Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Exciting Turn Of Events For Twins Pitching

Coming into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins had some deficiencies that they had hoped to clear up. While the bullpen went largely unaddressed, it was the internal options that were supposed to raise the bar. Although neither the starting or relief pitching has produced where the club would like, there's a really nice development that has taken place.

Now well through the first month of the season, the Twins have found a handful of throwers that have contributed in a unfamiliar way to the Twins of the past. For an organization that has become synonymous with pitching to contact, the strikeout has actually come into play.

As things stand today (on May 7), Paul Molitor's club has four guys that have gotten significant innings and have totaled more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. A season ago, Minnesota had no player (outside of Alex Meyer's two relief appearances) total more than 10.0 K/9. In a league that has now glorified the strikeout, it's nice to see the Twins playing along.

The group of guys contributing to this stat are largely important as well. Leading the charge is none other than converted starting pitcher, Trevor May. Currently, May owns a 13.76 K/9 and has pushed batters to swing and miss over 15% of the time (a 5% jump for a season ago). While his walk rate has risen, he's kept things in check thus far to the tune of a 2.12 ERA and 2.37 FIP. To say May has been the gold standard in the bullpen would be putting it lightly.

Next on the list is the first starter of the group, and top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios. Having totaled 12.54 K/9, Berrios has generated swinging strikes 10% of the time. His command hasn't been what it needs to be yet, but just 21 years old and two starts into his big league career, it's far from a concern. For a guy who routinely struck out north of 10 batters per nine innings across his minor league stops, it's nice to see the number hanging strong at the big league level.

That brings us to arguably the Twins best offseason acquisition not named Byung Ho Park. Fernando Abad went his first 13 appearances before allowing his first run. Signed as a non-roster guy with the Twins thinking they saw something others didn't, Abad has gone back to his 2014 self and then some. Despite being a lefty, he gets batters out from both sides of the plate, and his dazzling 0.78 ERA is backed by a solid 1.78 FIP. His 10.22 K/9 is a career best, and nearly a two strikeout per nine jump over where he's previously been at. Give it to the Twins, Abad had plenty of reason to work out, but he's looked the part of an All Star.

Rounding out the inclusions is arguably one of the Twins best Rule 5 draft picks ever, Ryan Pressly. Despite faltering some of late, Pressly has picked up largely where he left off 2015 prior to injury. He's hurt himself of late by walking too many batters, but he's struck out 10.06 per 9 on the year. His 13.2% swinging strike rate is a 4% jump over a career best in 2015, and he's giving up contact just 73% of the time (another career best).

There's a few other guys who have topped 10.0 K/9 for the Twins this year without enough innings to give much credit to. Michael Tonkin finds himself on the flip side, registering 9.0 K/9 despite having pitched plenty for Minnesota. He was largely abused a season ago, and has slotted into being a nice piece for this pen. Regardless of the relatively low leverage situations he's been asked to handle, he's fared well and finds himself in the 10% swinging strike group as well.

As things stand currently, there's very few positives for the local nine, but the uptick in strikeouts (for not against) has been one of them. As Berrios takes over a larger role in the rotation, his numbers will become more prevalent. The group of relievers up right now don't include the power arms on the farm, and they should only push this narrative further.

If you're going to have to suffer through losing as the Twins have, you're going to need to dig a bit for the positives. Right now, this is one of them, and it's something we can all get excited about.

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