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Pitching To Contact Is Not Done On Purpose

Twins fans are quick to accuse the organization of settling for "pitch to contact" pitchers, while eschewing power hurlers. With some comments from GM Terry Ryan at the Twins Holiday Party, I agree with Ryan that bad breaks throughout the years have contributed to this perceived philosophy.

Terry Ryan argues that the perceived pitch to contact philosophy is not done on purpose... and I fully believe him.
Terry Ryan argues that the perceived pitch to contact philosophy is not done on purpose... and I fully believe him.

Good morning, all. I've decided to go a different avenue today, so I apologize if you were looking forward to Breakfast & Baseball this week. You can expect it to be back next Saturday.

If you've forgotten or didn't know, I work at Target Field as an usher during the baseball season, and one of the perks of this job is the annual Holiday Party in mid-December. This year's was held on Monday, and in addition to being a large gathering of many part-time employees, it also usually draws president Dave St. Peter, manager Ron Gardenhire, general manager Terry Ryan, and radio play-by-play announcer Cory Provus. Although Gardenhire was absent this year, the other three were still present and gave some interesting insight to this coming year, namely from Ryan.

Provus lead a Q&A session with Ryan, which started off with some softball questions from Provus, but then he opened the floor to the Twins staff to directly ask questions to Terry Ryan. As you might expect, someone brought up the "pitch to contact" philosophy that the team has employed for several years now (note: This question was asked a mere couple hours before the Twins announced their signing of Kevin Correia).

Now, there are two Twins-related things that seem to annoy Terry Ryan. The first is "The Twins Way," and the second is pitch to contact. You could hear the irritation in his voice when he said that he doesn't believe in pitch to contact, and he immediately cited "this guy named Johan Santana" as evidence of a pitcher that racked up plenty of strikeouts. He then added that the pitchers the team has employed in recent years were just a byproduct of the hand the team had been dealt.

In one way, that's absolutely true. Look at the pitching prospects the Twins have failed to develop in the past few years. Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson both got hurt. Shooter Hunt forgot how to find the strike zone. Go back a little further, and Matt Garza was traded away for Delmon Young. All of these players and more contributed to letting the Nick Blackburns of the world rise to the top.

What about Carl Pavano? He was definitely in the mold of the low-strikeout, low-walk pitcher, but look back at that season he was first acquired by the Twins from the Indians in 2009. That year, he had a 6.64 K/9 for the season, which was just barely below average (average was 6.9 that year). The three full seasons with the Twins after that year, his K/9 was 4.76, 4.14, and 4.71. Surely he started executing the pitch to contact philosophy after coming to Minnesota, right? Well sure, except that in his first 12 starts after the 2009 trade, he had an above-average 7.21 K/9. Perhaps the Twins thought they were acquiring a pitcher that could tally a few more whiffs than what he actually did from 2010-2012.

How about the free agents? Of course, the Kevin Correia signing looks exactly like the Jason Marquis signing from last season. Well, let's start with the more attractive options that were out there, such as Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez. Pitchers of that caliber were never going to come to Minnesota,because we need to remember that the largest contract the Twins have ever handed out was last year's Josh Willingham deal at 3 years and $21 million. The Twins really only throw money at their own players, such as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan.

Unfortunately, pitchers that rack up the strikeouts are typically expensive. If you can find one on the cheap, it's likely because other flaws are evident. He's injury-prone, he walks too many hitters, he gives up too many homers, he can't pitch more than 5 innings a start... It's these flaws that have stopped the Twins from grabbing an Erik Bedard in free agency. All of these things combine to limit your options when signing a free agent pitcher, and it just so happens that all that fits the bill is a guy that doesn't strike out many hitters. The grinder, the battles-his-tail-off kind of guy, if you will. Hence, Kevin Correia.

In lieu of the recent pitchers we've watched the Twins sign, there is the acquisition of Vance Worley. Admittedly he gets a bunch of his strikeouts looking, but he's had a career 7.71 K/9 in his first 2+ major league seasons, which is a little above-average (7.5 K/9 average in MLB last year). He's not going to be your 4.5 K/9 type pitcher, which easily flies in the face of the pitch to contact philosophy. Then we can also look at Trevor May and Alex Meyer, both acquired through trades as well this offseason. Hey, if you're struggling to develop solid pitching prospects, you might as well just take another team's hurlers. Plus, look at the bullpen. Last time I checked, Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, and Casey Fien weren't trying to induce a ground ball every single at-bat.

All of these reasons are why I can believe when Terry Ryan told me and my fellow part-time Twins employees that the illusion of pitch to contact was not necessarily done on purpose. It was instead the result of a perfect storm of draft picks that haven't worked out, some past trades that weeded out the power arms, the success of those that did happen to avoid strikeouts, and now the recent trades that are starting to bring back the power arms this organization has lacked.

So yes, I'm annoyed and upset by the Kevin Correia signing, but there are two things in the back of my mind that keep me grounded. First, I don't think 2013 is a competitive year for the Twins, so I view Correia as being more of a 1 1/2 year rental until guys like Wimmers and Gibson can become a little more dependable. In essence, he's 2013's Carl Pavano, except perhaps the Twins can flip him at the 2014 trade deadline for a modest prospect. Second, you need to realize that Correia is not going to be the only addition to the rotation. Right now, it's Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, and Correia. There's still 2 holes to fill, and I don't think the Twins are interested in making the triumvirate of Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, and Liam Hendriks battle it out for those two when there are more proven options available in free agency.

Just be patient, folks. I think the Pitch To Contact Era will be over within the next couple years.