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  • Not Missing Bats & Big Impact: The 2013 Twins Rotation

    As plain as the nose on your face, the Twins could clearly see that a sizeable portion of their 2013 troubles was a direct result of the team’s rotation.

    “Not missing bats and big impact” could have been a mantra of the starting five, or at least a bestselling bumper sticker for a select number of the fan base, which thrives on the pessimism.

    The evidence of the staff’s lack of strikeouts is clear to anyone who does a cursory search of Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference. However, one telling stat that does not show up on the regular sites is the “well-hit average” which ESPNtrumedia carries. This statistic measures how well-struck a ball was and is an indication of whether a pitcher is able to keep hitters from shooting rockets all over the field. In 2013, major league pitchers carried a well-hit average of .164 while the league’s best staff in this category, the Pittsburgh Pirates, maintained a season low of .141. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Minnesota Twins, who carried a girthy .194 well-hit average.


    One reason behind this obliteration could involve the staff’s approach.

    It should come as no surprise to those who watched any of the Twins pitchers last year and kept an eye on the radar gun readings that the speed numbers did not impress anyone. The Twins starters averaged 90 on their fastball. Just a tick below them was the Atlanta Braves’ staff that averaged 89.9 with the cheese. Yet, unlike the Twins, the Braves’ staff held a pristine .150 well-hit average – the fifth-best in the game last year. So the pitching woes cannot be entirely explained simply by lack of velocity – but it could possibly be explained by the lack of velocity in critical locations.

    Graham Goldbeck, a data analyst from Sportsvision (the company that runs the F/X systems – Pitch, Hit and Field), has culled through the 600,000-odd ball-in-play results captured by the Hit F/X technology and shared some of his findings with the SABR conference this past March. What Goldbeck found was that the vast majority of home run contact is produced out in front of the plate. Intuitively, Goldbeck’s findings found that fastball contact occurs later in the zone while off-speed contact happens further in front.

    Strategically, pitchers typically locate their off-speed and breaking balls most often on the lower-half or outside of the strike zone to avoid the type of contact that would result in souvenirs (save for the occasional get-me-over curves). Be it because they were attempting to pump strikes or simply because they failed to spot their secondary offerings (as seemed the case with Scott Diamond and Vance Worley) the Minnesota Twins allowed a league-high .461 slugging percentage on “soft” pitches (those that average 81-mph).

    Below is the velocity heat map for the entire major leagues, the well-hit average-leading Pittsburgh Pirates and, finally, the Twins, with the worst well-hit average in the game.


    (MLB)


    (Pittsburgh Pirates)



    (Minnesota Twins)

    What you see with the Twins’ velocity heat map is that a high percentage of the “slow” offerings (curves, changes, etc as indicated by the green coloring), are falling in the middle of the zone. This, when considered in conjunction with Goldbeck’s findings, is some dangerous living.

    One metric that examines, at a glance, how frequently a pitcher is in or out of the zone with a pitch is ESPNtrumedia’s “Paint” statistic. Basically, paint will measure the shortest distance in inches from a pitch to the edge of the strike zone (in any direction). On average, MLB pitchers keep their “slow” offerings approximately one inch outside of the zone. Pittsburgh’s staff – led by breaking ball enthusiasts in AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano – threw their soft pitches an inch-and-a-half away from the zone (-1.6). Meanwhile the Twins starters threw their soft offerings less than an inch away (-0.9). This means that a significant portion of these pitches were located in a very hittable region.

    As the Twins attempt to fix the rotation this winter, a key component of that could be identifying talent which has different approach than last year’s staff had. Namely, pitchers able to keep their “soft” pitches out of the middle of the zone. Those available include the likes of Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir – both of whom attack the strike zone with their fastball and supplement it with below-the-zone breaking pitches. On the other hand, pitchers like Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes tend to allow their “soft” offerings to hang up in the zone, leading to above-average well-hit averages in 2013.
    This article was originally published in blog: Velocity to blame? That's not Twins rotation's biggest problem. started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. big dog's Avatar
      big dog -
      Thanks, this was really interesting.
    1. Old Twins Cap's Avatar
      Old Twins Cap -
      Is it possible that the Twins pitchers' "off-speed" pitches lack velocity? I know that sounds ridiculous but if a curve does not have bite, it can get smacked. Not sure that means velocity exactly but both Liriano and Burnett do throw their soft stuff hard, if I can say it like that. Besides Deduno, who else on the Twins has decent breaking stuff? Scherzer, Verlander, Wainwright, -- nothing wrong with getting some zip on the breaking stuff in MLB.
    1. twinsin17's Avatar
      twinsin17 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      Is it possible that the Twins pitchers' "off-speed" pitches lack velocity?
      It is probably more likely the Twins pitchers' "off-speed" pitches lack movement.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Thanks! Great article.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Aaaaah... so the moral is; don't throw hanging curve balls.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Also, throw hard, miss bats, to some extent.
    1. orangevening's Avatar
      orangevening -
      Maybe that the Twins pitchers don't have good enough fastballs to get ahead of the count so they have to try and throw their off-speed stuff for strikes, which get wacked being to close to the hitting zone.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      As the Twins attempt to fix the rotation this winter, a key component of that could be identifying talent which has different approach than last year’s staff had. Namely, pitchers able to keep their “soft” pitches out of the middle of the zone. Those available include the likes of Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir – both of whom attack the strike zone with their fastball and supplement it with below-the-zone breaking pitches. On the other hand, pitchers like Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes tend to allow their “soft” offerings to hang up in the zone, leading to above-average well-hit averages in 2013.
      That's one way to look at things. Another is to look for pitchers who a. throw hard and b. have high K/9.

      Part of the reason the Twins' SPs are throwing soft stuff in the zone is that: a. they do not throw hard and b. Anderson's philosophy is to "throw strikes and let your defense do their job".

      So, since Anderson is still around, I'd rather see pitchers who have fast fastballs and strike people out. This is part of the reason that I smirk when I see people suggesting that Thielbar or another soft tosser can replace Duensing in the 'pen...
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Maybe that the Twins pitchers don't have good enough fastballs to get ahead of the count so they have to try and throw their off-speed stuff for strikes, which get wacked being to close to the hitting zone.
      Right and that might be a part of it. There is also the element of variation and pattern which may have led to what we see in the chart above. Did they fall behind in the count and -- instead of trying to sneak a fastball past in a fastball count -- simply spin an off-speed pitch up there? Lots of additional questions.

      That's one way to look at things. Another is to look for pitchers who a. throw hard and b. have high K/9.
      I like velocity a lot and definitely think the Twins should continue their pursuit of power arms in the draft and, hopefully, in free agency. I would add, however, that velocity does not necessarily equate to strikeouts. The Twins' rotation had a fastball velocity (90.0 mph) that finished 25th out of the 30 teams. The five teams behind them on the velocity leaderboard had varying levels of success but they all maintained strikeout rates much higher than the Twins' rotation based on their ability to miss bats by keeping their secondary offerings out of the middle of the zone.

      Braves...89.9...3.51...7.4
      Angels...89.9...4.30...6.9
      A's.......89.9....3.72...6.9
      Blue Jays...89.5...4.81...7.0
      Giants....89.4...4.37....7.8

      PS, as statistically-oriented people, let's agree to stop referencing K/9, m'kay?

      Stop using K/9 and BB/9! - Beyond the Box Score
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      It should come as no surprise to those who watched any of the Twins pitchers last year and kept an eye on the radar gun readings that the speed numbers did not impress anyone. The Twins starters averaged 90 on their fastball. Just a tick below them was the Atlanta Braves’ staff that averaged 89.9 with the cheese. Yet, unlike the Twins, the Braves’ staff held a pristine .150 well-hit average – the fifth-best in the game last year. So the pitching woes cannot be entirely explained simply by lack of velocity – but it could possibly be explained by the lack of velocity in critical locations.
      How many of the green globs in the middle of the strikezone are not actually offspeed pitches but fastballs or cutters from the Twins soft tossing starters? Many of these pitches clocked at 85-89 esp. Albers, Diamond, Worley, Correia.

      If those are in fact a lot of fastballs, then I wonder if starters are being forced to throw them in those locations, because of what you wrote last spring about Mauer being a poor framer of the low strike (and a good framer of the high strike).

      By contrast Brian McCann was tied for 4th in framers of the low strike.

      Baseball Prospectus | Overthinking It: This Week in Catcher Framing, 4/12

      edit: In other words, might the Twins staff pitch higher in the zone overall (not just with off-speed pitches) because their catcher is squeezing them on the bottom of the zone?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      The Twins' rotation had a fastball velocity (90.0 mph) that finished 25th out of the 30 teams.
      This is kind of misleading, because Pelfrey's and Gibson's FBs were high pushing the rest up...

      Here are the numbers:

      Mike Pelfrey 92.2
      Kyle Gibson 92.1
      Kevin Correia 90.4
      Samuel Deduno 90.3
      Liam Hendriks 90.0
      Vance Worley 89.5
      P.J. Walters 89.4
      Scott Diamond 88.4
      Pedro Hernandez 88.4
      Andrew Albers 85.

      And Pelfrey is one of these rare guys with high FB velocity but very low K/9 or K/PA and he really skews the situation...

      part of the low K/rates is Rick Anderson's pitch to contact philosophy for sure. Some part is the personnel
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsin17 View Post
      It is probably more likely the Twins pitchers' "off-speed" pitches lack movement.
      Phil Mackey had a piece about the sorry state of the staff yesterday.
      How to fix the Twins, Part 1: The biggest problem among many problems | 1500 ESPN Twin Cities ? Minnesota Sports News & Opinion (Twins, Vikings, Wolves, Wild, Gophers) | Sportswire: Minnesota Twins

      In it he listed many of the things the Twins pitchers were last in. One catagory was curveball break. League average was 6.3 inches. Twins pitchers curveballs average a 2.9 inch break.

      Why would a pitcher bother with that pitch? May I be so bold to suggest that a pitch that doesn't even break three inches should not even be considered a curvball?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      In it he listed many of the things the Twins pitchers were last in. One catagory was curveball break. League average was 6.3 inches. Twins pitchers curveballs average a 2.9 inch break.
      Just an FYI, ESPNtrumedia's stats has -5.5 inches as the MLB average vertical drop for a curveball but they maintain the same -2.9 for the Twins. While Mackey's point is well taken, it is a bit skewed because of Scott Diamond's struggles with his curve. By far, Diamond threw the bulk of the curveballs on the staff (26%) and had a break of 1.1, meaning it stayed up in the zone (a year prior it was at 0.1 and very effective). Frankly, I attribute to his elbow issues.

      This is kind of misleading, because Pelfrey's and Gibson's FBs were high pushing the rest up...


      Why is it misleading? Pelfrey, Correia and Deduno were three of the four starters who threw the most pitches...
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      part of the low K/rates is Rick Anderson's pitch to contact philosophy for sure. Some part is the personnel
      The philosophy isn't bad. Pitch to contact just means "don't be afraid to throw strikes early in the count so you don't get behind". It's nothing every pitching coach in the league wouldn't recommend.

      The problem is the philosophy became a way to drive personnel decisions.
    1. twinsfan34's Avatar
      twinsfan34 -
      Is the WHAV for all pitches or only fastballs?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Is the WHAV for all pitches or only fastballs?
      All pitches.
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