A couple of weeks ago, Joe Posnanski put out an article about key differences in the philosophies of baseball. His argument was that while some teams are built around
"what you can see, what is measurable, what is cold and hard and real,"others are built around
"passion, what is intangible, this sense that if you can get a bunch of guys who KNOW HOW to play the game, who LOVE the game, who HAVE BASEBALLS BEATING IN THEIR CHESTS, then you can do wonderful things."His examples included two baseball players who are polar opposites and who both signed free-agent contracts this past off-season, Adam Dunn, a power-hitting outfielder who strikes out a lot, and Willie Bloomquist, a scrappy, always has his uniform dirty, multi-positional, solid defensive player. In the article, Posnanski argues that some teams are built one way, and others another, without really giving a rational and strategic explanation for such choices. What Posnanski doesn't realize is that some team's pitching staffs need Bloomquists, while others have the luxury of pursuing Dunns. Some of the key differences between these baseball philosophies comes from differences in their pitching styles.
Consider the Minnesota Twins. As Posnanski explains
"The Minnesota Twins, for instance, lean Bloomquist.. The Twins run and catch the ball and they have not worried too much about power or on-base percentage. This, no doubt, frustrates the heck out of a lot of Dunn-leaning Twins fans."Posnanski attributes the choice of baseball style to the baseball fans "core" or an internal intrinsic preference whose foundations are unattributable. However, as you look at the pitching staff of the Minnesota Twins, you begin to understand why. This is a team that needs defense behind it. The choice of the Minnesota Twins to play a Bloomquist style baseball is not based upon some internal preference, but on the objective of maximizing their winning potential. The Twins pitching staff of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Glenn Perkins are pitchers who pitch around the strike zone and they are not known to strike a lot people out. Last year Baker's K/9 innings were 7.2 while his BB/9 were 2.2. Slowey and the rest of the staff have even lower numbers, at 6.9 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, 2.5 and 1.8, 1.9 and 2.3 respectively. The one Twins starting pitcher who differs from this mode is youngster Francisco Liriano who has posted a 10.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 rates over his three-year career. In general Twins starting pitching is not going to miss bats. Opposing batters are going to be given every opportunity to hit the ball, but hopefully with-in the range of a Twins defensive player.
Another perfect example of this is Carlos Silva, a former Twin who became a free agent and signed with the Seattle Mariners before the 2008 season. Silva is another strike-throwing pitcher. During his best year in 2005 for the Twins he had a 3.44 ERA and a grand total of 9 walks in 188.3 innings pitched for a BB/9 of 0.4. In the World Baseball Classic, Silva was pegged by Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo to start the Semi-Final game. The results were less than satisfactory. As David Pinto of Baseball Musings put it,
"Every ball the Koreans put into play in the first inning seemed find a hole or bounce off a glove, and the two seed bats around and picks up five runs in the inning. The Korean hitters look very patient and aim to put the ball in play, so they matched up well against Silva. Weak defense helped as well..."(emphasis added)The Venezuelan team was a team built around Adam Dunn type players. Miguel Cabrera at first, Maglio Ordonez in left field and Bobby Abreu in right. This is a team that can slug the ball, but perhaps has a little more trouble chasing after it, and the results were less than desirable. Silva did about what you could expect from Carlos Silva, and put himself in a place to succeed. Unfortunately, his defense wasn't able to back him up. Is it any wonder his numbers declined in Seattle, where the right side of the diamond had slow moving Richie Sexon, Jose Vidrio, and Wladimir Balentien or Raul Ibanez, all who are known as sub-par defenders?
The Twins play a Bloomquist philosophy baseball, not necessarily because it's their philosophy, but because it's what they need to do because of the pitching staff they've come to rely upon. And even before the current staff, there were others like Brad Radke and Eric Miton who were very much the same type of pitchers. The Twins have a pitching style built on strike throwing pitchers that need that good defense behind it. Their Bloomquist philosophy of baseball, then, is not a mere preference of style, but is a strategic choice that maximizes their opportunity to win. When the Twins can get a power hitter like a Jason Morneau, they take him, but not on the sacrifice of what is crucial to their pitching staff. That is why the Minnesota Twins won't sign an Adam Dunn.