OAKLAND, CALIF. – Strikeouts are up across baseball. Some attribute the rise to hitters not cutting down on their swings with two strikes, the explosion of cut fastballs or other secondary pitches, or the specialization of bullpens.
Strikeouts are up across the Twins roster. There might be no explanation for it other than the Twins specialize in striking out.
The Twins entered Friday second in baseball in strikeouts with 1,310, trailing only the Houston Astros, a team that’s near the bottom in most categories. The Twins already have obliterated their previous club record of 1,121, set in 1997, and could cross the 1,400 barrier by the end of the season. The Twins struck out 10 times on Thursday during a 8-6 loss to the Athletics.
That 1997 Twins team had two players with more than 100 strikeouts, Rich Becker (130) and Terry Steinbach (106). The 2013 Twins already have five players with more than 100 strikeouts — Josh Willingham (118), Oswaldo Arcia (110), Pedro Florimon (108), Brian Dozier (107) and Trevor Plouffe (105). Joe Mauer is at as career-high 89 despite missing the past month.
“There are a lot of things you can label us,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said, “but we have never been a strikeout team … up until this year.”
The walk has become more of a weapon in the game and more batters aren’t afraid to run counts deep and try to wear pitchers down. The Twins don’t mind that approach but have told their hitters to swing away if it’s a strike and they like the pitch.
What they have noticed is that their hitters are taking too many borderline pitches for strikes, especially with two strikes.
“We take a lot of called strikes,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That ball may be a little outside, but the old saying is that you have to protect the plate when you get two strikes. We have to do a better job at that. It is one of those things we have to do a lot better as we move along here and that will be something that will be talked about over the course of the winter. We can get better.”
Power hitters get leeway. Willingham is going to strike out a lot. Arcia looks like that type of hitter. But Gardenhire is disturbed by some of the other players with high strikeout totals.
The Twins’ strikeout percentage of 22.5 percent is tied for second-highest in the majors with the Braves. The Twins have 145 home runs. Atlanta has 172 and is headed to the postseason. The Twins would take more contact with runners in scoring position, as they entered Friday 29th in baseball with a .229 average.
“For a team that doesn’t have a lot of home run hitters, we need to put the ball in play,” Gardenhire said, “and we have done a terrible job at it.”
He has seen some of his hitters try to cut down their swings with two strikes and put the ball in play. He often has said Mauer has the best two-strike approach in the game. Gardenhire believes the younger hitters will cut down on strikeouts as soon as they learn to shorten their swings, which can take some time.
He hopes his hitters are learning from their slow walks back to the dugout after strike three.
“Especially the middle [infield] guys and the contact guys,” Gardenhire said.
Dozier understands. He leads the Twins with 17 homers and 63 RBI — which is a plus from second base. But his strikeouts don’t sit well with him.
“They always say that if your power increases your strikeouts go hand-in-hand,” Dozier said. “I totally disagree. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve got to get better at. Especially this offseason, make some adjustments.”