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Updated: August 9th, 2014 11:31am
Mackey: Can Trevor May help turn around one of Twins’ chronic issues?

Mackey: Can Trevor May help turn around one of Twins’ chronic issues?

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins were late to this party, but two years ago they realized a chronic issue needed to be fixed: A starting pitching staff that didn't strike anybody out.

One peek at the top of the MLB standings provided powerful evidence: The Phillies, Yankees, Brewers and Rangers were the four best teams in baseball at the time (2011). Those starting pitching staffs ranked 1st, 3rd, 10th and 9th in strikeouts. Does that mean strikeouts are the only ingredient needed to field a playoff baseball team? Of course not. But preventing opposing hitters from putting the ball in play is a pretty sure-fire way to prevent runs.

Recognizing this, the Twins set out to pick up power arms in the 2012 June draft (including J.O. Berrios and Mason Melotakis). A few months later, the Twins traded for power arms in the offseason (Alex Meyer and Trevor May).

The problem with drafting and trading for young power arms is they don't offer instant gratification. There's a slow cooking process involved - a process that is oftentimes slower in the Twins organization than in other places.

While the prospects have been cooking, so to speak, the strikeout drought has continued in 2014. Even with free agent addition Phil Hughes tallying frequent punch outs, the contact-prone nature of the rest of the staff has Twins starters, collectively, ranked dead last in strikeout rate (5.96 K/9) for the third consecutive year. This wouldn't be as big of a deal if the Twins didn't compound the problem by running out mostly statue-esque corner outfielders.

Orioles starters, by contrast, own the American League's second worst strikeout rate (6.6 K/9), but Baltimore fielders convert batted balls into outs at a higher rate than almost any defense in baseball. This helps explain why Baltimore's starting staff ERA (3.88) is a full run lower than the Twins' (4.96).

To put it simply, when a team combines a contact-prone pitching staff with statue-esque fielders who don't convert batted balls to outs, runs will be scored. A lot of runs. 

An injection of Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks into the outfield defense would help turn more fly balls and line drives into outs, but both of those players are still in the minor leagues. Hicks might be in line for a September call-up, but Buxton still has not played above High-A. 

In the meantime, the Twins need to hope May - who will finally make his major league debut on Saturday night in Oakland - can stick in the rotation and help reverse the strikeout drought. Then Meyer. Then Berrios.

Since the Twins moved into Target Field, 70 MLB starting pitchers have thrown at least 150 innings with a strikeout rate below 6 K/9. Of those 70 starters, 10 donned a Twins uniform at some point during that stretch -- Brian Duensing (5.9 K/9), Sam Deduno (5.8), Jason Marquis (5.6), Liam Hendriks (5.3), Mike Pelfrey (5.2), Kevin Correia (5.1), Kyle Gibson (5.0), Carl Pavano (4.5), Scott Diamond (4.2) and Nick Blackburn (4.1).

May's mid-90's, downward-moving fastball and offspeed mix has helped him rack up 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career, including 91 punch outs in 95 1/3 innings for Triple-A Rochester this season.

The Twins desperately need him to replicate those trends in the big leagues. 

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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