I believe, deep in my everlasting soul, that we should all take a moment from our busy lives to reflect on what's really important: the Minnesota Twins' starting pitchers and their stunning inability to generate strikeouts.
A few weeks ago, Mike Bates considered the possibility that closer Glen Perkins might actually lead the Twins in strikeouts this season. At the time, Perkins was on top. Alas, Perkins has now fallen behind Kevin Correia and is only going to fall farther behind unless Correia gets hurt. But I knew something was happening up there, in the
Wolverine Badger Gopher State. I just wasn't sure exactly what. Then I saw a headline about Samuel Deduno baffling the Royals for seven innings Thursday night, and thought this might be a good time to see if Deduno's broken the mold.
He hasn't. The minor-league veteran has averaged 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his various Triple-A stints. But since joining the Twins' rotation, Deduno has started seven games and averaged just five strikeouts per nine innings.
Which means he fits right in. Last year, the Twins' starters finished last in the American League, by a lot, with 541 strikeouts. This year they're not going to come close to 541. This year, the Twins' starters are on pace for 462 strikeouts. Here are the only five teams since 2000 that got fewer than 500 strikeouts from their starters. Just for fun, see if you can spot a couple of running themes ...
2006 Royals: 463 strikeouts, 5.85 ERA
2005 Royals: 470 strikeouts, 6.00 ERA
2003 Royals: 478 strikeouts, 4.79 ERA
2003 : 422 strikeouts, 5.71 ERA
2000 : 488 strikeouts, 5.54 ERA
Theme #1 - The Royals were terrible and drove me to drink.
Theme #2 - It's hard to pitch well if you don't strike anybody out.
The Twins' starters' 5.18 ERA actually compares well with this group ... except it's still last in the American League, and of scoring generally has dropped since those years. Also of course, strikeout rates have gone up. Considering the context, these Twins have the chance to do something truly, um, interesting.
Is there any help on the way? Maybe, but not much. The Twins' top four pitching prospects are probably Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, and Trevor May.
May throws reasonably hard, and has struck out 8.4 per nine innings in Double-A this season. He's also walked four batters per nine. Berrios throws maybe a little harder, and has struck out nearly 11 per nine innings in 10 Class A starts this season. Better control than May, too.
Gibson's quite close to the majors, with a 3.01 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts this season. He'll turn 26 in a few months and he isn't going to strike out a ton of guys -- his rate in the minors is 8 per nine innings -- but he's probably going to lead the Twins in strikeout rate once he's got his feet under him.
Meyer's probably their best pitching prospect. A product of the trade that sent Denard Span to the Nationals last winter, he's averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings with Double-A New Britain. Like his teammate May, Meyer could stand to walk fewer batters. But again, this is about strikeouts.
Terry Ryan's not an idiot. He knows that strikeouts are good. But strikeouts are expensive, so the Twins are making do without them until the farm system is productive once more. The problem is that it's going to take some time, and perhaps a lot of time. Considering the attrition rate of young pitchers, it seems unlikely that the rotation's strikeout rate will improve considerably within the next year or two.
Which makes it unlikely that the rotation's ERA will improve considerably, either.
For much more about Twins and strikeouts, please visit SB Nation's Twinkie Town.