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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.
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