What are the Twins up to? There aren't a lot of theories out there, so here's one.
Earlier in the offseason, Baseball Nation handed out the award for the most depressing offseason in baseball. It went to the Rockies, and nothing they've done since has changed that. It isn't so much that they made the worst moves, but that even their rumors were boring and unpalatable. Rumors are supposed to be the explosions in a bad Hollywood action movie. Hey, at least you had explosions. The Rockies did not have explosions.
The Minnesota Twins didn't have the most depressing offseason. They might end up starting Dan Gladden in center field, but they got excellent value back for Denard Span and Ben Revere. It's not likely that the 2015 rotation will feature Vance Worley, Trevor May, and Alex Meyer, but as far as rotation raffle tickets go, the Twins are suddenly in a good place for the future.
So this isn't a ha-ha-Twins post. They've made some good moves this winter. But after the Kevin Correia signing -- two years! -- it was fair to wonder what in the heck they're doing. It was also fair to poke a little fun. I figured that was going to be the last word on the Twins targeting all of the starting pitchers with dubious strikeout-to-walk ratios.
Six days later, they signed Mike Pelfrey. It seemed like that was going to be the last word on the Twins acquiring all of the Twins-related archetypes.
It was, for a few months. Then there was a sliver of news.
The Twins have signed 29-year old right hander Kyle Davies to a minor league contract which does not include an invitation to spring training.
The key words aren't "minor league contract", but rather "does not include an invitation to spring training." This is a non-story, something less than the Twins taking a shot in the dark. If there isn't even a spring invite, does the roster move make a sound?
Except, this is the Twins we're talking about. It's also Kyle Davies, who has a legitimate claim to being one of the least effective starting pitchers of all-time. The combination of the two makes this news. Because … wait …
Start playing that as background music for the rest of this, if you would. Because what is Terry Ryan building in there? I heard he was up on the roof last night, signaling with a flashlight. What's he building in there?
We're long past the point where we can wonder if the Twins have a preference for a specific kind of pitcher. Of course they do. That was probably clear when they started messing around with Carl Pavano, or right around the 80th start of the 137 they've given to Nick Blackburn over the last few years. But I think the Correia, Pelfrey, and even Davies signings have moved this past "preference" and into "methodically executed strategy."
Everyone thinks Moneyball was about statistics, but what it was really about was an anthropomorphic lemur who traveled to distant lands to reforge his father's magic katana. Sorry, just figured I'd mix it up because you've already read 193 different variations of what about Moneyball is really about. It's about finding useful players that the rest of the league ignores. And if the rest of the league is focusing on one area, that means players like Correia and Pelfrey (and especially Davies) will be available on the cheap.
So what is Terry Ryan chasing? What is he developing in the minor leagues? Why isn't he worried when a pitcher's K/BB is close to one? What's he building in there?
I have only one theory, and it comes with the help of Eno Sarris at FanGraphs, who spoke to Ryan Vogelsong about outperforming FIP:
Vogelsong answered that "The biggest thing about pitching and winning games is not giving up hits with runners on base." Surely enough, he’s shown a strand rate that has been well above the league average in his last two seasons (80.4% in 2011, 76% in 2012, 72.5% league average both years).
Aesthetically, watching Vogelsong pitch can be a dull affair. Once a runner gets in scoring position, Vogelsong isn't worried about getting ahead. He isn't worried about missing bats. He's worried about throwing a ball with movement to the very fringes of the strike zone, hoping that he'll fool either the umpire or the hitter. And if he doesn't do it on the first pitch, he'll try it on the second. And if it doesn't work on the 2-1 count, he'll try it on the 3-1 count. And if he walks the batter, whatever. If he walks in a run, whatever.
The theory of what the Twins are building in there is this: They're looking for the next Ryan Vogelsong. They don't think strikeouts are bad, necessarily, but they're more worried about a pitcher who can live on the edges of the strike zone as if the middle of the zone were attached to a dunk tank under the pitcher's mound.
If the Twins can pull it off, they'll have their pick of cheap, under-the-radar starting pitchers.
There are a lot of indications that the Twins can't pull it off. Heck, we don't even know if Vogelsong can keep doing this, much less use him as validation for some crackpot theory.
But the Twins don't care about strikeout-to-walk ratios. You knew that, but then that theory was reinforced. Then it was reinforced again. And again. And again. Say what you like about the tenets of ignoring strikeout-to-walk ratios, dude, at least it's an ethos. Maybe the Twins are on to something. Probably not. But maybe.