Monday, November 08, 2010

How To Beat The Yankees?

I'm a romanticist, and like to think that heart and character have a place in winning championships. It makes for a better narrative and a better life lesson, and it's one of the reasons I watch.

But I think you'll grant me that character isn't the whole story. There is an element of practical gamesmanship too. We might remember David beating Goliath because of the great courage he showed. But it's also because the weaker party only pulls that sort of thing off every few thousand years. Gamesmanship wins.

I'm also a statistician, so I recognize that luck plays a part in championships, too. But 12 straight playoff losses? That's ridiculous. Do you know what the odds are of a flipping a coin and having come up "loser" 12 times in a row? I don't either, but I know it's significantly beyond "unlucky."

And so I'm back at gamesmanship. In the ALCS, the Yankees were who we thought they were. They have two very good left-handed starters - and not a lot else. They have a lineup that struggles against good left-handed pitching. A catcher that can't shut down the base paths. And a bullpen that can be exposed.

From a gamesmanship and matchup standpoint, the Rangers were a perfect fit to play and defeat that team. Almost their whole lineup is right-handed. They have an experienced ace left-handed starter and another very good one. They have plenty of speed - and somewhat reckless speed at that. And they showed an ability to wear down the starting pitchers.

The Twins aren't too far away from that. They're never going to have a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup with key players like Span, Morneau and Mauer in it, but there is no reason to not look at filling the rest of the lineup with right-handed bats, especially at DH. They already have one ace left-hander in Liriano who can work on his experience and his stamina. Adding another really good left-hander isn't impossible with names like Jorge de la Rosa, Wandy Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez and Jon Niese out there.

But the gamesmanship isn’t just about getting new names. There are things the coaching staff can do, too. Like working on some aggressive baserunning. Listen, teams shouldn't work on stealing bases to give their team a tremendous edge over the 162-game season. They should steal bases to give them an additional weapon to use against select teams in the playoffs. So let's work on stealing - especially against left-handed pitching.

Finally, I'll point out again that the two home game the Twins lost, they lost when their starting pitcher tired in the 6th and 7th innings. They lost them when their starters were approaching the 100-pitch mark. So, given that the Twins starters arms are getting a little older and given that there is no statistical study (despite a ton of attempts) to show that the 100-pitch barrier has any relation to injuries, how about working during the season to stretch these guys out a bit? How about letting the opposing team decide when our pitcher is done - like they've done in the postseason?

The Twins are beyond the point where they need to worry about just creating the "best team." They routed their division opponents last year and clinched earlier than anyone else in major league baseball. It's time to switch the focus from the regular season to the postseason, and from overall excellence to strategic gamesmanship. Design a team that can matchup well with other likely postseason teams. Especially the Yankees.

It's a riskier course, but after 12 straight losses, it might be time to take a different path.

5 comments:

Jesse said...

According to my math, if the Yankees a %60 chance of winning any individual game (http://espn.go.com/mlb/standings) the probability that they will win 12 games in a row is %.22.

Anonymous said...

You think Liriano struggled to go deep into the game because he didn't pitch enough? Between winter ball, spring training, and the regular season, he probably pitched more innings this year than he had any other year in his life. If anything, his arm was worn out.

KEN said...

I'm pretty sure the Twins have not lost 12 postseason games to the Yankees in a row. They've lost 12 in 2003, 2004, 2009, and 2010. But they won the first game in 2004 (and 2003), so the nine losses in '04, '09, and '10 are their current streak.

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

Here's a breakdown I did of how the Yankees have done in the postseason since 2003 against the Twins and against the rest of baseball.