Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eye on 2014: Searching for strikeouts

Two key stats were at the root of the 2013 Minnesota Twins' "pitching" problem — pitching in quotation marks because one of the stats isn't about the guys on the mound so much as the men in the field.

  • The Twins were far in arrears of all other teams at striking opponents out;
  • The Twins were worst in the league at turning balls in play into outs.

It's a deadly combination, obviously; the pitching emphasis on letting the defense do the work is undermined when the defense doesn't make the plays.

The defensive issues get less attention than the "pitch to contact" approach, and it will in this post also. As the Twins search for upgrades to their staff, and specifically the starting rotation, the emphasis should be on strikeouts. They need to find some arms who can miss bats.

The average AL pitcher — the average — struck out 7.7 hitters per nine innings. This is the all-time high.

The average Twins pitcher struck out 6.1 men per nine. The Twins pitchers suppressed the league K rate by a point; take the Twins out, and the league rate is 7.8 K/9.

This is largely a starting pitcher problem. The Twins starters fanned 4.9 men per nine innings, the bullpen 7.9 — and having said that, the Twins relievers trailed the rest of the league's relievers as well. American League relief pitchers overall had an 8.5 K/9 rate. But the starters were at 7.2.

The prescription, then: Pursue strikeout rates.

Easier said, frankly, than done. This is Fangraphs' listing of free agent starting pitchers, sorted by K/9 rates 2011-13. There are 14 names on the list with K/9 rates about the 7.7 average rate. One of them, Tim Lincecum, is already off the market. Several others (Johan Santana, Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay among them) have significant health issues.

Earlier this week I suggested that Ubaldo Jimenez might encounter the same resistance as Kyle Lohse did last year in free agency. This list suggests otherwise. He's probably the safest bet among the free agent starters with high strikeout rates.

The pursuit of strikeouts, at least as it involves free agency, is going to require taking some significant risks. Almost all of the available high-K arms have issues. Which, I believe, is why Terry Ryan keeps repeating that there are no shortcuts. 


  1. A fair conclusion. Too many Twins fans want to read suspicion into everything TR says.

  2. Here is an easy way to increase their strikeouts - trade pretty much their entire 2013 line-up, hope they start elsewhere, and play them. That would make anyone look like a strike-out pitcher.