Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build.  Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826.  During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage.  Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131.  That is a significant bump.  During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010.  That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281).  That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.

During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times).  So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.

Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span.  So what gives?  Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?

For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4.  The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).

So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).

2004 Continue reading

Touting Other Peoples’ Work

One of the great things about being a Twins blogger is that any time you just don’t feel motivated to write something new, you can take a day or two off and spend it just reading other Twins blogs. Can you imagine being, like, the ONLY Pirates blogger? Not only would you have to keep coming up with great stuff to write about your team, even after June 1 when they’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but you’d have the added pressure of being the only place for your fellow beleaguered Pirate fans to turn to for pithy Pirate prose.

I’ve started about three different posts lately, but lost interest in the subjects before finishing them. Fortunately, a lot of other writers were feeling much more inspired than I was. So, today, you get a few tidbits from other writers and links to where you can read more from them. (Yes, I know that if you’ve gotten around to reading THIS blog, you’ve probably already visited most of these sites, but maybe we can come up with one or two you haven’t found yet.)

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Howard at A Fan’s View from Section 219 is nervous:

“It’s not a dark cloud of gloom and third-place doom, but the idea that he [Justin Morneau] was waiting until this month to get into the batting cage and Bill Smith talking about an April 1 target date has been a little disconcerting.”

JC's favorite Morneau pic (Photo: Craig Lassig/AP)

Personally, I’m trying to pretend Doc didn’t even get hurt last year and I’m just going to expect him to be in the lineup until I see that he isn’t. That‘s the sort of blind faith that things will work out well that has served me SO WELL in my life.

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Sooze, over at Babes Love Baseball, bids “Happy Trails” to former (thank God and let’s hope he STAYS “former”) Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte:

“…let’s be honest here. Pettitte’s early retirement isn’t going to be all fishing tackle and golf balls. He’s expected to be a witness this summer at the trial of former teammate and known cheaterface Roger Clemens, who has been indicted on charges he lied to a congressional committee, the last people on earth you should fib to…”

With all due respect to Sooze, I can actually think of a few others on earth that I’d say you should be less inclined to lie to than a bunch of Congressmen who got their jobs largely by lying, themselves… but come to think of it, Roger has probably pretty much lied to everyone, so I think he’s got all the bases covered.

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Sarah led off her first post at the brand spanking new Balk About It thusly:

“I arrived home yesterday, after a particularly spirit-crushing day, to find the latest copy of ESPN the Magazine in the mailbox. I was happily flipping through, and then BAM! I stopped mid-page-flip, and my blood ran cold.”

You’ll have to go over there to find out what caused her brain to explode… twice, but it did make me glad to know my own copy of the latest ESPN the Magazine remains untouched on the stack of other ESPN the Magazines that I’ve never opened (the subscription is free with “Insider” ESPN.com membership). It also made me a bit concerned for Sarah. If a little old magazine thing constitutes an “apocalypse” that makes her brain explode twice, I’m not sure how she’s going to survive the upcoming season of Twins baseball… but it should be interesting to follow along and find out.

NOTE: Balk About It, along with From the Third Base Line, are part of a new blogging network (G9 Sports) written just by women. We’ll probably get around to adding those and other blogs to our blogroll before long, but I just want to say that this “solely by women” thing is a bit disconcerting. It’s tough enough worrying about how long my employer is going to keep me around without adding to that a concern that CapitalBabs and KL will decide they want to join the “solely by women” crusade and kick my butt out of this blog, too.

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Seth Stohs wrote a series of posts this week at his SethSpeaks.net blog about his weekend at Twinsfest and that man really got around. But today, let’s talk about his excellent Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. As Seth writes:

“Minor league baseball players are doing all the same work that the big leaguers do. They are just doing it with far less fanfare, smaller per diems, less luxurious travel and hotel arrangements, and noticeably lighter wallets due to pay checks with far fewer zeroes. These players deserve to be recognized too!”

Nobody… absolutely nobody… covers the Twins prospects (and not-yet-prospects) like Seth does. I’ve bought his Prospect Handbook the past two years and I’m such a fan that I ordered some extras this year. You can read more about it here.

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This is about where I might usually throw in a Joe Posnanski link but just to prove I’m not totally predictable, I’m going another direction.

In his first post since leaving ESPN to join SB Nation, Rob Neyer started by recounting something that occurred between he and one of his ESPN colleagues. Rob posted a comment in response to something the fellow ESPN writer posted and subsequently heard that the author of the article wasn’t happy about it. Neyer apologized and, as he relates:

“His response: ‘Rob, no problem at all. I just thought the comments section was for them, not for us.’”

Neyer is now, more than ever, one of “us”. If you aren’t yet familiar with Neyer’s work, you might want to start with this article where he sorts through MLB’s Players of the Decade, position by position, starting with catcher. Twins fans won’t be disappointed with his choice.

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Finally, on Wednesday, Aaron Gleeman posted this piece in his HardballTalk space at NBCsports.com that includes quotes from former White Sox GM Roland Hemold recounting, among other things, his reaction after his first meeting with newly acquired minor league shortstop Ozzie Guillen:

“I’m scared. I think we just signed a jockey.”

That’s enough for now, I guess. I hope your weekend gets off to a great start!

– JC

All-Star Game – Who’s on First? I Don’t Know. He’s on Third and I Don’t Give a Darn. (Do You?)

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine is not only the funniest comedy bit ever done about baseball, it also seems to just about perfectly describe my feelings about the MLB All-Star Game.

It’s a bit sad, really, because (“Because” plays CF) I used to love this game. I got so excited when I found out I got 2 tickets to the 1985 All-Star Game in the Metrodome that I swung a pool cue around and broke 3 beer bottles sitting on a nearby table (the game itself was a bit of a yawner as the National League won 6-1, but I didn’t care). I also remember watching Pete Rose slam in to Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse on television and a number of other great All-Star moments over the years. I never missed the game unless I was playing ball myself.

I don’t really even know why (“Why’s” the left fielder) my feelings changed. It may have been the infamous tie game and the sight of Bud Selig’s “What can I do?” shrug (“What” is on second) that ended the 2002 All-Star Game in a tie. That event led to Selig declaring that home field advantage in the World Series would go to the team representing the League that wins the All-Star Game. I never quite understood how that prevents teams from running out of pitchers in extra-inning All-Star Games, but on the list of Selig decisions I don’t understand, this one probably barely cracks the top 10.

It just feels to me like, for all the bluster about the game, even Major League Baseball doesn’t exactly know whether to take it seriously or not, so why (“Why” is still in LF) should I?

It is refreshing that many of the players still care about it… and I’m willing to give most of them the benefit of the doubt and believe it’s for reasons that go beyond the ASG bonus that many of their agents have had included in their contracts. I feel good for guys like the D’Backs Chris Young, who (“Who” is at 1B) clearly is excited about going to Anaheim for his first ASG. And while I guess I was ambivalent about the whole “Should Steven Strasburg be an All-Star?” question, hearing that a poll of 50 current players resulted in a unanimous 50-0 “NO” vote told me that these guys do care about who (“Who” is on FIRST!) represents them.

Of course, as a Twins fan, it feels good to see two of our guys voted in as starters for the first time since Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew in 1968. That was two years before starting rosters were turned back over to fan voting, by the way. I think a lot of Twins fans have begun to take Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for granted, but this not only serves as a reminder that we are watching two potential Hall of Famers on the field together daily (not to mention shoe-in HOFer, Jim Thome this season), but also demonstrates that the Twins have gotten the attention and appreciation of baseball fans all over the country. Together, Mauer & Morneau have made Twins baseball relevant.

I think it’s great that Delmon Young is included in the “final 5″ vote, even though his chances of winning are slim & none (and you should definitely go vote for him… I did). It’s not that he isn’t deserving, but Kevin Youkilis is such an obvious omission from the AL roster, that I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t double the votes of any other name on the list. To be honest, I thought Francisco Liriano probably deserved as much consideration as Young, if not more.

I don’t know (“I Don’t Know”… third base!) yet which reserves were voted in by the players/managers/coaches as a whole and which were chosen specifically by the ASG managers (the Yankees’ Joe Girardi and Phillies Charlie Manuel), but if it turns out that they chose ARoid over Youk and Ryan Howard over Joey Votto, I think it’s time to take the right to pick ANY pitchers/reserves away from the respective managers.

And don’t be surprised if Girardi replaces CC Sabathia (can’t pitch in the ASG ‘cuz he’ll be pitching Sunday) with Andy Pettite instead of Jared Weaver, who (“Who” is the guy on 1B) not only is more deserving, but the game is being played in his home ballpark. As it stands, only Torii Hunter will represent the Halos. But then an All-Star Game with only FIVE Yankees playing really wouldn’t be an All-Star Game, would it? (UPDATE: Girardi didn’t wait long… he’s named Pettitte to replace the injured Clay Buchholz.)

As for Manuel, if he’s the one responsible for picking Omar Infante over… well… just about everyone else in a National League starting lineup, I think someone needs to require Charlie to undergo a thorough mental health evaluation. That choice is flat out bizarre.

Finally, on the subject of All-Star Games, it really is unfortunate that Twins prospect Liam Hendriks will miss the All-Star Futures Game. (New Britain’s Ben Revere is also representing the Twins organization.) This game gives some of the top prospects in minor league baseball an opportunity to showcase their talents and compete against many of the other top prospects, in addition to giving fans across the country an opportunity to see future stars in action. Hendriks had an emergency appendectomy on Sunday and will be out of action for a month or more. The Aussie has been very impressive (1.76 ERA and 0.845 WHIP) in 16 starts this season, split between Beloit and Ft. Myers. I saw him shut down Cedar Rapids early in the year (7 Ks in 5 shutout innings)  and was looking forward to seeing him match up against the other minor league stars. Get well soon, Liam.

So, am I alone in my general indifference to the All-Star Game and who (for the last time, “Who” is on first!) participates? We don’t have a Twins game to look forward to until tomorrow (“Tomorrow” is our pitcher) night, so let’s do a poll, shall we? I’ll cast the first vote… and I don’t give a darn (Oh, he’s our shortstop!). – JC