Twins Pitching Success is Not Sustainable
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsJason Castro? He’s certainly been a help. Better defense? There’s no doubt that's improved over last year. But, as much as I hate to say it, it’s possible Twins pitchers have also been lucky.
Usually I despise bringing the “L” word into conversation about major league baseball. These are the greatest players in the world; it seems borderline offensive to attribute their successes or failures to chance. But … if there was ever a situation in which to apply that term it may be to the 2017 Minnesota Twins’ pitching staff.
Here are some of the numbers heading into Thursday afternoon’s game:
Twins Starting Pitchers
ERA 3.18 2nd in the AL
FIP 4.20 11th in the AL
xFIP 4.60 13th in the AL
Twins Relief Pitchers
ERA 2.64 4th in the AL
FIP 3.61 9th in the AL
xFIP 3.54 5th in the AL
Overall, the results have been outstanding. The Twins have the best team ERA in the AL at 2.98, which is second-best in all of baseball (Dodgers 2.88). Pretty hard to spin that negative, right? Well, if you take a deeper look into the numbers, as the FIP and xFIP suggest, there are plenty of reasons to believe this has all been a mirage.
Twins pitchers allowed the worst BABIP in the AL last season, .319. This year, they have the lowest mark in the game by 15 points (.233). Only six teams last year surrendered a BABIP under .290, with the Cubs leading the league with a freakishly-low .255 mark.
The improved defense has certainly helped Twins pitchers, but is the 86-point improvement sustainable? They’re still coaxing the least amount of soft contact in the AL (16.6 percent), so it’s not like they’ve done any better at pitching to contact.
The Twins have also managed to leave 79.7 percent of opposing base runners stranded so far. That’s an 11.4 percent increase over 2016. Last season, only five teams had a LOB% above even 75 percent. The 2015 Cardinals eclipsed 79 percent in LOB%, but the last team to accomplish that feat before then was Cleveland in 1968.
It’s also worth noting that the Twins still have the lowest K/9 (6.75) and fifth-lowest K% (18.6) in baseball. Strikeouts aren’t everything, but it’s really difficult to have a good pitching staff without at least average strikeout rates.
Over the past five seasons, teams that finished in the bottom five in K% also finished in the bottom five in ERA 60 percent of the time, and the bottom 10 in ERA 84 percent of the time. The only team to finish bottom five in K% and post an above average ERA over that span was the 2016 Brewers, who finished 13th in ERA.
Again, all those figures are from before the Twins' 6-2 loss to Cleveland this afternoon, in which Ervin Santana had a great start but the bullpen surrendered five runs over three innings.
Depressed yet? Well then let’s go back to the nice shiny numbers. Sustainable or not, the Twins have been pretty good at preventing runs thus far in 2017. See, willful ignorance can be very pleasant.