With two strikes, Christian Vázquez flinched at the knee-high two-strike sweeper from Joey Estes in the second inning Wednesday, but didn't swing.
The pitch broke over the plate, and Vázquez was called out on strikes, a play only remarkable for how unremarkable it has become. It was the 430th time this season that a Twins hitter watched a third strike go by, and if that sounds like a lot, well, it's possible that no other MLB team has ever done so more frequently.
Certainly none this season.
The Twins, who on Sunday set a record for most strikeouts of any kind in a single season, have been the runaway leaders in strikeouts looking this year. The Oakland Athletics own the second-most called-out whiffs this year, but with 359 entering Wednesday's game, they trailed the Twins by 70.
In fact, according to MLB's StatCast system — whose records date back only to the 2008 season, though strikeouts are exponentially more common today than 15 years ago — only the 2022 Angels and 2014 Astros, with 401 apiece, have been called out on strikes more frequently.
But the Twins, though they would obviously prefer not to strike out, don't consider their leadership in caught-looking to be a crisis, or arguably even a problem. It's the price they pay, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, for emphasizing plate discipline. The point is to avoid swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, which usually result in soft contact or no contact; if that means taking some pitches that wind up being strikes, so be it.
The Twins, after all, have drawn 572 walks, too, second most in the American League.
"It's related. It's definitely related," Baldelli said. "You don't want to be offering at all of the pitches that are on the fringe of the strike zone. We're looking for the ball in a certain spot in the strike zone, and if it's a pitch they can't do anything with and it's close, they might just be taking that pitch, as opposed to swinging at pitches they know they can't hit."
Only the Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees swing at fewer pitches out of the strike zone than the Twins, and only the Rangers and Royals make hard contact more frequently, another indication that the Twins' taking pitches is a conscious decision.
"If we're on base a lot, if we're going to walk a lot more, even if it comes at the expense of striking out more, a lot of times, I think you'll take that," Baldelli said. "A lot of these things have to do with a lot of the players that we have and what they do well."
He's got a point. Edouard Julien leads the Twins in called third strikes with 52. That's third most in the AL, and the most by any Twin in the StatCast era, eclipsing Miguel Sanó's 50 in 2016. But Julien also leads the Twins in walks (62) and on-base percentage (.379).
"We're not going to change how Julien hits," Baldelli said. "Julien hits good."