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Updated: November 4th, 2013 7:28pm
How to fix the Twins, Part 1: The biggest problem among many problems

How to fix the Twins, Part 1: The biggest problem among many problems

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by Phil Mackey

With MLB's free agency window now open for business, it's time to roll up our sleeves and discuss how to fix the Twins. Again. This three-part series will pinpoint the Twins' biggest problem, potential free agent and trade targets, and an examination of what the Twins are able to do financially.

Let's face it, any team that loses 95-plus games three seasons in a row with a relatively high payroll has more than one significant problem. The Minnesota Twins are no different.

The Twins finished at or near the bottom of the American League in team on-base percentage, team slugging, runs scored, stolen bases, home runs and Ultimate Zone Rating (defense).

But above all else, starting pitching remains the Twins' biggest and most critical deficiency. Twins starting pitchers ranked last in the American League in ERA, innings, strikeout rate and Wins Above Replacement.

And those are just the surface flaws.

The Twins are completely outclassed in almost every peripheral category when compared to the 10 best starting staffs in baseball from 2013.  

Ranked by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the 10 best starting pitching staffs in baseball last year were the Tigers, Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Indians, Nationals, Braves and Mariners. 

Top 10 starting staffs

Twins starters

Innings per start


5 1/3

K's per 9



BB's per 9



HR's per 9



Groundball rate



Missed bat rate



Avg. fastball velocity

91.6 mph

89.9 mph

Avg. difference between fastball & changeup

8.1 mph

6.4 mph

Avg. downward movement on curveball (natural vertical break)

6.3 inches

2.9 inches

Avg. first-pitch strike rate



To summarize, Twins starting pitchers lagged far behind in strikeouts, average fastball velocity, the difference in velocity between fastballs and changeups, and the amount of downward movement on their curveballs.

Not good.

The Twins need to adhere to a better grand philosophy, and that philosophy can't just be, "We need better pitching." OK, yeah. We know. The question isn't about whether the Twins need better pitching. They obviously do. More specifically, the Twins need to miss more bats. And they need pitchers who throw with more downward movement.

Strikeouts equate to wins

In 2013, the starting rotations with the highest strikeout rates (based on K's per nine innings) were the Tigers, Indians, Rangers, Pirates, Giants, Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox. Those teams won 93, 92, 91, 94, 76, 92, 86 and 97 games, respectively.

The starting rotations with the lowest strikeout rates last season? The Twins, Rockies, Royals, Brewers, Astros, Diamondbacks, Marlins and Padres. Those teams won 66, 74, 86, 74, 51, 81, 62 and 76 games, respectively.

There are obviously many facets to winning baseball games, but strikeout pitchers appear to be more important than ever.

Of course, since Johan Santana was traded, Twins starting pitchers have by far the lowest strikeout rate in baseball -- just 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings, including a 4.9 K/9 rate last year. The top starting staffs in baseball punched out more than 8.0 batters per nine over that stretch.

The most punchouts a Twins starter tallied in any single start last season was seven. SEVEN. St. Louis Cardinals starters tallied seven or more strikeouts 42 times.

Soft tossers

Starters across the league are throwing increasingly harder since 2008, but not the Twins.

In 2008, the average fastball velocity among starting pitchers was 90.5 mph. That number has risen to 91.4 mph in 2013 -- one full mph, which is pretty significant. Twins starters averaged an 89.5 mph fastball in 2008 and 89.9 mph in 2013 (24th and 27th in MLB).

Velocity doesn't always equal strikeouts, and it isn't the only ingredient. But it helps. And the Twins are well below the market average here. 

The Twins have made a concerted effort to draft more strikeout and/or velocity pitchers over the past couple years - even college relievers they could potentially convert to starters down the road. J.O. Berrios, 19, posted a 3.99 ERA while fanning 100 in 103 2/3 innings at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Mason Melotakis pitched very well for Cedar Rapids (3.16 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 39 walks in 111 innings). Tyler Duffy posted a 3.64 ERA with 91 strikeouts and 23 walks in 121 innings between Low-A and High-A. Zach Jones struck out 70 in 48 innings at High-A Fort Myers. Luke Bard has pitched only 19 innings the past two seasons due to injury. J.T. Chargois underwent Tommy John surgery.

None of them have pitched at Double-A yet, so none of them are particularly close to the major leagues. This year's first-round pick, Kohl Stewart, projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter at some point, but probably not for at least a couple years. 

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