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Minnesota Twins’ Improved Play Keyed by Walks Differential

Twins' Pitchers Back to Having AL's Best Control, While Hitters Are Proving to Be More Patient

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COMMENTARY | After having horrible starts the previous two seasons, which both ended with at least 96 losses, the Minnesota Twins are off to a much better start in 2013.

The Twins are 9-9 through 18 games after a 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Thursday, April 25. In 2012, the Twins started out 5-13, and in 2011 they were 6-12.

The Twins are trying to get back to their winning ways under manager Ron Gardenhire, who led the team to six AL Central Division titles in nine seasons prior to 2011. After the disasters of 2011 and 2012, Twins fans are looking for any hope of improved play.

The biggest culprit the previous two years was the pitching staff. The Twins were slightly above average in walks allowed to go with strikeout rates that were last in the American League. The starters were the worst culprits, which led to too many early deficits the Twins couldn't overcome.

This was in contrast to 2008-10 when the Twins led the AL each year in fewest walks allowed to offset low strikeout rates. The Twins split a pair of Game 163s in 2008 and 2009 and won the division outright in 2010.

The good news is the Twins are again leading the AL in fewest walks allowed through 18 games. They still have maintained their low strikeout rate (tied for last with the Houston Astros at 5.8 K/9), but they have improved their run prevention by half a run over 2012 despite the early struggles of new additions Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey, who is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Worley also had surgery on his elbow last year, although it was just to have bone chips removed, and is still working to regain his velocity. He should help the Twins' strikeout rate since his career K rate is 7.6 K/9, which is much better than his current 6.0. His control has still been good with 3.0 BB/9, although that is still the worst walk rate of the starting staff.

On the flip side is Kevin Correia, who has been much better through four starts than the Twins could have hoped for. He has pitched at least seven innings in each start and is tied for sixth in the AL in WAR for pitchers, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

It is doubtful Correia will be able to maintain this start with a very low K rate of 4.1, which is in line with his K rate of 4.6 the previous two seasons with Pittsburgh. However, he has improved his walk rate with the Twins to 1.3 BB/9. His career rate is 3.2, but his walk rate improved as his K rate decreased the previous two seasons to 2.4.

This has been the whole mantra of the Twins for many years, so Correia's improved control may be just the increased emphasis with his new team. Hopefully, that means he can maintain his improved control. He'll need it.

While the Twins have been known for emphasizing control for their pitchers, it has been frustrating for Twins fans that this has not been emphasized to the hitters as well. If you do not want your pitchers to walk batters, it would seem to make sense that you want your batters to take walks.

However, the Twins of the last decade or so have been infamous for being aggressive swingers, with Joe Mauer being a rare exception.

The start of 2013 has shown a different trend, as the Twins are fourth in the AL in total walks and second in the AL in walk percentage. This has helped the Twins to be sixth in the AL in on-base percentage despite being eighth in BABIP and tied for last in home runs. In other words, when they do hit the ball, they haven't had much luck.

The increased patience shouldn't be surprising as the Twins have been transforming themselves recently. Mauer has always been ultra-patient, but the Twins in the last couple years have added patient hitters such as Josh Willingham, Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks, and sent out free swingers such as Delmon Young, Ben Revere and Danny Valencia.

The increased patience not only has helped the Twins reach base more often, but it also increases the pitch count of the opposing starting pitcher and helps to get him out of the game even when he is pitching well. For instance, the Twins on opening day managed to force the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander to throw 91 pitches in five innings despite not giving up a run. The Twins ended up losing the game but after Verlander left with a 3-0 lead, the Twins managed to get within 3-2 on the Tigers' bullpen before ultimately losing 4-2. Getting Verlander out earlier allowed them to get back in the game.

With Twins pitchers allowing few walks and the batters walking more often, the Twins are getting a big advantage over their opponents. The Twins have taken 29 more walks than their opponents. Only the Oakland Athletics have a better differential than the Twins at +37.

Throw in the fact the Twins have been hit by pitches six more times than their opponents, that means they have had 35 more free passes than their opponents in 18 games for almost two extra base runners per game. That's a big advantage and if that trend continues, that will translate into a better run-differential, which should mean more wins.

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sports writer since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and multiple websites, including LendingLeaves.com and MyCashTime.com.

Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.

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