Monday, February 20, 2012

The strike-throwers (or not)

It is a time-honored managerial approach to winning baseball games, from Charles Comiskey and the St. Louis Browns of the 1880s through Frank Chance and the Cubs of the early 1900s, Pat Moran in the teens, Bill McKechnie with the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds in the '20s, '30s and '40s, Billy Southworth's St. Louis Cardinals in the '40s, Al Lopez with the Indians and White Sox in the '50s, Earl Weaver's Orioles in the '70s ... and best represented over the past decade by Ron Gardenhire's Twins:

Play good defenders in the field and throw strikes.

As much attention as the Twins' inept middle infield defense drew during last season's disaster, an overlooked problem was on the mound -- which is odd because while defense remains difficult to reliably quantify in the stats, command and control isn't.

The Twins, and in particular their starting pitchers, simply didn't command the strike zone as reliably in 2011 as they had in the past.

As a staff, the 2011 Twins walked 3.0 men per nine innings. In 2010, it was 2.4; in 2009, 2.9; in 2008, 2.5.

Check out these starters:

  • Nick Blackburn went from 2.2 walks per nine innings to 2010 to 3.3 in 2011.
  • Brian Duensing went from 2.4 to 2.9.
  • Francisco Liriano went from 2.7 to 5.0.
Not all the starters were that bad.

  • Carl Pavano went from 1.5 to 1.6 -- essentially unchanged, and very low to boot.
  • Scott Baker went from 2.3 to 2.1 (and had a second straight decline of 30 innings in his workload; one of the typical benefits of avoiding walks is durability, but Baker's only reached 200 innings once).

But on the whole, the Twins pitchers didn't hold up their end of the organization's core philosophy. That has to change if the team is to rebound in 2012.

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