COMMENTARY | It has been a common phenomenon for the Minnesota Twins this season. The Twins get a starting pitcher's pitch count up and get him out of the game early. Unfortunately, it hasn't led to as many runs as it should.
On Tuesday night, the Twins got a talented pitcher out of a game after just five innings even though they could only muster one run and just a couple scoring chances against him. The Miami Marlins took out Jose Fernandez because he had thrown 94 pitches and he was due to bat in the bottom of the fifth with the Marlins trailing 1-0. Even if he wasn't due to bat, the Marlins would have most likely taken out the young pitcher with that high of a pitch count.
This has been occurring regularly for the Twins, starting with the first game of the season. The Twins couldn't find a way to score a run against the Detroit Tigers' Justin Verlander, but they got him out of the game after five innings because he threw 91 pitches. Verlander normally would go at least another inning, but it was a cold day and his first start of the season.
Even if Verlander went six innings, that still would leave three innings against the shaky Tigers' bullpen. The Twins got two runs off the bullpen in four innings on opening day, but it wasn't enough.
The Twins routinely get opposing pitchers' pitch counts up even when they aren't getting a lot of offense. In fact, the Twins haven't had a pitcher complete at least eight innings since the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez threw a one-hitter against them on May 24. He still had to throw 130 pitches to finish the game while facing just 31 batters.
Minnesota Twins Are Second in the AL in Pitches Per Plate Appearance
The Twins were second in the American League in pitches per plate appearance at 4.0 prior to the game Tuesday, June 25, against the Marlins. The Boston Red Sox are the only team to see more pitches per plate appearance.
This shouldn't be too surprising considering the Twins have several players known for taking a lot of pitches, especially Joe Mauer. However, Mauer (4.20) sees fewer pitches per plate appearance than Josh Willingham (4.28) and Brian Dozier (4.25), who are fifth and sixth in the AL respectively as far as pitches per PA.
Chris Parmelee (4.12) and Aaron Hicks (4.06) have even drawn criticism for not being aggressive enough on the first pitch along with Dozier. However, both see fewer pitches than rookie Oswaldo Arcia (4.15), who has been praised for his aggressive approach. Arcia does swing at 31 percent of first pitches, which is above the AL average (25 percent) and well above the Twins' average (21 percent).
The only Twins starting players that don't see at least the league average in pitches per PA are Justin Morneau (3.73) and Trevor Plouffe (3.37).
All that patience should mean more offense, but the Twins are still below average in runs scored. They are the only team in the top five in pitches per PA that is not scoring runs at an above-average rate.
Minnesota Twins Hitting Better with Runners in Scoring Position
The mainstream media would probably blame this on the Twins not being able to get enough hits with runners in scoring position. However, the Twins hit better in those situations (.253) than when the bases are empty (.247). They even hit better with two outs and runners in scoring position (.257).
The problem is that the Twins just don't hit for enough power, especially home runs. The Twins are next-to-last in the AL in home runs. Extra-base hits allow teams to score runs without a runner in scoring position or to score multiple runs on one hit. Without them, the Twins are forced to rely too much on hits in clutch situations and those just aren't going to fall in all the time.
Hopefully, the Twins' patient approach will start paying off with more home runs and more base runners to give them more opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. That should lead to more runs and even shorter outings by opposing pitchers, which should lead to more chances against weaker long and middle relievers.
Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter 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 numerous other websites.
Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.
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