There’s a revolution going on in baseball these days, or at least an awfully fast evolution. Whichever it is, word has yet to reach Minnesota.
April had the highest number of strikeouts of any month in major league history, and the past eight seasons are the eight highest-K seasons ever, a ramping-up of whiffage that is fundamentally changing the game. But the old-school Twins don’t play that way yet.
At least their starting rotation doesn’t.
Twins starters came into the weekend with 84 strikeouts, essentially half of the major-league average of 161, and a little more than a third of the Red Sox’s league-leading 222. That’s the fewest in baseball, and it’s not close; Colorado had the 29th most, with 114.
This is nothing new; Twins’ starters had the fewest strikeouts last year, too, with 541. Heck, Philadelphia’s starters had almost as many K’s (918) as Minnesota’s entire staff (943).
But while the rest of baseball goes K-crazy, the Twins’ current five starters are heading in the opposite direction. With their current pace, they will strike out 439 hitters, more than 100 fewer than 2012, when they were already an extreme outlier. Kevin Correia and Vance Worley, the Twins’ strikeout leaders, were tied for 141st place in the majors entering the weekend.
To shore up their rotation, the Twins signed Correia and Mike Pelfrey and traded for Worley over the winter, and only Worley ever had a strikeout rate — the percentage of plate appearances that result in Ks — above 20 percent, considered good for a major leaguer. None is higher now than Worley’s dramatically lower 12.7 percent, though to be fair, all three are walking far fewer hitters than in the past, too.
Why is this important? Since they’re not striking out, hitters put the ball in play far more against the Twins than against most teams, and while their defense might be improved, it’s unlikely that that factor can offset the sheer number of chances. If Twins’ opponents hit the ball 500 more times than Red Sox opponents, it stands to reason some of those balls are going to be hits.
“No, I’m not concerned. It’s just a matter of me being down in the zone. My last few outings, I feel like I’m getting stronger,” Worley said. “And it’s just a matter of getting my pitches down. ... I’m doing something right if I’m not walking guys. ... I’m not trying to be more cautious. It’s a matter of throwing quality strikes.”
Only 11.7 percent of plate-appearances result in strikeouts against Twins starters this year, an alarmingly low number. Only the staffs of the 2005-06 Royals, the 2002-03 Tigers and the 2003 Rockies have approached that number, and only the 74-win Rockies avoided 100 losses in that group.
The Twins tend to offset their strikeout rate by allowing fewer walks and home runs than most teams, too, and it works to some extent. They’ve given up the fewest walks in baseball this year, half as many as 10 other teams, and rank 26th in home runs allowed by starting pitchers (after giving up the second most a year ago, which accounts for a large part of their improvement).
But the rotation’s Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, is .336, second highest in the game. All those extra hits aren’t doing as much damage as they would if the Twins were walking hitters, too. But Twins’ pitchers are making life harder on themselves by not joining the swing-and-a-miss revolution.
In order to get more RBI punch in the lineup, Royals manager Ned Yost moved leadoff hitter Alex Gordon to the third slot last week, and promoted Alcides Escobar to the top spot. “The most important two spots in the order should be manned by Alex and [Billy] Butler, three and four,” Yost said. “Everyone else is interchangeable.”
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As if things weren’t going well enough in Cleveland, with a streak of 10 victories in 11 games entering the weekend, the Indians get their starting center fielder back this weekend.
Michael Bourn, who signed a four-year, $48 million contract in February, badly cut his right index finger while sliding into first base April 14. He had two homers in the season’s first 10 games.
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When John Danks returns from a shoulder injury, the White Sox will have four lefthanders to go with righty Jake Peavy in their rotation.