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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.
Image courtesy of © Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
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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Dec 03 2017 11:46 AM


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. 

The analogy of SO to dunks probably breaks down when considering that dunks are much less common. Nobody dunks often enough to make that be what defines their team's season.


Likewise, I don't think I was demonstrating why strikeouts must line up precisely with ERA (they won't). And certainly not that the pitcher with the most Ks is the "best". Merely to explain a reason why a strikeout is more valuable among other outs, and not simply a paradox; you have to look further up the stream than after the out has been recorded, to notice why.


As for correlation, I note if you rank major league teams by strikeouts recorded by their pitchers, you need to go down all the way to #9 (Mets) to find a team that missed the playoffs. The two teams that did make the post-season, but weren't in the top 8 in SO, both were bounced in single-game appearances. Strikeouts by batters aren't quite so dire - you can find a team at #6 (Arizona) who made the post-season. :)


But yes, there is much in baseball that counts besides just strikeouts. Thank goodness!

    • Dantes929 likes this
Dec 03 2017 12:02 PM

What makes Kintzler better than Pressley or Duffey? 

I ducked this part in my other reply because it's really far from my point about strikeouts in relation to other outs, but...


I'm not even sure I'm willing to say one "is" better than another. Kintzler had a better *2017*, because mainly he didn't give up so many walks and (especially) HR as those other two. I spent some time explaining elsewhere my reservations about FIP for backward looking purposes, but as a predictive tool for 2018 FIP suggests it's about even-money whether Duffey or Kintzler will have the better year. Pressly... he needs to work on a few things. :)

    • Dantes929 likes this


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...


Fangraphs supports creating custom leaderboards.

    • ashburyjohn and jimmer like this
Dec 03 2017 04:05 PM

Fangraphs supports creating custom leaderboards.

Let me know what different results you get from studying this question. :)

    • snepp likes this


Let me know what different results you get from studying this question. :)


But that sounds an awful lot like work, and I've come down with a severe case of allergies to that.

    • ashburyjohn likes this

I am still baffled by the concept that a strikeout is not a bad thing from a hitter's perspective (an out is an out) so just swing for the fences no matter the situation or the count; but that from a pitcher's perspective a strikeout is the number one priority.The goal for the pitcher and defense is to get outs.Admittedly there are situations in which a strikeout is paramount; runner on third and less than two outs; but those are not measured by SO's/9 innings.One SO per nine is great if you get it when you need it.


The Twins simply need better pitchers,not necessarily harder throwers or strikeout machines.

Dec 03 2017 05:42 PM

The goal for the pitcher and defense is to get outs. 

They almost assuredly will get 24 of them, one by one by one - barring rain or a forfeit or other unusual and premature end to the game.


The difference maker is how many balls are put in play while accomplishing that arduous task, because some of those fall in safely or leave the park as home runs. Strikeouts cut down on the chances of the first of those happening, giving no chance for good things to happen for the offense. That, plus walks+HBP, will define their success.


With enough success, or with home field advantage, they may even be allowed to try for 27 outs. And that's the goal. :)

Dec 03 2017 05:53 PM

I am still baffled by the concept that a strikeout is not a bad thing from a hitter's perspective (an out is an out) so just swing for the fences no matter the situation or the count; but that from a pitcher's perspective a strikeout is the number one priority.

Pitching and hitting are not mirror images of each other. Pitching is about achieving location. Hitting is about either punishing the mistakes or going with what is given to them. Batters of both kinds can succeed, and many batters adopt a blend. It's rare for a pitcher without command to get anywhere in the majors, with just his stuff.


So it's no paradox for pitchers to try to strike batters out without giving them anything good to hit, while power hitters may swing for the fences when they see something they like.

    • jimmer likes this
The Wise One
Dec 05 2017 08:32 AM

They need to find pitchers who can effectively pitch. Not many starters have K rates greater than 9.5/9Average is around 8. There are plenty of pitchers out there that strike batters out at a greater than 8 but less than 9.5 but get hammered the rest of the time. Ubaldo is one example. There are plenty of others. Fiers was better than average at strike outs. Houston let him go.Just something to keep in perspective

There is no evidence of this front office making strikeouts a priority or not. We literally have no idea, based on their inaction last year or this, so far. People keep posting about the front office like we have any idea what they will do. How do you know?
    • Doomtints likes this

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