Twins Rookie Pitchers Were Well Prepared in 2019
Image courtesy of © David Richard-USA TODAY SportsPitching ain’t easy. You know this, I know this, and the pitchers themselves know this. Pitchers every year are sent up and down between AAA and the majors because no team ever has enough pitching to make it through a full season. Guys will go down with injury or wake up one day to find out what worked for them before suddenly doesn’t and just like that, they go from closer to DFA’d.
Knowing all of this, it’s quite notable when rookie pitchers come up and perform at a level that is actually passable. It’s even more notable when an entire group of rookie pitchers get called up and hold their own at the major league level. You may not have noticed, but this was the reality for the Twins in 2019.
The Twins in 2019 had seven rookie pitchers throw at least 25 innings at the major league level which is what I’m arbitrarily defining as a “significant amount”. In total, 13 rookies threw at least one pitch at the major league level and this group of individuals put together the second best rookie pitching staff by fWAR in 2019, with the Padres being the only team ahead of the Twins (3.9 to 4.5). Although, Twins rookies only threw 271 innings compared to the Padres’ 558, so the Twins have them in efficiency. Also consider that the average player is worth about 2 WAR and with my estimation that the average starter throws about 150 innings, the Twins rookies as a whole pitched at a slightly better than average rate in 2019.
What made this rookie group so good? The big number that stands out is that they walked just 6.2% of batters which was the lowest of any group of rookies on a single team in 2019 (José Berríos walked 6.1% of batters in 2019 for reference). This incredibly low walk rate is also reflected in the fact that their total percent of pitches in the strike zone in 2019 was 45.8%-the best among every team's rookies.
I wrote about Cody Stashak and his phenomenal command before, but it appears that this trait wasn’t just unique to him last year. To have an entire group of rookie pitchers throw strikes at the best rate in baseball would seem to imply that the Twins minor league coaches are doing a great job of preparing their pitchers for the jump to the majors. Finding the strike zone is half of the battle, so having pitchers start with this foundation under them is a good way to allow them to grow as they then learn how to pitch to major league hitters and be effective while doing it.
The downside is that their overall K% was just 19th among team rookies in 2019 as they had a tough time then actually finishing off batters. Although, their total swinging strike rate was 10th highest among team rookies so maybe it isn’t actually a problem. This is a somewhat small sample size after all.
Overall, the numbers are inspiring as getting pitchers to make the jump to the majors will be crucial to the Twins going forward if they intend to compete for a while (especially if they don’t shell out money for starters, but that’s a different story). This change is a far cry compared to years before where it felt like rookie pitchers were in over their heads and incredibly ineffective. In fact, last year's rookie group of pitchers had the highest fWAR of any Twins rookie collection since the opening of Target Field. If this keeps up, the Twins will certainly be in a great spot going forward and could potentially become a pitching factory for the first time in what feels like forever.
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