profile as strikeout guys. On the farm however, Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero could definitely be cut from that cloth. Both have now pitched at least at Double-A, and continue to set batters down with ease.

Romero, the harder thrower of the two, owned an 8.6 K/0 in 2017 at Double-A Chattanooga. Across 23 starts in his second year removed from Tommy John surgery, the 22 year-old recorded 120 strikeouts across 125.0 IP. After compiling 9.0 K/9 at Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in 2016, the slight decline in his first test with the new level was to be expected. Command became a bit of an issue as evidenced by the 3.2 BB/9 in 2017, but youth is still on his side. He’ll need to establish himself at Triple-A prior to a big league call up, but upper 90’s velocity and impressive stuff is going to push him towards being a strikeout pitcher at the highest level.

As a 6’5” lefty, Gonsalves has the ability to get on hitters quickly. While his velocity is a bit lower, registering more mid-90s, the strikeout numbers have always been there. After a strong 2016 with a 10.0 K/9 across two levels, he followed up with a 9.7 K/9 at Double and Triple-A in 2017. For the Lookouts, his 9.9 K/9 was a bit of a dip over the 10.8 K/9 mark in 2016, but he reigned in the walks to a manageable 2.4 BB/9. On the surface, the Triple-A debut doesn’t look good, but in four starts, there was one six run clunker amidst three quality starts with a combined 21 strikeouts across 19.0 IP.

Obviously for both Gonsalves and Romero, the challenge will be continuing to maintain the current pace as they rise to their eventual destination at Target Field. After posting a career 9.6 K/9 across 98 minor league starts, Jose Berrios has an 8.3 K/9 mark thus far in the big leagues. He did jump a full strikeout (7.6 to 8.6 K/9) in his second year with the Twins, and there’s plenty of reason to believe we haven’t yet seen the best of him. The home-grown trio has a real possibility to be a nice monster for Minnesota in terms of starting rotation talent, and that they can miss bats only furthers that possibility.

The game has changed in recent years, and the Twins have been slow to adapt, but the ship seems headed for a better course with this group. If there’s an addition of Yu Darvish (10.0 K/9 in 2017), Shoehei Ohtani (10.3 career K/9), or Lance Lynn (8.5 K/9 2013-15 pre TJ), the group only adds another weapon. No matter what happens, it appears Paul Molitor and new pitching coach Garvin Alston will have some strikeout weapons at their disposal for the first time in quite a while.

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35 Comments

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Pardon My Dinger
Nov 30 2017 11:40 PM
“The strikeout has become an accepted and almost celebrated part of baseball.”

Controversial to say the least.
    • DJSim22 likes this
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Pardon My Dinger
Nov 30 2017 11:44 PM
The homerun: though it is loved my many, it is also hated by few.
    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Jerr and drjim like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Dec 01 2017 07:21 AM
The increase in strikeouts is sickening. That being said, I had not thought of it in terms of the Twins pitching staff recording more strikeouts. Let's start sending more batters to the pine after three strikes. Is this officially the end of the 'pitch to contact' era and that Twins Way?
    • DJSim22 likes this

https://www.baseball...ate-correlationCount me among the fans who do not accept the strikeouts.  

​It is true that our pitchers might be behind the curve, but certainly Sano, as a hitter, is not.  

​When Nolan Ryan was the strikeout king batters were trying not to strikeout.Today batters give away their at bats in search of one glorious home run - boring.I loved Altuve moving around the bases, creating excitement, or Byron Buxton upsetting the pitcher, catcher and defenders because of his speed. 

 

Here is a USA today article on the more HRs and More Ks - https://www.usatoday...sink/106222140/- want to create more action, move the game along and perhaps shorten playing time - put the ball in play!Of course it is a longer game - it takes longer for the big swinger to amass all those strikes, strut and step out and try to look like they were robbed.

 

One analysis looked at the correlation between hitting home runs and striking out -   What we do not have is a true measure of comparative values.Do all those worthless swings or standing and watching the catcher catch accomplish anything?

 

Is it possible to strike out less than the number of homeruns you hit?Check out this listing.These are true hitters:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/10091.html

 

A homerun can be exciting, but if we are just going to watch nine inning home run derby's I have something better to do.Give me the era of Maury Wills and Rickey Henderson.Make the game exciting.

 

And if the K rate for pitchers goes down, fine.It will be a reflection of pitching and not just the fact that the batters have no control.

    • Dantes929, USNMCPO, PDX Twin and 6 others like this

Santana was our best pitcher and was 3rd among starters for SO/9.Of our top 5 relievers the two with the lowest ERA's were the ones with the lowest strikeout rates.The two with the highest ERA's had the highest strikeout rates.Who did you want to see out there with the game on the line?Kintzler or Pressley? I am not against strikeouts and all for the kind of stuff that can generate them but if it does not have corresponding run prevention what is the point?San Fran won a few WS with pitch to contact philosophy.They just did it better.Way better.

 

I didn't think Gonsalves profiled as a strikeout pitcher. Glad to see the strikeout stats because the impression I have gotten is that he is a pitcher rather than a thrower. Again, run prevention is king. I am less concerned with how it is achieved.Who wouldn't want Glavine and Maddux on their staff?

 

Offensively, the part that offends me about strikeouts is the situations where we don't need a home run but rather just putting the ball in play and the guys are swinging from their heels even with two strikes. Situational hitting still has a place in the game. Even for guys like Sano.

    • Otwins, SF Twins Fan, Broker and 4 others like this
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terrydactyls1947
Dec 01 2017 08:50 AM
Following along the same lines as Mikelink45, the effect of stringing together several hits on the pitcher is more noticeable than a single swing. Both situations may only result in a single run scoring. But with a home run, the pitcher can easily say "just one pitch that got away from me" and recover quickly while a string of base hits will likely cause some serious doubts to entire the fragile mind of a pitcher. Add to that, the threat of a stolen base, a change to the pitcher's preferred use of a full wind up, and pressure on the pitcher to stop the bleeding, and the impact is even greater. And, to me, it's more fun to watch all the thinking going on by both teams when there are players on base.
    • Steve Lein, Dantes929, Oldgoat_MN and 7 others like this

 

The increase in strikeouts is sickening. That being said, I had not thought of it in terms of the Twins pitching staff recording more strikeouts. Let's start sending more batters to the pine after three strikes. Is this officially the end of the 'pitch to contact' era and that Twins Way?

Why can't pitchers do a bit of both?The thing that has bugged the heck out of me for a long time now is pitchers that get a quick two strikes, then start to nibble.It just drives me crazy.

    • Tomj14, OldFartAtPlay and HrbekRules like this
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Lee-The-Twins-Fan
Dec 01 2017 09:31 AM

 

Why can't pitchers do a bit of both?The thing that has bugged the heck out of me for a long time now is pitchers that get a quick two strikes, then start to nibble.It just drives me crazy.

It drives me crazy too. To me, defensively speaking, a strikeout is the same as a ground out or fly ball. It's an out. It's not two outs, but one. 

 

Hitters can beat the strikeout pitcher – and nibbler - by being more selective at the plate and by not trying to hit a home run all the time. Hitters who are not afraid to take a walk, or get a single.

 

Hitters who are more selective can be beaten by the strike thrower and solid defense.

 

That's pitching. And that's baseball. If – as a pitcher or hitter – your strikeout 'pendulum' swings too far one way or the other, you are in danger of losing effectiveness. 

 

 

    • wsnydes and MN_ExPat like this
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South Dakota Tom
Dec 01 2017 10:09 AM

Gives me a real appreciation for the four-year run Ted Kluszewski had in the mid-50s; that list is a real who's who.....

https://www.baseball...ate-correlationCount me among the fans who do not accept the strikeouts.  

​It is true that our pitchers might be behind the curve, but certainly Sano, as a hitter, is not.  

​When Nolan Ryan was the strikeout king batters were trying not to strikeout.Today batters give away their at bats in search of one glorious home run - boring.I loved Altuve moving around the bases, creating excitement, or Byron Buxton upsetting the pitcher, catcher and defenders because of his speed. 

 

Here is a USA today article on the more HRs and More Ks - https://www.usatoday...sink/106222140/- want to create more action, move the game along and perhaps shorten playing time - put the ball in play!Of course it is a longer game - it takes longer for the big swinger to amass all those strikes, strut and step out and try to look like they were robbed.

 

One analysis looked at the correlation between hitting home runs and striking out - What we do not have is a true measure of comparative values.Do all those worthless swings or standing and watching the catcher catch accomplish anything?

 

Is it possible to strike out less than the number of homeruns you hit?Check out this listing.These are true hitters:

https://www.baseball...ives/10091.html

 

A homerun can be exciting, but if we are just going to watch nine inning home run derby's I have something better to do.Give me the era of Maury Wills and Rickey Henderson.Make the game exciting.

 

And if the K rate for pitchers goes down, fine.It will be a reflection of pitching and not just the fact that the batters have no control.

 

    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

 

The increase in strikeouts is sickening. That being said, I had not thought of it in terms of the Twins pitching staff recording more strikeouts. Let's start sending more batters to the pine after three strikes. Is this officially the end of the 'pitch to contact' era and that Twins Way?

 

I'll believe it when I see it... The Twins made it a priority 4-5 years ago to acquire more "power arms" for the bullpen. We've seen one (Curtiss) so far. 

If Trevor May can reestablish himself as a starter, I don't think it's too much to believe he could offer 8+ strikeouts per 9 innings.

    • Dantes929 and sploorp like this

Strikeouts are boring,Besides that, they're fascist. 
I heard that someplace before.

A couple of the World Series games were ludicrous as far as HRs go.The ball couldn't stay in the park, and that was with some of the best pitchers in the game.There is something to be said about stringing together hits, manufacturing runs, etc. 

 

    • Vanimal46 likes this
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nicksaviking
Dec 01 2017 01:22 PM

 

Strikeouts are boring,Besides that, they're fascist. 
I heard that someplace before.

 

 

Crash was naive, I want my pitchers a mean, intimidating, fascist dictator on the mound.

 

A strikeout prevents errors, sac flies, Texas Leagures, seeing-eye-singles, runners moving from 2nd to 3rd, bad umpiring calls, Eddie Rosario throwing to the wrong base, Steve Bartman and those times when outfielders forget there is only one out and toss the ball into the stands.

 

Pitchers: get the freakin' out yerself and let your fielders chase butterflies and build sandcastles.

    • ashburyjohn, USAFChief, Taildragger8791 and 1 other like this

The headline is a strong statement seeing the the new front office hasn't done anything with pitching yet, not just this offseason but also last offseason. I'm not sure if their two major pitching moves (Jamie Garcia, Bartolo Colon) are currently considered to be elite strikeout pitchers.

 

Ks might be less important to the Twins than for other teams, seeing as they have the best defender in the league in CF. It would be nice if the Twins get some dominant fireballers, but I don't think it's critical to their success. They just need guys who can get hitters out, whether that's by inducing weak hits or striking people out, I don't care.

    • sploorp, Vanimal46 and Hollywood42 like this

The headline is a strong statement seeing the the new front office hasn't done anything with pitching yet, not just this offseason but also last offseason. I'm not sure if their two major pitching moves (Jamie Garcia, Bartolo Colon) are currently considered to be elite strikeout pitchers.

Ks might be less important to the Twins than for other teams, seeing as they have the best defender in the league in CF. It would be nice if the Twins get some dominant fireballers, but I don't think it's critical to their success. They just need guys who can get hitters out, whether that's by inducing weak hits or striking people out, I don't care.


There is certainly a lot of wishcasting on this front office.

Though I suppose the article could be an after the fact defense of Terry Ryan's talent acquisition.
    • Doomtints likes this
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yarnivek1972
Dec 01 2017 01:58 PM

Crash was naive, I want my pitchers a mean, intimidating, fascist dictator on the mound.

A strikeout prevents errors, sac flies, Texas Leagures, seeing-eye-singles, runners moving from 2nd to 3rd, bad umpiring calls, Eddie Rosario throwing to the wrong base, Steve Bartman and those times when outfielders forget there is only one out and toss the ball into the stands.

Pitchers: get the freakin' out yerself and let your fielders chase butterflies and build sandcastles.


In the mid 80s, half of all teams were playing on turf. Maybe more. It was a speed era.
Hector Rondon for the bullpen?
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Hollywood42
Dec 02 2017 02:30 PM

Darvish strikes a lot of people out

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less cowbell more neau
Dec 02 2017 06:18 PM

RIP pitch-to-contact

"the strikeout has been (fairly) reduced to just another out."

 

True, an out is an out.Why is this true statement followed by an entire article of why a strikeout is more important than any other out.To me it is a parallel to the dunk in basketball.All kinds of hype and emotion, but when all is said and done it is worth 2 points.

 

Get pitchers who can get people out.I would love to see some analytics on fielding performance on batted balls in play behind strikeout pitchers as compared to pitch to contact guys.My guess would be that fielders perform better when batters see fewer pitches.Nothing like a 8 or 9 pitch at bat to put fielders on their heels.

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ashburyjohn
Dec 03 2017 08:25 AM

"the strikeout has been (fairly) reduced to just another out."

 

True, an out is an out.Why is this true statement followed by an entire article of why a strikeout is more important than any other out.To me it is a parallel to the dunk in basketball.All kinds of hype and emotion, but when all is said and done it is worth 2 points.

What you say is true, once the play is completed.

 

But just in advance of that, a dunk is about a 95% shot to make it, versus something around 50% for various other locations around the floor. If you could work it so you had a slam dunk every time down the court, you'd win going away.

 

And what is the On Base Percentage for strikeouts, versus walks, versus balls put in play by the batter? Those are .000, 1.000, and around .300, respectively.

 

The strikeout is just another out, except you get about 30% more of them versus letting the batter get wood on the ball.

 

That's what the strikeout does for your team. It is, indeed, analogous to a slam dunk by the pitcher.

    • USAFChief, nicksaviking, Penthang and 1 other like this

"the strikeout has been (fairly) reduced to just another out."

True, an out is an out. Why is this true statement followed by an entire article of why a strikeout is more important than any other out. To me it is a parallel to the dunk in basketball. All kinds of hype and emotion, but when all is said and done it is worth 2 points.

Get pitchers who can get people out. I would love to see some analytics on fielding performance on batted balls in play behind strikeout pitchers as compared to pitch to contact guys. My guess would be that fielders perform better when batters see fewer pitches. Nothing like a 8 or 9 pitch at bat to put fielders on their heels.

The 8 or 9 pitch AB happens a lot for pitch to contact pitchers, too. Actually more IMO. They can’t get strike three past a hitter, leading to lots of foul balls and long ABs. Typically, the guy starting the 5th inning with 82 pitches isn’t the guy with 7 K’s at that point, it’s the guy with 2.

The error in analytics is not in thinking K’s are a positive for pitchers. Rather, the error is in thinking K’s aren’t a negative for hitters. As Ash notes above, an out is NOT an out. Nobody ever knocked in a run on a K.
    • ashburyjohn, Dantes929 and sploorp like this
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ashburyjohn
Dec 03 2017 09:26 AM
I would love to see some analytics on fielding performance on batted balls in play behind strikeout pitchers as compared to pitch to contact guys.My guess would be that fielders perform better when batters see fewer pitches.Nothing like a 8 or 9 pitch at bat to put fielders on their heels.

I'm taking the second half of your post separately as I see it as a separate (and interesting) issue.

 

Baseball-reference.com has all kinds of seasonal stats that one can sort on. The stats that apply here would be SO/9, BABIP (BA on Balls In Play), and Pitches/PA. (Actually I wish they offered SO/PA, but it is what it is.) BABIP would seem to address what you are asking about.

 

Unfortunately the site does not place these three on the same page with each other, and I am not a wizard with databases. So all I can do is sort on one stat or another, and do a bit of sampling rather than try to do something more statistical. Maybe somebody with mad skillz can help me out here.

 

One initial observation is that BABIP is renowned for high variability. The same pitcher may have consecutive seasons of BABIP above and below average (which usually is around .300) - few pitchers are really consistent year to year, suggesting that low or high is not a repeatable skill held by the pitcher.

 

OK, so if I sort 2017 MLB pitchers who had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, I see at the top for pitches per PA Jake Odorizzi. Your surmise would be that his fielders are on their heels; instead, he has a very stellar BABIP of .228 this year, indicating his fielders were making the plays for him, when the batter did finally put the ball in play. I bet he doesn't repeat that feat next year, but anyway we're off to a bad start. Next on the list is Eduardo Rodriguez; his BABIP is .300, a very average figure. Third is Wade Miley, and his BABIP is .333, in keeping with your surmise. Next is Trevor Bauer, and his is .338. Next is the sainted Mike Pelfrey, and his BABIP is .276. A very mixed bag.

 

Working next from the bottom of that list, the fewest pitches per PA belonged to Iván Nova. His BABIP was .303. Next best was Big Sexy himself, Bartolo Colon. His BABIP was not very good, .335. Next comes Clayton Richard with BABIP .354, Mike Leake with .312, and Luis Perdomo with .327. These are the guys whose fielders should be the most alert, and again it's a mixed bag or even trending the wrong way.

 

Now, this methodology, if you can even call it that, of the 5 top and 5 bottom, is slanted toward good starting pitchers - pitchers who were trusted enough to rack up a lot of innings pitched by br-com's cutoff for rate stats. Maybe a careful study that includes relievers and/or bad starters would show a different trend.

 

You can approach it differently, by sorting on SO/9 (since SO is the subject here), since the top Pitch/PA is not necessarily the top strikeout pitchers. Again, we'll only look at pretty good starters this way. Chris Sale was the top pitcher for strikeout rate, and his fielders allowed him to amass a BABIP of .303. Next was Robbie Ray, and he had BABIP .270. Max Scherzer, .248. Corey Kluber, .268. Chris Archer, .325.

 

Among the pitchers with lowest strikeout rates: Ty Blach, .296. Andrew Cashner, .267. Jeremy Hellickson, .248. Martin Perez, .330. Zach Davies, .306.

 

Every time I start to see a pattern emerge, another datapoint comes along to break it up. It reminds me of flipping coins.

 

Interestingly, as a side note, the list of highest strikeout pitchers does not correspond to the list of pitchers with highest pitcher per plate appearance. (Edit: just as Chief expressed.)

 

I wrote this rather stream-of-consciousness, expecting to rewrite it or at least condense it when a pattern emerged. It didn't, so for whatever it's worth, this is a very shallow but non-cherry-picked look at your question. I don't think a pattern exists, and this sampling of data doesn't motivate me to go take a course in database analysis to try to dig one out. :)

    • Penthang likes this
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ashburyjohn
Dec 03 2017 09:54 AM

and I am not a wizard with databases.

It finally dawned on me that the reason I'm not a wizard with b-r.com's database in particular is that I've been too big a cheapskate to pay for their Play Index which does allow more of what I want. Perhaps Santa will hear my wish in a few weeks...

 

What you say is true, once the play is completed.

 

But just in advance of that, a dunk is about a 95% shot to make it, versus something around 50% for various other locations around the floor. If you could work it so you had a slam dunk every time down the court, you'd win going away.

 

And what is the On Base Percentage for strikeouts, versus walks, versus balls put in play by the batter? Those are .000, 1.000, and around .300, respectively.

 

The strikeout is just another out, except you get about 30% more of them versus letting the batter get wood on the ball.

 

That's what the strikeout does for your team. It is, indeed, analogous to a slam dunk by the pitcher.

Makes complete sense and difficult to argue with but something happens around the edges that makes it less. Just based on your analysis, two of our 3 best pitchers last year were very obviously Duffey and Pressley and Kintzler one of our worst.. Teams with the most dunks should score the most points because they have the highest amount of 95% shots but I don't think there is that much of a correlation.. A quick look at the team stats says Cleveland had the best ERA and the most strikeouts but its kind of a mixed bag after that. Houston had the 2nd most strikeouts but the 11th best ERA. Twins had the 2nd worst strikeout rate but still managed 19th in run prevention.So we are looking at a connection but rather a loose connection between strikeouts and ERA.Cleveland was also best in the league in not giving up walks. There appears to be a similar connection between walks and run prevention. Its there but somewhat loose. Texas for example had the fewest strikeouts and gave up the 7th most walks but were still somehow better in ERA than 9 other teams. I would tend to say striking out the most and walking the fewest is a great combination but not everyone can be a Verlander or Kershaw.What makes Kintzler better than Pressley or Duffey? 


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