Generally speaking, home run power and strikeouts have gone hand-in-hand over the course of baseball history. The needed torque to drive a ball over the fence also prevents the type of bat control necessary for higher contact rates—a zero sum game.
The Minnesota Twins are certainly testing both poles of that equation lately. Just four years ago, the Bomba Squad set the all time single-season team home run record. This year, the team is on pace to break the all time single-season strikeout record.
That in mind, I journeyed through Twins history to examine their swing-and-miss history:
Decade-by Decade K’s
(since batter K-rate keeps climbing, I picked the highest Twins strikeout squad of each decade to show the whiff patterns)
- 1964: 1,019 K’s (led by Harmon Killebrew’s 135 & Jimmie Hall’s 112)
- 1973: 954 K’s (Bobby Darwin 137; Larry Hisle 128)
- 1986: 977 K’s (Greg Gagne & Gary Gaetti 108)
- 1997: 1,121 K’s (Rich Becker 130; Terry Steinbach 106)
- 2002: 1,089 K’s (Jacque Jones 129; Corey Koskie 127)
- 2013: 1,430 K’s (Josh Willingham 128; Brian Dozier 120)
- 2021: 1, 405 K’s (Miguel Sano 183; Jorge Polanco 118)
The biggest surprises on that list? The ‘64 squad topping 1,000 empty cuts and the ‘13 unit collectively K’ing more than last year (though perhaps that should not be a huge surprise).
Six individual Twins have topped 900 total strikeouts
(including K/PA percentages for context)
- Harmon Killebrew: 1,629 K’s (17%)
- Miguel Sano: 1,042 K’s (36%)
- Joe Mauer: 1,034 K’s (13%)
- Bob Allison: 1,033 K’s (17%)
- Torii Hunter: 975 K’s (18%)
- Kirby Puckett: 965 K’s (12%)
I never would have guessed that Mauer struck out more than Puck on a rate basis. I don’t think Sano’s ridiculous K-rate is a surprise to anyone.
Nine Twins (160+ PA) have a K/PA 25% or higher as of 8/7/23
- Joey Gallo: 43%
- Trevor Larnach: 36%
- Michael A. Taylor: 34%
- Byron Buxton: 31%
- Ed Julien: 30%
- Ryan Jeffers: 29%
- Alex Kirilloff: 27%
- Willi Castro: 25%
- Kyle Farmer: 25%
Truly a staggering amount of empty walks back to the dugout for the ‘23 Twins.
The silver lining in all this? Baseball analytics has born out that strikeouts aren’t quite as harmful as the reputation the precedes them. With one important caveat: the contact that is made had better be deadly (extra base hits, high exit velocity, good launch angle, etc.).
For the first three-and-a-half months this season, the Twins were experiencing the “worst of both worlds”—air-hacks without the productive contact to back it up. Recently we’ve seen an increase in hard contact and lo & behold have opened up a margin over the Guardians.
The moral of the story: