My New Favorite Projection

Yesterday, I ran a post about the teams that we’ve run posts about. Turns out we haven’t written very much about the Twins over the years. We all kind of already knew that. People commented and here is one of them:

Twins fan here. The Twins bring some of it on themselves. For the umpteenth year in a row, they finished dead last in strikeout %. I suppose that in itself is worth thinking about. But now that I actually think about it, who isn’t getting his due? Trevor May? Who, Twins fans, should fangraphs be writing about that they’re not writing about?

I didn’t actually intend for things to work out this way, but let’s talk about the Twins pitchers and strikeouts.

Consider your impressions of the Twins’ pitching staffs. If you’re anything like me, you just figure the Twins have run out a bunch of Mike Pelfreys and Nick Blackburns. Years ago it was pretty obvious the Twins had a type, and it was a boring type, a pound-the-zone-and-pitch-to-contact type, and while the Twins have organizationally moved on from that, impressions and reputations linger. And it’s not like the strikeouts have started to show up in droves. That nice commenter quoted above wasn’t wrong.

Below, a plot of strikeouts per nine innings. I actually prefer strikeouts per batter, myself, but doing it this way made things easier later on. We’ll get there. For now, the Twins’ team strikeout rates, and the league-average strikeout rates, since 2000, which is as good a starting point as any:

strikeouts-twins-mlb

For a few years there, the Twins flirted with the average, and on occasion they even exceeded it. It’s worth remembering that, while the Twins have had a type, they’re also the team that introduced us to Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Santana went away in 2008. Liriano didn’t go away until 2012, but he had trouble re-establishing himself. And you see the greatest separation in the recent years. As the league has insisted on striking more and more batters out, the Twins have worn blinders and tried not to pay attention. They dropped back below the average in 2008, and they’ve remained down there.

Here is a related plot, more or less showing the Twins’ MLB rank. For each year, the line tracks how many teams around baseball finished with a lower strikeout rate. The maximum would be 29, and the minimum, of course, would be zero.

twins-rank-2000-2015

Believe it or not, a decade ago, the Twins had the second-highest team strikeout rate in baseball. Maybe that’s not so hard to believe; a decade ago, neither Tim Lincecum nor Joey Votto had yet debuted. It dropped steeply off from there, though, with the Twins’ rank falling from 2nd to 10th to 26th. They hung around there a few years, and then it was 2011, and the Twins finished in last. The next season, they finished in last. The next season, they finished in last. The next season, they finished in last. But, as for the next season, well, they once again finished in last. That brings us through the end of last year. As of right now, the Twins have finished last in baseball in team strikeout rate for five consecutive seasons. It fits so well with our impressions. And our impressions, naturally, have been informed by reality. So.

This is my favorite thing, though. This is what this post is all about. You need to know that context so you can appreciate the following. As we’ve noted a million times, we host author-maintained depth charts, and Steamer player projections. Putting it all together, you can get projected team rates, and the rates we display are of the per-9 variety. I went ahead and gathered all the projected 2016 team K/9 figures, based on what we have available. And now here’s the exact same plot as above, only extended through the projected 2016:

twins-rank-2000-2016

Everything’s the same. Same peak. Same five years in the basement. And then there’s the year ahead. The Twins are projected to finish with a higher strikeout rate than somebody else for the first time since 2010. The Twins are projected for 29th in baseball, meaning they’re projected to move above one team.

That team being the Tigers. The Tigers who, as recently as 2013, finished with the highest strikeout rate in the game. The Tigers who, a few months ago, signed Mike Pelfrey away from the Twins, for the purpose of letting him start. You could say that more than makes up the whole difference. As displayed on the depth charts pages, the Twins are projected for a K/9 of 7.2, while the Tigers are projected for a K/9 of 7.1. If you want to carry it to another decimal place, the Twins come in at 7.18, while the Tigers come in at 7.13. It’s a laughably minuscule difference, the equivalent of one strikeout per 177 innings. Well within the range of error and easily erased by just quietly manipulating the depth chart playing times. The difference might as well be nothing, but the difference isn’t nothing, as I look at the numbers, and it makes me unreasonably happy. The Twins are coming out of this. They’re getting into a different era.

Rank aside, even just the Twins’ projected K/9 is important, because it would be a big jump from what just happened last year. And for whatever it’s worth, while the Twins have that projected 7.2 K/9, it comes out to 7.3 if you plug in what the various pitchers actually did last season (and use the projections for those who didn’t pitch in the majors). So this is something real, as the Twins are preparing to leave all that contact behind. It doesn’t happen overnight, but, for example, it helps the strikeout numbers to lose a Pelfrey. Phil Hughes should bounce back some, and they ought to get more innings from Ervin Santana. Kyle Gibson has made himself more interesting, Tyler Duffey is coming off a breakthrough 2015, and Jose Berrios is almost up as maybe the game’s most electric pitching prospect you don’t know enough about. The bullpen has been kind to Trevor May. Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen are reliable enough. And so on.

The Twins are lined up for a strikeout improvement, both now and down the road. They’re moving away from what they used to be, and while it’s not all about Berrios, there’s an awful lot of hope balancing on his shoulders. Where the Twins go, I can’t say yet, as the future is the future. In time, we’ll deal with that. At this time, I’m looking at a projection that thinks the Twins will have a higher team strikeout rate than the Tigers. You don’t win pennants with symbols, but given recent history, that feels pretty damn symbolic.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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free-range turducken
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free-range turducken

Yet another Fangraphs Twins puff piece….

maguro
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maguro

SMH. This place should be called MolitorGraphs.

Jason B
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Jason B

Or the more aurally pleasing GardyGraphs.

Maybe GaettiGraphs?

Bip
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Bip

I just said “BlylevenGraphs” out loud.

Joser
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Joser

… and everybody on the bus shifted slightly farther away.

tz
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ZoiloGraphs?

John Elway
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