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  • Can Twins Fans Handle Another Pitch to Contact Starter?


    Cody Christie

    One of Minnesota's top free-agent targets is a pitcher with characteristics that have bothered fans in the past. In an era dominated by strikeouts, can Twins fans handle another pitch to contact starter?

     

    Image courtesy of Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports

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    Earlier in the week, Nick Nelson reviewed the Twins Daily community's plans for the offseason. Out of the top-tier starting pitchers, Marcus Stroman was the name most regularly included on writer's blueprints. He seems like a natural fit for the Twins, especially since he can't have a qualifying offer tied to him this winter. However, he might not fit the ace mold that some fans have clamored for in recent years. 

    Stroman is coming off a season where he made the most starts in the National League while posting a 3.02 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP. Since 2016, he has averaged 174 innings per season with a 116 ERA+ and a 3.73 FIP. Those are all numbers that teams would love to have near the top of their rotation, but he doesn't strike out many batters. The lack of strikeouts and pitch to contact mantra may give Twins fans a case of PTSD. 

    Among qualified starters, Stroman's 7.9 K/9 ranks as baseball's 13th lowest strikeout rate. To put this in some perspective, that ranks him one spot better than Kyle Gibson. There have been comparisons between Stroman and former Twins starter Jose Berrios, but Berrios strikes out 9.56 batters per nine innings. Many Twins fans never saw Berrios as an ace, and Stroman fits the mold of a playoff-caliber starter that isn't viewed as a number one pitcher on a team with World Series aspirations. 

    Even with low strikeout totals, Stroman has been remarkably consistent by using his pitches effectively and inducing weak contact. His fastball spin ranks in the 78th percentile, and he posted a chase rate in the 84th percentile. Batters could only post a .184 batting average and a .309 slugging percentage when facing his slider. Last season, five of his six pitches had a Whiff% of 26.8 or higher.

    The numbers above look good, but he throws his sinker over 42% of the time and this is a pitch that generates a lot of contact. Last season, batters posted a .294 batting average and a .426 slugging percentage when facing his sinker. Because he generates ground balls, he can keep his pitch count low and consistently pitch over five innings. Last year, he averaged 5.42 innings per start and he pitched six innings or more in over half of his appearances.

    For Stroman to be most effective, he needs a solid defense behind him. Last winter, the Twins focused on improving the team's infield defense by signing Andrelton Simmons and sliding Jorge Polanco over to second base. Both players were finalists for the Gold Glove at their position, but now the Twins have questions about shortstop moving forward. There are plenty of shortstop options on the free-agent market, but there's at least a slight chance the team reunites with Simmons

    To sign Stroman, it will take a five or six-year commitment in the range of $20 million per season. That type of contract would take him into his mid-to-late 30s, and it would be a significant chunk of the team's overall payroll. However, many of the team's top pitching prospects are close to the big-league level and will make a minimum salary for multiple years. This might make his contract more palatable in the years ahead. 

    For the most part, teams know what they are getting with Stroman. He might not have the upside of the other high-end starting pitchers, but he's a proven pitcher with a quality track record. 

    Do you think Twins fans can handle another pitch to contact starter? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

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    One of my favorite Tony Larussa comments came after a Cardinal WS game pitched by Chris Carpenter vs Roy Halladay. I don’t even remember who won, but it was low scoring. I think both pitchers went the distance. After the game Larussa was asked for his take on the fantastic pitching performances witnessed. He commented (my memory fails me for the exact quote so this is paraphrased)

    “Just a couple of pitch to contact guys doing their thing.”

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    Good article about Stroman, Cody.  Have one comment, however. 

    Who says he is "one of Minnesota's top free agent targets?"  Lots of people out here think he should be.  But do the Twins?  As far as I know, no one has actually talked to the FO and gotten a list of who they are going after.  Perhaps it would be better if you said "one of the top free agent targets, whom the Twins should be interested in."  Or maybe, may be interested in.

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    Sign me up for any efficient, effective out-getter. Strikeouts are great when they come in 3 or 4 pitches but I am not in love with strings of long, drawn out at bats. For my dollar, a 2-pitch weak groundout or pop-up is a welcome result for a starter. Before anyone gets on base, it is more valuable than a 7 pitch strikeout.

    “Pitch to Contact” is a misleading term. It should be called “Pitch to induce weak contact, early in the count, when there are no runners on base.”

    Just hard to use that name to taunt your fellow fans.

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    Can we sign him please?!? Pitch to contact is a good strategy to combat the home run happy hitting style. Plus we need at least one starter to can shew innings and give our bullpen a break. I also like him as a mentor for our glut of young pitching prospects. 

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    It think some people put too much stock into strikeout rates.  Not all strikeouts are equal.  Some pitchers now a days seem to always seek to strike a guy out in every at-bat, raising pitch counts.  If a guy can get quick outs it does not matter if he is getting K's.  The key is if he can get strikeouts when needed, or can he finish a guy off when at 2 strikes.  Some guys have lower K rates because they get outs before they even get to 2 strikes because the first strike or two is put in play, but they can get the K when they get to 2 strikes.

    Some guys have low K rates because they just cannot miss bats.  Just like many numbers they only tell a small story and you need to look at more than just 1 number to get full story of a player. 

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    Sinking fastballs don't generate a lot of strikeouts by their very nature. While the article focuses on Stroman's .294 AVG against and .426 SLG against, MLB hitters are much better against fastballs than off speed pitches. Berrios' 4 seam fastball has similar statistics to Stroman's sinker, for example.

    It's the offspeed and breaking pitches which make or break almost all starters in MLB.

    Stroman is an excellent pitcher who has only gotten better. He's not an "Ace" but he's a great #2 and certainly should be considered superior to Berrios at this point.

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    3 hours ago, PopRiveter said:

    Sign me up for any efficient, effective out-getter. Strikeouts are great when they come in 3 or 4 pitches but I am not in love with strings of long, drawn out at bats. For my dollar, a 2-pitch weak groundout or pop-up is a welcome result for a starter. Before anyone gets on base, it is more valuable than a 7 pitch strikeout.

    “Pitch to Contact” is a misleading term. It should be called “Pitch to induce weak contact, early in the count, when there are no runners on base.”

    Just hard to use that name to taunt your fellow fans.

    100% this. Staying off the barrel is the objective for pitchers learning the craft.  The best ones become starters. Starters might face the same guys 3 or 4 times in a game. Their command of the strike zone is key. Their margin for error is reduced due to the hitters familiarity. The bullpen guys face hitters once during the game. They can be sporadically fantastic with velocity at the expense control. Everyone is looking for the guys that throw 100mph and paints the black. The Yankees buy all them guys.

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    7 hours ago, Otaknam said:

    $20 million for Stroman as a number 3 starter is too much for a team that is potentially in a rebuilding mode.

    Number 3 to whom?  He might be number 3 on the Dodgers, or even a few others, but not to us.  He walks in the door as our number 1 until someone beats him out.  With Stroman, resigning Pineda, regaining Maeda, and our internal guys that have shown promise (Ryan, Ober, Dobnak and others) we just might get away with it.  And with an infield of Donaldson, Simmons, Polanco, and Kirilloff, we would do just fine.  And, yes, that means bringing back Simmons until someone can take that job and run with it.  A team that has been 1st and 2nd in the league in HR's the last 2 complete seasons, can handle a defensive SS if it will help a guy like Stroman.  Not that he will come here, but I would make a strong play.  

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    The Twins need an every fifth-day starter, who can push six (or even seven) innings consistently, and keep the team in the game. Period. Make all his starts. 

     

    If he can keep his ERA below four, more power to him. Of course, that ahs Berrios written all over the description. Too abd the Twins couldn't have locked Berrios down a couple of years back.

     

    Now they have to pay the piper for someone possibly less efficient, older, and a roll of the dice for sure.

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    7 hours ago, Rosterman said:

    The Twins need an every fifth-day starter, who can push six (or even seven) innings consistently

    There are 4 pitchers who threw 200 or more innings (31*6 plus a couple of 7s) in 2021: Zack Wheeler, Walker Buehler, Adam Wainwright, and Sandy Alcantara.  Which one shall we sign?

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