The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 3, 2013

To improve pitching, improve the defense

By Edward Thoma
Free Press Staff Writer

— Twins pitchers struck out 943 batters last season. That sounds like a lot, but it was 143 fewer than anybody else.

It has been a deadly combination for Minnesota pitchers the past couple of seasons: They can’t strike hitters out, and the defense (particularly on the left side) can’t cover ground.

Terry Ryan has remade the starting rotation, but it’s new faces with the same style of pitching. Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and holdover Scott Diamond all sport strikeout rates well below average, while Vance Worley is roughly league average.

Ryan has beefed up the power-arm supply in the farm system (Alex Meyer, Trevor May, J.O. Berrios and a flock of collegiate relievers drafted last summer), but that’s of little use to the 2013 squad.

So if the pitching is going to be markedly better than the disasters of the 2011-12 seasons, the defense has to do more than its share of the job.

And the outlook there is mixed.

The outfield defense is likely to be worse. Josh Willingham in left wasn’t adept at age 33 and isn’t going to be more nimble at 34. The defense in center, whoever wins the job, may be as good or even slightly better than Denard Span — all three candidates have better throwing arms — but there’s no way transplanted first baseman Chris Parmelee will match the range Ben Revere showed in right.

But the real key is going to be in the middle infield and third base. And one interesting aspect of the outlook there is how many shortstops — or washed-out shortstops — are involved.

It would, to be blunt, be difficult for him to be worse at short than Plouffe, Dozier, Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were in 2011 and 2012. But he’ll need to be brilliant with the glove to justify his bat.

The low strikeout rates still matter. But if Dozier, Plouffe and Florimon can turn a bigger chunk of all those batted balls into outs, the low strikeout rates may not matter as much.



Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.