Game 102, Twins at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Kevin Correia, 7:10pm
The Twins look terrible right now, and it’s hard to imagine that it was just a few years ago that they won 94 games and the AL Central title. Injuries have played a big role in their collapse, but as Matthew points out, so too has their fondness for pitch-to-contact mediocrities in the rotation. Their staff has a combined K/9 from 2011-2013 of 5.92, far and away the lowest in baseball (Baltimore’s #29, at 6.79). Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re near the bottom in pitcher WAR too, and if you restrict it just to starters, they move even closer to the bottom. This is an organizational philosophy, and it’s really hard to find any evidence that it’s working. It’s as if Twins management is standing athwart this long-running trend towards increasing K% yelling, “Stop.”
Kevin Correia is perhaps the walking, breathing, pitching embodiment of this philosophy, a pitch-to-contact journeyman with a 91mph fastball and a cutter he throws more than any other pitch. And he was signed as a free agent this offseason to a two-year, $10m contract, more guaranteed money than Joe Saunders signed for, and a contract that makes him one of the highest paid Twinkies. Correia isn’t terrible (he was an All-Star in 2009! Whether that says more about Correia or the All-Star game says a lot about you), but he’s evidence that it’s not clear that the Twins are saving any money by pursuing this strategy. Sure, the highest paid pitchers – the Verlanders and the Felixes and the Kershaws – miss bats and strike people out. But it’s not clear why they found Correia’s brand of mediocrity more enticing than one of their home-grown pitch-to-contacters, and it’s not clear what the Twins (who lost nearly 100 games in 2012 and didn’t figure to contend in 2013) thought they were getting for their money.
Home runs are still plentiful, so perhaps the Twins have been trying to figure out how to replicate the bizarre HR/FB “skills” of guys like Matt Cain. If so, then Correia wouldn’t seem to fit the bill. He’s been fairly consistent over his career; he gives up slightly more HRs than average, as one would expect for a pitch-to-contact guy without Yoervis Medina’s walk rate. And again, that makes him fairly normal for the twins: Nick Blackburn always had a HR/9 over 1, Kevin Slowey’s HR-mania nearly knocked him out of the big leagues*, etc. Their starters have averaged 1.22 HR/9 since 2011, 3rd most in the majors. I’m a simple guy, so maybe there’s a long-term strategy at play that drive-by analysts like me can’t discern. With that said, I have no idea what the Twins think they’re buying.
Correia’s got essentially even platoon splits in 2013 and over his long-ish career, which is too bad as he faces a lefty-loaded line-up tonight. But those splits are even solely because Correia gives up so many HRs to righties. It’s not like he’s got a great change-up to neutralize lefties, he’s just an equal-opportunity offender. He put his slider on the shelf late in 2010, and since 2011 has thrown over 30% cutters. It’s thrown at around 88-89 mph, and it functions like a fastball in many ways. Initially, the new look may have disrupted some hitters, who may have become used to his more traditional slider. Since then though, hitters have been doing steadily more damage against it. He’ll throw some change-ups as well, and he also has a curve ball. The cutter’s still somewhat effective to lefties, but when you factor in that he throws it when he’s ahead in the count, it begins to look as middle of the road as everything else about Kevin Correia. Righties destroy his cutter, so Mike Zunino is in a pretty good match-up despite the righty-righty aspect of it. Lefties feast on his fastballs, and also walk more often, so while this isn’t quite as good a match-up as, say, Bud Norris, this looks promising for the M’s.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Ackley, CF
Word on Eric Wedge’s mysterious illness is that he suffered a mild stroke. While the modifier “mild” is somewhat encouraging, that’s a serious issue for a young man (Eric Wedge is just 45). Anything in the brain should be treated cautiously, and while I’m glad the M’s think he’ll be back soon, I’m also glad that he’s going to be on bed rest at home for a while. It’s just the Twins, Wedge – Robby’s got this for a while. Again, best wishes for a complete recovery as soon as possible.
Taijuan Walker leads the Tacoma Rainiers against Tucson tonight at Cheney, while Lars Huijer starts at home for Everett. Good night to check out a ballgame in the Puget Sound region. It’s Sounders night at Cheney, with local boy Lamar Neagle throwing out the first pitch and signing autographs.
* Since Slowey now toils for the Miami Marlins, some may argue that it has.