If you asked thirty teams what they focus on as an organization, most would probably list throwing strikes right up there as one of the biggies. Another focus must surely be putting the ball in play so that 30% of those balls in play will find a hole. Slightly different than the previous focus mentioned, the third would be getting on base. You have to think that all teams think about and plan for those three areas. The question then is how come so few teams succeed in the areas they focus on. And once you answer that question, why do the Twins do so well at them?
This space has already talked about the Twins philosophy of throwing strikes. The major league average is 3.3 walks per nine innings. The Twins average 2.3 walks per nine innings, easily the best in the majors. There are only four teams that average less than 3.0 walks per game: The Twins, the Phillies, the Mariners and the Cardinals. Just to put this in perspective, the Twins have walked 348 batters. The next closest to that low a total would be the Phillies who walked 382 batters. That' 34 more base runners avoided.
The Twins put the ball in play. The team's batters strike out less than all but two other teams in the majors. The only teams with less are the White Sox and the Royals. The Royals have been really good at putting the ball in play this year.
The Twins also stack up very well in getting on base. The Twins trail only the Yankees in On Base Percentage. And the Twins are tied with the Texas Rangers for the best team batting average (.277). To put it another way, the Twins have the second most hits in the majors and the sixth most walks.
So how do the Twins do what other teams only want to do? It looks like it's a chicken or the egg kind of question. Do the Twins mold players (both internally and those they obtain from the outside) or do they draft and trade for players that fit their focus? If it's the former, why can't other teams do that? If it's the latter, why can't other teams do that.
Let's look at a couple of test cases of guys who they traded for. J. J. Hardy might be a difficult example because he's missed quite a few games. Hardy played most of his career with the Brewers. His lifetime strikeout percentage is 15.7, so he's dead on his career. Hardy has walked .073 of his plate appearances. For his career, that figure is .081. So Hardy is a little behind there. This seems to show that they look for players within a certain parameter before making a trade.
Carl Pavano has walked only 1.5 batters per nine innings this year. His career average in that category is 2.3. While that's a pretty good career number, Pavano has improved significantly in the amount of walks he gives up. This would seem to show a team that molds a player in their own image.
No matter how it all works, there is no mistaking that it works. The Fan has been appreciative of the job that Craig Breslow has done for the Oakland A's and the Fan has often wondered why the Twins gave up on him. The simple answer is walks. When Breslow was with the Twins, he simply walked too many batters. That didn't fit the team's profile so they dumped him. But they certainly had an effect on Breslow just the same. In the last two years, Breslow has improved his BB/9. For his career, he was over four walks per nine before Breslow joined the A's. In his two years for the A's, Breslow 's walk rates have been 2.9 and 3.3. That's league average, which is a darn sight better than his past.
So there's the third wheel of the equation. They mold players they take in. They get players from the outside that match their philosophy and they discard those who don't. It seems simple. But if it is, you would think that more teams would be able to do the same. They certainly don't.