The Twins already had interest in signing one of the top free-agent starting pitchers on the market, and that desire is likely to have intensified in the wake of Tuesday's news that Ervin Santana will be out of action for the next 10-12 weeks following surgery on his right middle
The Twins already had interest in signing one of the top free-agent starting pitchers on the market, and that desire is likely to have intensified in the wake of Tuesday's news that Ervin Santana will be out of action for the next 10-12 weeks following surgery on his right middle finger.
As Minnesota looks to address that situation and bolster its rotation on the heels of last year's American League Wild Card berth, plenty of options remain. Jacob Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn are among the large group of available free-agent starters, which also includes Andrew Cashner, Jaime Garcia, Jason Vargas and several others.
Yet, one option would not only provide an immense boost to the Twins staff but also add a dynamic that the group has lacked for quite some time. That would be Yu Darvish, who last month named the Twins as one of six finalists for his services.
The right-hander wouldn't come free of question marks, but one thing not up for debate is that he knows how to pile up the K's.
During his big league career, Darvish has struck out 29.7 percent of the batters he has faced, the highest rate in history for a starter with at least 500 innings, ahead of Chris Sale (29.2 percent), Stephen Strasburg (29.0 percent) and Randy Johnson (28.6 percent). Since Darvish's debut in 2012, he ranks behind only Max Scherzer (30.4 percent) in that category.
Darvish's 2017 strikeout rate (27.3 percent) was his lowest since his rookie year, but it still tied for 11th among qualified pitchers. It also ticked up to 30.2 percent after Darvish was traded to the Dodgers at the end of July. In addition, batters came up empty on 28.2 percent of their swings against Darvish, finishing with the 13th-highest whiff rate among pitchers who generated 1,000-plus swings.
This type of bat-missing ability would be a breath of fresh air for Minnesota.
From 2003-07, two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana finished in the top five in the Majors in strikeout rate (minimum 120 innings) every year for the Twins. Teammate Francisco Liriano also did it in '06 and had a 10th-place finish in '10.
But since then, with a 120-inning minimum, no Twins starter has posted at least a 23 percent strikeout rate or finished in the top 25 in the Majors in that category. Going back to 2015, only Jose Berrios (38th in '17) has placed in the top half of MLB in a given year.
When compared with other clubs, the Twins' struggles in this area grow more stark. Their starters' 15.6 percent K rate since 2011 is the lowest of any MLB team, by more than a full percentage point, and their 7.9 percent swinging-strike rate also ranks 30th.
Most pitcher seasons of 120+ IP, 20+ K%
AL teams, since 2011
22 -- Rays (by 10 different pitchers)
20 -- Indians (9)
16 -- Tigers (6)
15 -- Mariners (7)
14 -- Red Sox (10), Astros (9)
13 -- Yankees (8)
12 -- Angels (7), White Sox (5)
10 -- Blue Jays (7)
9 -- Athletics (6)
8 -- Orioles (5), Rangers (5), Royals (5)
3 -- Twins (3)
In 2017, Twins starters did a bit better, ranking 26th in K rate (18.1 percent). And perhaps Berrios develops into that big strikeout pitcher. Last season, at just 23 years old, he posted a 22.6 percent K rate, after striking out nearly 10 per nine innings during 36 career starts at Triple-A.
Still, Darvish would create an immediate splash in the Twin Cities.
The Steamer projections forecast 203 strikeouts for Darvish, which would place him in the top 10 among regular MLB starters. Darvish's projected strikeout rate of 27.2 percent would put him well ahead of the closest Twins starter (Berrios, 21.9 percent), as well as any other currently available free agent. Arrieta (20.9 percent) is next in line there.
Obviously, there is more to pitching than racking up strikeouts, but all of those K's are a big reason Darvish projects for 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to Steamer. In what is shaping up to be a hotly contested AL postseason chase, that production could make an enormous difference for the Twins -- especially with Santana now out for the beginning of the season.
So as Minnesota finishes its offseason shopping, it's worth wondering if the club will strike big for some big strikeouts.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.