Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Numerical Limits

We can take a lot of comfort in numbers, but it doesn't take a mathematician to tell you that they have limits.

Pick a game that you play, even if it's somewhat casual. Darts. Pool. Ping-pong, of maybe a video game. Now think of someone that you play who is maybe slightly better than you at it. Their "VORP" is a little bit better in that game. Not dominant, mind you. Just a little bit better.

If it was important, could you find a way to beat that person in that game? Could you beat them three out of five? Four our of seven? Do you believe you could find a way to do that?

I hope so. Maybe you find a weakness and pound it. Maybe you catch a few lucky breaks. Maybe there are a few distractions, or they're dealing with an injury. The bottom line is that the slight difference in talent doesn't mean anything in a short series. That's the limit of the numbers. In a short series, the team with the better numbers won't necessarily win.

That seems obvious, and it's more obvious when you take a look at two examples.

In 1965, the Yankees were visiting Metropolitan Stadium for four game just before the All-Star break. This might not have seemed like the biggest series, seeing as the Yankees were 12 games behind the division leading Twins. Except that the Yankees had won the division the year before, in 1964. And in 1963. And in 1962. And 1961. 1960, too.

And in 1958, 1957, 1956 and 1955.

And 1953, 1952, 1951, 1950 and 1949.

That's fourteen times in sixteen years, for those of you who care to count. So you can bet that when the Twins lost two of the first three game in that series, it felt as inevitable as wave crashing into shore. Even moreso when the Yankees grabbed the lead in the top of the 9th in the fourth game.

But in the bottom of the ninth, that changed when Harmon Killebrew hit the most important home run in the first 30 years of the franchise. It beat the Yankees for that game, saved the series, and announced to the Yankees and the rest of the world that their dynasty was over. And the Twins were intending to start their own.

Fast forward forty years to when the Twins have established their own mini-dynasty. The only AL team that has been more successful winning their division has been the Yankees. There is no doubt that they've won more games and been the slightly better team objectively. But that doesn't explain the dominance they have had individually versus the Twins in the regular season and in the playoffs. It certainly doesn't explain the dominance and dramatic wins they've consistently pulled off in Yankee Stadium.

So don't tell me the numbers say this is just another series. Maybe it's a measuring stick. Maybe it's a chance for the Twins to prove something to themselves. Or to identify a weakness, or to figure out a way to take that three out of five. There are an infinite number of reasons this series means more, just like there are an infinite number of ways to win a game.

So I'll let the numbers, and their limits, rest this weekend. Bring on the Yankees.

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I've been harping on it, but WOW, and I looking forward to Saturday. TwinsCentric Viewing Party at Major's in Bloomington, Yanks vs. Twins, \$2 pints, 2-4-1 appetizers, raffle of row 6 Twins tix and now Francisco Liriano is starting? Seriously? Show up early....

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More TwinsCentric stuff today...

- Switch over to KFAN 1130 this morning at 9:15 to hear Seth and read his latest notes here.
- Nick thinks that Nick Punto's walk rate last year was a fluke.
- In a tweet yesterday, Parker points out that Delmon Young isn't swinging at as many bad pitches.

Phoning It In: Delmon Young Week

Today is Delmon Young day across the Twins blogosphere, but only TwinsGeek.com has had a Delmon Young week. Back in June 2009, I lot all perspective and dedicated a whole week and a ton of words to evaluating Delmon Young's history and specifically Minnesota's reaction to him. Since I just couldn't get myself to write anything new about him last night, I'm just going to revisit those this morning. Here they are:

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More on Patience

Could history be repeating itself?

A little over two years ago, I raised the question about whether Denard Span, a first round draft choice and non-prospect, had perhaps turned a corner? At 24 years old, he was putting up slightly better numbers than we expected in spring training. It was easy to write them off because of his history, just like we wrote off his late-year success the previous year as "one nice month."

But looking closer at his numbers, one noticed a change in walks and strikeouts that indicated a guy taking substantially different at-bats. I suggested that maybe he had developed some patience, and maybe we should have waited for someone with first-round talent to shine through. That year ended with him essentially nailing down the center field job for the Twins.

If we learned that lesson, we certainly didn't apply it to the first round pick taken years later. Like Span, Trevor Plouffe has been a poster child for an area in which the Twins have struggled - middle infielders. Plouffe has never posted an on-base percentage over .340 and never exceeded a 736 OPS. Or at least he never has until this year, where he is hitting .299 with an on-base percentage of .355 and a slugging percentage of .468.

But like Span, the numbers that are most interesting to me are his walk and strikeout numbers. So far this year, Plouffe has 9 walks and 13 strikeouts, or about 1 walk per 1.5 strikeouts. He hasn't shown that kind of a rate since the low minors. Last year it was 1:2, and that's been the case for most of his career.

And like Span, you can see the same change starting in August of last year:

 MONTH BB K BA APRIL 7 6 0.228 MAY 4 23 0.215 JUNE 10 20 0.273 JULY 3 9 0.272 AUGUST 10 10 0.314

That looks like a little like a progression, especially when you add in 2010. Plouffe is just 23 years old, plays shortstop, and is looking like a hitter that can both get on base and provide a little pop at AAA. If these numbers are legit for the year, he becomes a top prospect. He also, by the way, is right-handed, something else that would fit in well in the Twins lineup.

So let's hope that history really is repeating itself. And while we're at it, we might want to withhold judgment on Chris Parmelee. He's the first round pick two years after Plouffe, a 21-year-old who is hitting just .195 in AA-New Britain with a 24:5 K:BB ratio. History suggests that sometime these things turn around.

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Get it on your calendar right now - Twins vs Yankees this Saturday at Major's in Bloomington. The whole gang will be there, we'll have big specials and a raffle for Twins tix, too. Plus, I have a hunch this could be one of the biggest games of the year. Hope to see you there.