January 15, 2013
Have the Twins Learned to Love the Strikeout?
We don't typically think of particular player types as being associated with certain teams. There are some exceptions that seem to persist over time: the Rockies go after groundballers, for instance, and the Yankees tend to target lefty-swinging sluggers. But those teams' player preferences are tied to their ballparks. If the Rockies played at a lower altitude or the Yankees found they could fit in another luxury box by making their outfield fences more symmetrical, they would adapt to their new surroundings and stop pursuing the same sort of player.
Other apparent preferences are illusions or short-term trends based on temporary team composition or the whims of one front-office regime. The A’s, for a while, liked fat guys, but then they discovered defense. The Royals, under Dayton Moore, have a thing for former Braves. The Tigers, under Dave Dombrowski and scouting director David Chadd, have a reputation for liking big pitchers who throw hard. But that’s almost an obvious affinity, sort of like saying a team favors hitters who hit the ball far. The Tigers might like pitchers who throw hard a little more than most teams, and they might be a bit more willing to overlook the shortcomings of pitchers who fit that profile. But what team doesn’t like big pitchers who throw hard?
There’s one: the Minnesota Twins.
The season before Sam’s article—2011—the Twins had the AL’s lowest staff strikeout rate and second-lowest average fastball velocity. The season after Sam’s article—2012—they had the AL’s lowest staff strikeout rate and third-lowest average fastball velocity. In both seasons, they had the AL’s second-highest staff ERA despite playing in a pretty neutral park that if anything slightly favors pitchers. And in both seasons, they finished fifth in the AL Central. Given that higher velos generally lead to improved results, and that strikeouts are the perfect way to retire the opposing team without having to worry about potentially troublesome batted balls, avoiding power pitchers seems like almost as self-defeating a strategy as the Royals' never-ending impatience at the plate.