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.


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....


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.


Jack Ungerleider said...

Just a slight quibble. In 1965 there were no divisions. The Yankees had won the American League in all those seasons.

You don't get divisions until the 1969 expansion to 12 teams.

Unknown said...

I totally agree, this is not just another early season series, there's more on the line than any series thus far.

John H said...

I don't really get this Yankee thing? When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s they were great but from somewhere in the mid 60s to the mid 90s they weren't really all that good. They managed to pick thing up in 94 or 95 and had a good run for a few years but until last year they didn't win the big one. I'll grant you that they have a really good team but these ain't the Yankees I grew up watching. I simply attribute our recent record against them to bad luck. Kinda like the time I lost $76 dollars cutting cards at a dollar a pop. At some point it has to start going the other way.