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Updated: May 16th, 2013 7:36pm
Mackey: Twins starters have taken ‘pitching to contact’ to a new level

Mackey: Twins starters have taken ‘pitching to contact’ to a new level

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

Over the past few years, Minnesota Twins starting pitchers have leaned mostly toward pitching to contact.

This has been well-documented with starters such as Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing, Jason Marquis, Liam Hendriks, Anthony Swarzak, Cole De Vries and even Glen Perkins when he was a starter.

But it's gotten worse. A lot worse.

Heading into Thursday's games, Twins starters have combined -- no joke -- to strike out only 4.3 batters per nine innings this season.

To put that into context, of the 325 pitchers -- individual pitchers -- who threw at least 50 innings in 2012, only six had lower strikeout rates than the Twins' entire starting staff has this year.

Even if the Twins starters' strikeout rate were doubled (to 8.6) they'd still rank fourth behind the Detroit Tigers (9.5), Boston Red Sox (9.2) and Texas Rangers (9.0). The next closest team to the bottom of the strikeout ladder is the San Diego Padres, whose starters fan 5.6 batters per nine innings.

Blackburn, the king of contact, has struck out 4.3 batters per nine innings in his career.

Expressed from a different angle, when opposing hitters swing at pitches thrown by Twins starters, they make contact 88% of the time.

By adding Kevin Correia (3.7) and Mike Pelfrey (4.2) to a staff that already included Scott Diamond (3.8), the Twins knew strikeouts would be scarce. But to see Vance Worley (4.85) striking out barely half the batters of his career rate makes the situation even worse.

Since Johan Santana was traded five years ago, no collection of starting pitchers has fanned fewer opposing batters than the Twins, which is a huge organizational flaw that could correct itself when the likes of Alex Meyer, Trevor May, J.O. Berrios and Kyle Gibson arrive from the minor leagues. The Twins have also drafted a number of other hard-throwing strikeout pitchers over the past couple years. Samuel Deduno, currently in Rochester and not a member of the 40-man roster, would even bring about some whiffs.

But for now, contact is rampant.

And when major league hitters make contact and put a ball into fair territory this year, they are hitting .334 with a .535 slugging percentage.

Yes, Twins starters have also walked the second fewest batters (2.0 per nine innings) of any staff, but by relying so heavily on contact they are essentially exposing themselves to Miguel Cabrera almost every at-bat.

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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