Once again the Minnesota Twins are in first place, and once again the Twins are in the top five in one particular category. As a matter of fact, the Twins have been in the top five in this category for the past five years.

No, it’s not home runs, runs scored, fielding percentage, or ERA. The category in which the Twins are perennial leaders is first pitch strike percentage.

Here is where the Twins have ranked in first pitch strike percentage over the last five years:

2010—61.8 percent (first)

2009—60.5 percent (fourth)

2008—60.1 percent (fifth)

2007—61.1 percent (third)

2006—63 percent (first)

It’s no coincidence that the Twins have finished first or second three times over this time frame and are currently in first place this year. I am not saying that first pitch strikes are the sole reason for the Twins’ success (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau help as well), but I think it is a very big reason.

For as long as I can remember, the Twins have developed pitchers who don’t throw particularly hard, but have great command, and are taught to pound the strike zone from day one. Pitching from ahead in the count allows the Twins pitchers to always be on the offensive rather than the defensive.

Brad Radke, Kevin Tapani, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, and Nick Blackburn are all the same pitcher to me. None of them threw or throw hard, but they consistently pound the strike zone and throw first pitch strikes.

A pitcher’s best pitch isn’t a fastball or a slider or even a split finger fastball. It’s strike one.

It just so happens that the Twins pitchers throw strike one better than any team in baseball. Perhaps that’s why they have been one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past five years.


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