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The unsung pitching improvement

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This season has been bad and there are still other tweaks to be made, but the pitching staff has made a significant improvement with what was typically their Achilles heel.

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins
Since being activated from the disabled list, this Fortnite enthusiast has also been a strikeout connoisseur.
Photo by Andy King/Getty Images

Through the struggles for the Twins organization in the Target Field era, there’s typically been one common culprit: pitching. Perhaps we should go a step further and identify that it was specifically power pitching. Back in 2010, the average major league fastball was 91.2 MPH. This season, it’s 92.8. In addition to the increased velocity, batters are striking out more than ever, as the league strikeout rate has increased from 18.5% in 2010 to just over 22% in 2018.

While the league was zigging towards more dominant pitching staffs, the Twins seemed content to zag. In spite of reaping the benefits from strikeout artists Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and others, the organization idolized Brad Radke the most. Possessing a devastating change-up to keep hitters off-balance, Radke matched it with pinpoint command to induce weak contact consistently. However, hard contact was also common as he allowed a .271 batting average and his fair share of home runs throughout his career.

Nevertheless, the Twins organization wanted quick outs and felt strikeouts racked up the pitch count, so pitcher after pitcher was brought in that possessed anything but electric stuff. Admittedly this was also due to power pitchers being expensive via trades and free agency, but their drafts also failed to yield high upside talent.

Nowadays, the rapid increase in strikeouts has phased out the pitchers the Twins of yesteryear desired, while that lesser tier of strikeout generators have become affordable. While Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi weren’t the sexiest hurlers available, they still were a leg up from noted chuck-and-duckers Jason Marquis, Kevin Correia, and Mike Pelfrey. Even the bullpen received a makeover as Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney joined the late inning crew, all of which were capable of whiffing batters.

The 2018 season has been rather disappointing, but regardless the team has made a significant improvement with the pitching staff. Whereas the pitching acquisitions were a mixed bag of results, the team did get help from homegrown talent such as Jose Berrios, Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Kyle Gibson, and others. Take a look at this season’s strikeout rate compared to every other season since Target Field opened, especially when compared to the major league average.

Twins Strikeout Rank in Target Field Era

Year K% Rank League K%
Year K% Rank League K%
2018 21.8 17 22.2
2017 18.8 29 21.6
2016 18.9 28 21.1
2015 17.0 30 20.4
2014 16.6 30 20.4
2013 15.7 30 19.9
2012 15.2 30 19.8
2011 15.1 30 18.6
2010 17.2 23 18.5

That 2010 squad was the best Twins team in a long time and perhaps it wasn’t coincidental that their strikeout rate was merely bad instead of horrendous. The four consecutive seasons of 90+ losses starting in 2011 coincided with the lowest strikeout rates this team has seen since moving next door to the Target Center, though the successes in 2015 and 2017 weren’t met with much improvement. Despite wrapping up a disappointing season, the pitching staff has been more in line with the rest of the league in whiffing their opponents. Of course, there’s more than just generating strikeouts in order to be successful in the major leagues, and this year’s team has struggled with too many walks (9.1%, 8th-worst), hits (.257 batting average allowed, 6th-worst), and home runs (1.31 HR/9 IP, 7th-worst).

Those stats show that there’s certainly more work to be done, but ratcheting up the strikeouts puts the Twins on the right path to success. With plenty of money to play with this offseason, I feel we should expect at least one big splash from Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to right the pitching staff and make the Twins contenders in 2019.