Monday, December 19, 2011

More of the Same

Twins pitchers struck out a total of 940 hitters in 2011. That was the fewest of any team in the majors by a margin of 84 (Cleveland finished with 1,024) -- the biggest gap between any other two teams was 33.

Yes, the Twins were the least prolific strikeout team in baseball this year, and it wasn't remotely close. The whiff total was the franchise's lowest since 1999, which meant a whole lot of balls being put into play by opposing hitters. A contact-heavy staff, in conjunction with truly shoddy defense, led to horrible results as the Twins allowed more runs and hits than all but one team.

The club's fielding is bound to improve in 2012, but a sky-high contact rate will continue to be an issue if not addressed. Unfortunately, if reports are to be believed, the Twins don't seem to recognize it as a problem.

With Jason Kubel likely to land elsewhere this week, Joe Christensen reports that the team is focused on adding pitching. However, as Christensen notes, three names that have been connected to the Twins in rumors are Jeff Francis, Joel Pineiro and Jon Garland.

Francis is a control guy coming off a season in which he logged 183 innings, which would have ranked second on the Twins. However, he notched only 91 strikeouts, good for a paltry 4.5 K/9 rate.

Pineiro was very good in 2009 and 2010 before struggling to  a 5.13 ERA in 2011, and at 33 he's a decent bet to rebound. But he's posted a K/9 figure above 5 only once in the past four seasons and this year finished at 3.8. Yuck.

Garland is a veteran with a history as a workhorse (he piled up 190-plus innings every year from 2002 to 2010) but his career K/9 rate is 4.9.

The Twins are working on a limited budget and if they're looking for guys who are good bets to throw a bunch of innings, they're basically limited to these low-upside, fringe-stuff types.

If they're willing to take a risk, though, a guy like Rich Harden could probably be had at a reasonable price, and if he can find a way to stay healthy he would add a very different dynamic to a roster filled with light-throwing hurlers in the pitch-to-contact mold.

It's not that pitchers can't succeed without tons of strikeouts, but a staff devoid of any power arms isn't a good bet to garner effective results, especially against the league's better lineups. Within his limited resources, Terry Ryan should be seeking to fundamentally change a pitching corps that failed miserably this season.

Francis, Pineiro and Garland are just more of the same, and at best lateral steps from the likes of Kevin Slowey and Brian Duensing.


Anonymous said...

Bringing in someone who can approach 200 innings isn't a lateral step from Duensing and Slowey. One of the quickest ways to improve the starting pitching is to improve the defense. One of the quickest ways to improve the bullpen is to ask less innings from it. Lots of innings with Santana-like strikeout totals would be nice, but getting innings without the sexy periferals is probably one of the ways to make an impact on the cheap - something sabre-minded folks should be all for!

Jack Steal said...


The last thing you probably want to hear is me agreeing with you but, I do. I just don't understand the logic of what GM Terry Ryan is trying to accomplish by bringing in a Jeff Francis or a Joel Pineiro. I thought the idea was to upgrade the starting rotation but these guys are bums. Why not just give the ball to Duensing, Diamond, or even this Matt Maloney kid because the results would be the same. Why not go after Edwin Jackson despite the asking price.

The other thing that irritates me is the bullpen. We have re-signed Matt Capps to be the closer but as of right now, have the same exact bullpen as 2011. I have no idea why Ryan believes the team will improve on a disaterous 2011 season with the same exact starting rotation and bullpen.

I love Terry Ryan but clearly he is being hamstrung by the Pohlad family on what he can spend. The team was willing to spend another $24-25 million on payroll for Cuddyer if he accepted their contract offer after signing Willingham, but won't allecate those funds for pitching. Maybe that was just a smoke screen??? We signed a 38 YOA SS, a always hurt backup catcher, and Willingham. This was all done to suppliment losing Nathan, Cuddyer, and Kubel. Can you explain what is going on in Twins Territory?? Do you see any trades in January??

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon #1. Inning eaters are important, esp with this bullpen.

Additionally, our shortstops were easily the worst in the majors last year but a healthy Carroll should be a big defensive improvement. An up the middle defense of Mauer, Carrol, Casilla and Span isn't bad, if healthy. The corners - esp 3B with our ground ball guys - could use an upgrade.

Matt said...

Yeah, Jack, they signed these guys to replace what's left them or will be leaving soon.

I'd prefer them to start fresh, but if TR and Co. feel like the upper minors don't have any guys who can be MLB players one day, then I guess you've got to fill holes with old guys to remain somewhat respectable until the kids from the lower minors make their way up.

But c'mon. We need some power pitching in here. I hope they at least draft pitchers who are something other than college control pitchers. But since there was essentially no real front office change besides some title swapping, I don't expect that to happen.

Jim H said...

Actually, Matt, they have drafted power guys like Shooter Hunt. They just haven't worked out very well. I know lots of bloggers are in favor of signing Edwin Jackson, but he really has been just a back of the rotation guy. Even last year with the Cards he was no better than their 3rd or 4th starter.

It might be nice to have another starter who can strikeout people, like Liriano. I think I would rather have somebody who is consistent and gets outs.

Nick N. said...

It might be nice to have another starter who can strikeout people, like Liriano. I think I would rather have somebody who is consistent and gets outs.

These are generally one in the same. There are examples of players with low strikeout rates who can consistently get outs, such as Mark Buehrle, but those guys are pretty rare. It should be intuitively obvious than when you allow an extremely high rate of contact, you're likely to allow more hits, which simply isn't a good recipe for reliably effective results.

I'm not necessarily saying the Twins need to go find someone who averages a punch-out per inning, but it'd be nice to see someone with even an average K-rate brought into the fold.

thrylos98 said...

I think that the root cause of the problem is not as much individual pitchers as is the Twins' philosophy of 'pitching to contact' and throw the two-seamer. This works with lesser pitchers if you have good defence esp in the infield. When you are trying to make someone like Liriano pitch to contact (like Anderson tried to do last season) is plain nuts. Got to cure the root cause not the symptom

Ed Bast said...

This is an example of where the Twins are applying small-market philosophies to a large market club, and it just doesn't work. Back when they didn't have the cash cow that is Target Field, they realized that they couldn't ever "buy" offense or pitching. The only thing they could "buy" was defense. And to maximize that defense, you get pitchers that don't walk anyone. Add it all up and you don't give up too many runs, which is good because you won't score many either. All in all, a solid way for a small-market team to "compete".

Where this falls apart is in the playoffs, when patient hitting teams destroy soft-tossing pitching. The Twins failed to acknowledge this for years in the face of sweep after sweep after sweep after sweep and they seem to have forgotten that you need defense to have any chance of "pitch-to-contact" working.

The 2012 Twins will not be very good defensively. The pitching staff will, again, suck. However, I'm not sure they should spent a ton of money on starting pitching right now. They need to obtain or draft young guys with high ceilings, not spend $10 mil on a starter for 2012 who might be the difference between a 78-win and a 75-win season.

Plus, since the club refuses to address the bullpen, it might actually make more sense to add a couple cheap innings eaters to sort of hide the terribleness of the 'pen. And let's face it, Blacky, Franky, and Bake are all going to be hurt/ineffective/incapable of pitching into the 6th/all of the above.

For how long and loud I've been advocating better starting pitching, I think I'm actually suggesting they forget about getting an "ace" and instead get a couple "workhorses".

Matt Groff said...

I felt the twins have needed to address the pitching staff more than hitters for the last couple of years now.

We've known that this team could only get so far with the current staff, and although last year was a brutal year, I believe it was an aberration
from the norm.

I think the twins have an ok stable of Starters, but they lack a true ace, a guy that can take control of the staff and be a stopper. Santana was that until we traded him for a poo poo platter. Liriano was supposed to be the second coming of Santana but that hasn't panned out.

Baker, Slowey, Duensing, Blackburn etc were all arms 3-5 behind the Pavano and Liriano 1/2.

Slowey is gone, Duensing belongs in the bullpen. The twins need an ace, they need a Gio Gonzalez, or even an Edwin Jackson.

I think what we are missing is that lots of K's means lots of pitches. You can get a K with 3 strikes only, but you can get any other out with 1 pitch only. I think the twins realize their pitchers just don't have the gas they need to go the distance and throw 120+ nor do they have the stuff, so pitch to contact is the mantra to save them.

Unfortunately, everything collapsed last year, the bullpen pitched more than it should of, everyone was hurt. I think the replacement bats are a good thing, because you put faith in the young guys that they will recover and have healthy productive seasons and thats fine. But this pitching staff has been an issue for some time, and it needs addressed now; whether its a high K guy or a guy who pitches to contact I don't care, as long as they put up W's

Anonymous said...

last year, the injuries decimated the entire lineup, pitching, hitting, and everything, so let's erase that aspect. The bullpen was atrocious, but part of that can be attributed to Nathan, who is now gone. The Capps resigning wasn't the best move, but it's until somebody like Perkins or someone from the farm is ready.

It doesn't matter how hard you throw if you get guys out, but added velocity and swing and miss rates will help the staff. I don't agree with Gio Gonzalez, because the A's want ransom from Detroit for him, but I'd say someone like Edwin Jackson, who's spent a lot of his career in the AL, couldn't hurt Minnesota, whether he's a front of the rotation or back of the rotation guy. Pavano was meant to be a middle of the rotation guy in 2010 and look what he did.

Miguel Sano, when ready, and Parmelee, will bolster the offense, especially if Sano can develop into another Miguel Cabrera. If Morneau can return to his pre-concussion form, Mauer stays healthy, Carrol does what we signed him for, and Sano shows up in June or so with a Ryan Braun type splash, we have a sexy looking infield

mntwinsmusings said...

The Twins are going to need more than one more starting pitcher. In recent years, only Pavano has made it through a full season. There is no reason to believe that Baker, Liriano, and Blackburn can be innings eaters in 2012.

The bullpen also needs some upgrading even after Duensing and Swarzak return. Capps cannot pitch more than one inning and will have to be protected from too many days in a row (assuming the Twins actually put a win streak together) otherwise he will melt down again and that means more reliable guys to get to him.

Anonymous said...

Sano isn't going to be ready in June.

First step to addressing the starting rotation is to get Duensing back in the bullpen so he doesn't have to face as many righthanded hitters. In his career he has allowed opposing righties a .300 batting avg, .359 obp, .477 slg and .836 ops while limiting lefties to a .203 avg, .248 obp, .263 slg and a .511 ops with his 2011 numbers against righties worse than his career averages...sounds like a lefthanded specialist out of the pen to me.

Step two would be to sign someone who could be effective while eating innings. The current free agent class for starting pitching isn't deep but there are a few intriguing names like Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson and Joe Saunders. The question is whether or not the Twins would spend enough money. Garland and Piniero could be effective innings eaters if they stay healthy but there is some wear on their tread. Francis could pile up innings but he might not be very effective...his 2011 stint with the Royals was not super impressive. I'd hope for Jackson or Kuroda but would settle for Saunders.

If Baker could stay healthy he could be a front of the rotation type starter. Improved fielding would help both Pavano and Blackburn. Liriano is the stuff on the staff with quite possibly the worst mental makeup. Baker and Blackburn probably aren't going anywhere with their contracts, although one more terrible stretch at Target Field should put an end to the Nick Blackburn era. Another factor to take into account is the fielding behind the starters. The infield was a disaster last season no matter if it was from injury or ineffectiveness. Carrol should help that as should a healthy Casilla, who played well when actually on the diamond the last two years. I hope they've figured out that Plouffe isn't an infielder by now.

Anonymous said...

No, no and NO! No aces. No more high priced players. Resign ourselves to losing over the next 3 years. Let the kids develop, and hopefully draft some real horses. Trade Justin and Baby J. for some young studs (including a TOUGH young catcher) and sit back and watch the fun! Baseball isn't all about October. A fun, young, fast team with a huge upside will make going to the ballpark worth while again. Any money spent on trying to "win now" is simply wasted.

Anonymous said...

Good luck trading Mauer and Morneau. Both have big contracts and a ton of injury issues. There has been all kinds of talk about selling low on guys like Delmon, Slowey and even Ramos and Hardy. Dealing Mauer and Morneau right now (if you can find any takers) would definitely be selling low. You will not get the stable of young studs you want.

Anyway there aren't any real aces. This team isn't as far off as you are suggesting. A reasonably priced starter will do a lot to help the team out. So many injuries to crucial positions in one year is more of an aberration than trend. How many players can you name that weren't injured or didn't have down years? Maybe Cuddyer, Perkins and Revere, certainly not more than a few players on the roster...bad luck like that won't strike twice. There is still plenty of talent on the roster to compete in the weak al central, especially with the fire sale in Chicago.

Anonymous said...

"Resign ourselves to losing for the next three years". Is that the ghost of Calvin Griffith speaking? I can't believe any fan is in favor of going back to the way this franchise has been run for most of it's existence - both here and in Washington. Edwin Jackson is the best SP still on the market. By signing him to a $9M/year contract it would bring the payroll up to about $105M. This should be acceptable. You can't make up the talent gap all in 1 year but adding a still young power arm who can be a solid 2-3 starter for the next 3-4 years would definitely help. Go get him TR!!

Anonymous said...

The reason you don't give the ball to Duensing is he can't get righthanded batters out.

Joe Nathan, Jose Mijares, Jim Hoey and Kevin Slowey are's not anywhere near the same pitching staff...especially in the bullpen. Sounds like some of Capps struggles were injury related. They brought him back for less money than 2011. He is a guy that saved over 40 games in 2010. Sounds like a fairly low risk signing, especially with Perkins around.

How much money do you want to tie up in corner outfielders and closers? You got a similar/slightly better hitter in Willingham for less money that you would have had to cough up to keep Cuddyer. Kubel's value in Target Field isn't what it was in the Metrodome. Plus, both Cuddyer and Kubel were closer to platoon type players as Cuddyer struggled with righties while Kubel struggled badly much of his career against lefties. Do you really want to wrap 17 million a year up in those two? It is wasteful spending like that that gets you further from signing the starter you want them to sign. And with Nathan, how much do you want to spend on a 37 yr old closer still coming back from tommy john surgery?

Anyway, it is doubtful that the Twins are done signing free agents, with Kubel's departure they have money to go after a starter.

Mike said...

Can someone explain to me why there seems to be an obsession in the Twins' blogosphere about signing Edwin Jackson? First it was Reyes, and now it's Jackson, who seems like he's very overpriced.

His WHIP last year was 1.44. His career WHIP is 1.48.

His 2011 ERA was pretty good at 3.79. His career ERA is 4.46. Aside from 2009 and 2011, his numbers are actually pretty poor. His career numbers are barely better than Slowey's. WHIP is worse, ERA is slightly better, BAA is slightly better, OBP is quite a bit worse, SLG is better, OPS is slightly better. Many more IPs, though.

Personally, I just don't see the point in spending $9 million+/year for Jackson (which I think is a low estimate), when he doesn't have the stats or performances to back that up. Particularly when it means that we won't be able to sign additional bullpen help, at least not decent bullpen help.

Halstead24 said...

The twins will be fine in the hitting/defense department if they stay healthy. When I say healthy I mean that a majority of their starters aren't on the dl for most of the season. They do need to focus on pitching right now. Edwin Jackson would be the Twins ace if acquired. That''s how bad their s pitching is. We need to acquire an ace pitcher and an inning eater. Without either we're going to be in trouble this coming season. You're just asking for losses if the starting pitching position isn't addressed.