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

BASEBALL’S OPENING DAY IS HERE!!

Congratulations baseball fans - the off-season is over and you have survived to begin again!

We Twins fans don’t see action until tomorrow but regardless, it’s a good day to be a baseball fan.

Here’s the schedule of games that will be played today:

All times Eastern. Subject to change.

 

 And in another piece of just general news, I received this notice from Tinger this morning:

“All these years we’ve been calling C.C. “Captain Cheeseburger”. They just said on ESPN that he dropped 25 pounds this winter by cutting Captain Crunch out of his diet. We’ve been going about this all wrong! I think that’s a solid reason for a name change.”

Given the long history many of us have with the Captain Cheeseburger moniker, and given the general distrust I have for C.C.’s ability to maintain this supposedly lower weight – afterall, who can actually tell? – I will accept BOTH names as appropriate nom de plume. I wonder if C.C. has an opinion on the cut mouth situation??

[EDIT]  Seth from SethSpeaks is offering a special discount on his Twins Prospect handbook in honor of Opening Day!  If you don’t have one already, you should check it out!

[UPDATE]  Two former Twins played today and had records I thought worth noting. 

A) Pat Neshek recorded his first National League Win for the San Diego Padres tonight. I couldn’t be happier for him.

B) Livan Hernandez pitched his 4th Season Opener for the Washington Nationals – and recorded his 4th Loss.  Ouch.

Being Rich and Stupid

Now that our Boys of Summer are actually on the fields in Fort Myers, there’s plenty of people down there writing about it. I’m not down there yet (25 days and counting before I’m there, though!), so I’ll write about other stuff today.

Albert Pujols

I know I already wrote a full post on the subject a while back, but now that Albert Pujols has reported to the Cardinals’ Spring Training without a contract in place and has reaffirmed that the negotiations won’t resume until November when he hits free agency, it’s hard not continue drawing parallels with the Joe Mauer situation a year ago.

I know some people say one difference is that Mauer certainly would have had both the Yankees and Red Sox bidding for him on an open market, but that those two teams would likely not be bidding up the price on Pujols, since they both will have All-Star first basemen already on board with multi-year contracts. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe for a moment that, should Pujols actually file for free agency, one, or more likely both, of those teams wouldn’t make a serious play for the best hitter in baseball.

Boston has a ton of money coming off the books after this season (none of it regarding players they should try too hard to keep) and everyone knows the Yankees don’t have a payroll limit. Anyone who thinks that these teams wouldn’t go after Pujols because they already have first basemen under contract apparently hasn’t heard that the American League has adopted this new-fangled thing called a Designated Hitter. David Ortiz’s contract with the Red Sox is up after 2011 and they’d happily let him go to make room for Pujols; and last I heard, the Yankees were looking for Jorge Posada to be their primary DH. Hmmmm… Posada or Pujols… I dunno… that’s a REAL tough choice.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand about the Pujols deal. Why the heck would Pujols’ agent let him do something so stupid as to set a purely artificial “deadline” for reaching an agreement, like the “opening of Spring Training”? In doing so, he’s yielded the high ground to the Cardinals, who get to say, “we are willing to talk whenever Albert wants to talk”. They come off looking like the only reasonable parties while Pujols let’s himself get cast as the greedy jerk who’s trying to blackmail his mid-market ballclub.

The whole “I don’t want it to be a distraction” thing is bull. Does he really think nobody is going to talk about the situation all year just because he’s said he won’t negotiate? When he won’t answer questions about it, reporters will just keep asking his team mates about it (no distraction there, right?). EVERY series with the Cubs is going to be accompanied by sidebar articles written about the likelihood Pujols could be calling Wrigley Field home next season and that will happen whether the two sides are still talking or not. So why not keep talking? By the way, yes, I thought the same thing when Mauer’s side set a deadline of the end of Spring Training for reaching a deal last year. It’s just stupid, to me.

Stupid Owners

Speaking of stupid… I’m not sure whether anyone still is under the misperception that the wealthiest people in the world all got that way because they are inherently smarter than the rest of us, but if so, I think we can now officially put that theory to rest.

Sure, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are examples of people who had brilliant ideas and earned bajillions of dollars by bringing those ideas to the marketplace. But for every Steve Jobs, there’s also a Fred Wilpon. Whenever I even think for a moment about questioning the way the Pohlad family runs the Twins organization, all I have to do to feel better is spend 10 minutes reading pretty much anything written about these owners:

Fred Wilpon – Mets: Just when we thought he couldn’t make ANY decision worse than hiring Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya as GMs, we find out he also find a way to not only get swindled by Bernie Madoff, but also manage to get sued by the other victims (each of them a rich and stupid person in his/her own right, most likely) of Madoff’s scheme… and he could lose his baseball team as a result. By the way… hey, Johan, how’s that decision to force a trade to the Mets looking right now?

Jamie and Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt – Dodgers: Note to all owners… never let your spouse help you run your baseball team… even if she’s actually better at it than you are (in fact, ESPECIALLY if she’s better at it than you are)… and if you’re dumb enough to do that, don’t compound your stupidity by trying to throw her out over something as trivial as a little infidelity. After all, in Los Angeles, isn’t that pretty much expected?

Arte Moreno – Angels: Face it, we knew he was stupid when he gave Torii Hunter a deal that was worth twice what anyone else was offering, but to trade with Toronto for the privilege of taking over their payments to Vernon Wells is an even dumber move. If only the Twins had known they could have given Torii an absurd long term contract and just kept him for one or two productive seasons and then dumped him on the Angels for the last few years!

UPDATE… Miggy: In the comment section, AW appropriately inquires how I could do a “Being Rich and Stupid” post and not mention Tigers’ All-Star Miguel Cabrera. As I responded in the comments, I felt it was a sad situation and was inclined to hold off jumping on him immediately… hoping he’d finally get the help he needs. Then I read thisand this (via Baseball Outsider’s links)… and now, I’m officially ready to say, “Wow are you stupid!” Not so much at Miggy (though clearly he has behaved stupidly), but for now, assigning the label to the Tigers organization. They’re going to pay this guy $106 million over the next five years and despite his past and current behaviors, the first words out of the mouths of their GM and Manager are to reassure the fans that they want their All-Star drunk in camp as soon as possible and that he won’t miss any playing time. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be more concerned with looking at how to make sure I’m not throwing money down a well for the next five years than whether he’s going to miss any time for the next few weeks. A little tough love might be in order here, but get the man some help, for cryin’ out loud.

A Couple of Non-stupid Links

I like Brian Wilson (the Giants’ closer, not the Beach Boy… well I like Beach Boys music, too, but that’s a bit off subject). Check out this Q&A with Wilson from Jon Wertheim at si.com. I think the Twins should trade for Wilson. After all, if you’re going to have two closers on your team, why not just go ahead and have three? And Wilson thinks a lot like I do… or at least a lot like I would like to think I would think if I were a Major League pitcher.

Joe Sheehan, also at si.com, might have had the best single line I read this week, in his article on the opt-out clause in Captain Cheeseburger’s contract with the Yankees: “Opt-out clauses are the most player-friendly part of baseball since groupies.” Hmmm… opt-out clauses and groupies… I really should have worked harder to develop a good sinking fastball when I was in high school. Ah well, probably too late to do anything about it now.

That’s it for today. Have a great weekend!

- 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