Thursday, June 10, 2010

Think, Know, Prove, revisited

About a month ago, I played the Think, Know and Prove game, and drew a fair amount of criticism in the comments. Some thought I was jumping the gun or drawing conclusions far too early. Some thought I was being conceited. And the truly rational were panicking because they thought I was jinxing the Twins.

I absolutely agree with the third criticism, and I sort of generally agree with the second one, though I think I can find better examples. But that first one – jumping the gun – I wondered about that one.

It might be true. I had never written a story like that after just one month. I wondered how it might change as the year goes on. And since it’s already half an hour after midnight and my life force has been sapped by consecutive nights at a Twins game with 13-year-old girls followed by 10-year-old boys, this seems like as good a night as any. So let’s revisit those statements and see if we want to make any revisions.

1. I think Oakland or Texas is going to find themselves in the postseason. By default.

Revision: It’s likely a three-horse race, but will likely come down to the remaining games between the Rangers and Angels..

The team that is still “out” is Seattle, who was 12 runs below .500 when I wrote the story, is now 52 runs below .500, as well as 23-36 and nine games back of first place. It might be hard to imagine how a team with that pitching (remember, they took three of four games vs our Twins last week) can be that bad. The truth is they haven’t been bad against the AL East (6 wins, 8 losses) or the AL Central (9 wins, 6 losses). But they have been dismal against the AL West, posting just seven wins in 27 games. They have tangled with each of the AL West teams and been emasculated.

The other team I thought was done, the Angels, are a half game back of first place as of today. More tellingly, they’re also almost even in run differential, a significant improvement from where they were a month ago. They’re still over performing at four games over .500, but teams do that, and they don’t give those wins back.

But the real reason the Angels are in such good shape, and the reason I have no idea who is going to win this thing, is that they just haven’t played the Rangers much yet. The two teams have played just two games so far (both won by the Rangers), meaning they have seventeen games left. Basically, the first half of the season has been one long spring training for these teams. Now things are going to get serious.

2. I think I was dead wrong about the White Sox.

Revision: none

Still true. I half expected them to rebound a bit, maybe even challenge the Tigers for second place and make a half-hearted run toward competitiveness in July. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. The Pale Hose have netted another negative 16 runs, are still eight games under .500 and are 9.5 games behind the Twins. Things may not get really, really ugly, but I can’t imagine GM Kenny Williams not being a seller at the trade deadline. And probably sooner, seeing as both AJ Pierzynski and Mark Buehrle will soon be achieving no-trade protection due to their 10-5 deadlines.

3. I know the Red Sox don’t matter.

Revision: I think the Red Sox don’t matter.

Back on May 6, the Red Sox had a .500 record, were about even in runs scored and runs given up, and looked like a .500 team. Now they’re +33 runs and +9 games over .500. They’re also just three games worse than the Yankees.

So they’re not totally out of it, and while they have a losing record so far this year against the Yankees and Rays, I guess they’re not totally out of it. In any case, they no longer look like a .500 team. Do they matter? I don’t think so, but that has more to do with the next belief than anything else….

4. I know that the Twins are the third best team in the American League. But they still need to prove to themselves and the rest of the baseball world that they matter.

Revision: The Twins are far behind the top two teams in the American League. And they’re a longshot to matter.

The Rays and Yankees run differentials dwarf the rest of the American League, as do their records. In the two series versus the Yankees, the Twins won just two of four, and that was without facing CC Sabathia or Phil Hughes. Unless Andy Pettitte breaks down or retires or has some demon driven out of him or something, he’s not going to lose to the Twins. The Yankees have better pitching almost across the board, and right now the Twins don’t have an answer to that.

I don’t want to write about this any more.

5. I can prove that the Twins will handily win the AL Central.

Revision: none

Since the last story, the Twins have mostly tread water, inching up slightly in wins and run differential. But the Tigers have inched the other direction, seemingly determined to show that they’re only a .500 team. As of today, they’re just two games over .500, -5 runs in run differential, and 4.5 games back of the Twins.

The good news for them is they still have 12 games against the Twins in which to make up ground. The bad news is that they are 2-4 against the Twins so far this year. And that’s after posting a 7-12 record last year. And a 7-11 record in 2008. The Tigers continue to be a mediocre team that doesn’t match up particularly well with the Twins. Their offense is 9th in the AL in runs scored. Their pitching and defense is 4th in runs given up.

The Twins are two notches above in each category. They’re also two notches above the Tigers and possibly one good surge from proving to Tigers management that Detroit might want to start selling off pieces for some future returns. But even if they don’t, the Twins should make September fairly anti-climactic.


TT said...

"It might be true. I had never written a story like that after just one month."

Its still true.

As you point out, the Rangers and the Angels have only played two games. If they split the remainder of their games, then Oakland or Seattle will rise in the standings if they play over .500.

Perhaps as important, when was the best team in May still the best team in August/September? Between injuries, emergence of young players, trades etc, teams can change substantially over the course of a season.

So between results that are skewed by scheduling and the fact that teams are moving targets, deciding the likely outcome in September based on the results from the first two months is a stretch.

Anonymous said...

I like your feed burner on gameday and use it daily, but lately it hasn't been very useful because it's filled with posts from one blog that I don't think are new. Maybe it's a bug? If it can't be fixed, maybe you should remove that blog from your feed. Also, your contact us link doesn't work, which is why I'm mentioning this here instead of contacting you that way.

AK47 said...

"The Rays and Yankees run differentials dwarf the rest of the American League, as do their records."

I'll give you the Rays, but the Yankees are only 2 games better than the Twins.
**Begin Nerd Mode** Their team ERA is 3.65 and their FIP is 4.10 and they have the 3rd lower BABIP in the Majors (behind the Giants and Rays curiously enough). **End Nerd Mode**
Suffice to say, they've been somewhat, shall we say, fortunate on the pitching side. A perfect example of that is Andy Pettite who currently sports a 2.47ERA, this for a guy with a 3.87 career ERA and who has been north of 4.00 for the past 4 seasons in a row. I'm not saying they're not good, but I don't think they're far-and-away a better team.

Aaron Fix said...

Jinx didn't work the first time so you're trying again?

D Wintheiser said...

Comments on #3

I think the Red Sox do matter, that they're a better team than the Twins, and I'm pretty sure I can back that up.

For starters, who's the AL first baseman who's getting shafted in the All-Star balloting because Mark Teixeira is polling so well?

A - The guy hitting .320/1054 with 12 homers, 40 RBI, and 51 runs scored?

B - The guy hitting .362/1144 with 13 homers, 41 RBI, and 39 runs scored?

OK, it's probably player B, Justin Morneau. But my point is that player A, Kevin Youkilis, is in that conversation. Heck, Youkilis might become the first guy to lead the AL in both runs scored and RBI since...OK, since A-Rod did it in 2007. But that was a year Rodriguez won the MVP, too.

Also, the Sox have a better starting staff than the Twins. Going slot by slot:

1 - Innning-eating veteran staff anchor

MIN - Carl Pavano (6-6, 3.92 ERA, 1.170 WHIP)
BOS - John Lackey (6-3, 4.72 ERA, 1.641 WHIP)

Ignoring the records, Pavano has the edge here, but it's not as huge as it otherwise appears, since Pavano has started 7 of his 12 games at Target Field, which looks to be a good pitcher's park at this point, while Lackey has started 6 of his 12 in Fenway, still one of the best hitter's parks around.

2 - Potentially electrifying left-handed near-ace

MIN - Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.10, 1.266)
BOS - Jon Lester (7-2, 2.73, 1.127)

Lester actually is the Sox ace right now, while Liriano is still the guy we wonder about when he hits the mound; the numbers seem to back that up. Also, though it probably isn't very meaningful, the one time these two guys did face each other, Lester won (on May 20 in Boston).

3 - The solid, middle-of-the-rotation guy you can't really complain about

MIN - Scott Baker (5-4, 4.52, 1.330)
BOS - Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-2, 4.59, 1.306)

It feels weird to put Baker, who has never been thought of as a star, with Matsuzaka, who last year was supposed to be the hot new star from Japan, but thus far they've both filled in a similar role -- I'll call this a wash.

4 - The young, might-take-off-at-any-moment guy

MIN - Kevin Slowey (7-3, 3.45, 1.308)
BOS - Clay Buchholz (8-4, 2.52, 1.258)

Both of these guys are doing well, but Buchholz has been doing better, and there's no obvious reason this difference won't continue to show up. Big edge for Boston here.

5 - The 'we gotta have somebody at the back of the rotation' guy

MIN - Nick Blackburn (6-3, 5.21, 1.589)
BOS - Tim Wakefield (2-4, 5.48, 1.310)

Don't get me wrong; I like Blackburn and I think his numbers will come down, but I can't say I'd rather see Blackburn than Wakefield on the mound in a key game right now.

So Boston has at least as good an offense as the Twins, a deeper starting staff, and nearly as good a bullpen: Daniel Bard (1.97, 0.844, 9.6 K/9) has been nearly the equal of Matt Guerrier (1.65, 0.841, 5.6 K/9), while Manny Delcarmen (2.67, 1.074) has been about as good as Alex Burnett (2.54, 1.200). If you want to argue that the Twins bullpen is better based on Brian Duensing doing better than Hideki Okajima this year, well, go ahead -- that is the #5 guy out of the 'pen, though.

My point is merely that Boston is at least as good, overall, as the Twins, if good in different areas. Should Boston make the post-season with both teams about where they are now, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Red Sox take us out; they're good enough to do that. And if Boston doesn't make the playoffs, that means that the two teams from the AL East who are in are probably better than we are.

AK47 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AK47 said...

The Dice-K/Baker comparison and Wakefield/Blackburn comparison aren't fair because Dice-K and Wakefield have either a) spent significant time on the DL this season or b) spent time out of the rotation. The sample sizes aren't nearly alike. I don't think he's saying that Boston is not a good team, I think he's saying the Yankees and Rays are clearly better than the Red Sox and since a maximum of two teams can make the playoffs from the AL East, the Red Sox don't really matter.

TT said...

"Suffice to say, they've been somewhat, shall we say, fortunate on the pitching side"

And the Twins haven't? The fact that they have the third lowest BABIP in the majors is a negative? I don't see how preventing hits makes a team not as good.

AK47 said...

That low of a BABIP is bound to regress towards the league average. It's not a bad thing, it just indicates a higher degree of luck.

More to the point though, FIP is a better indication of their "luck" as it is almost a 1/2 run higher than their current ERA (3.65). These things all tend to even out over the course of a season both on a micro and macro level.

Also, according to the same number I cited for the Yankees, the Twins haven't been lucky. Their FIP is lower than their current ERA and their team BABIP is .319.

Anonymous said...

I'm changing the subject here, to call attention to some info that may be old hat to true stat-heads, but was new and absolutely fascinating to me.

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell (whose baseball writing is always a pleasure to read) recently did a piece on the significance of the ball-strike count. Based on MLB statistics for every batter in 2009, "Every time you see a ball added to the count, the hitter just added 77 to 257 OPS points. Every time he gets an additional strike, his OPS for the rest of that at-bat just dropped by 122 to 215 OPS points."

In particular, suppose the count is 2-1 and the next pitch isn't put in play. "At 2-2, our average hitter plummets to the level of a backup player (a .618 OPS) ... But if the count reaches 3-1, our Mr. Mundane suddenly becomes better (1.090 OPS for all hitters on 3-1 counts in '09) than anybody who ever lived, except Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Feel free to gasp."

The column is available at . Enjoy!