Sunday, June 28, 2009


There is some outrage that the Twins opted to pitch to the Cardinals star slugger. Ordinarily, I am not one to focus too much on statistics. I don't care about OBPS and I don't know what VORP means. Generally, if it sounds like the onamotapeoia from the old live-action Batman show with Adam West, I ignore it. On the other hand, simple statistics such as at-bats, hits, RBI's, and HR's distinguish perception and reality with a hitter like Pujols. While two-thirds of my readers are far more qualified to assess the risk than I am, I took a look at what the numbers say about the decision to pitch to Pujols.

First of all, he has 314 plate appearances in which he has not been intentionally walked. In those he has 74 RBI's (assuming he was not intentionally passed with bases loaded) and 28 HRs. If you assume 5 trips to the plate per game, an opposing manager could expect Pujols to drive in 1.16 runs if he pitches to Pujols each time. That is not going to beat you unless he gets some help. Right now, the skeptics are thinking that his overall numbers are skewed because managers pitch around him in tight spots. He's been intentionally walked 24 times. Let's (generously) assume that instead he hit a 3-run homer in every one those trips to the plate. Using that rate of run production, he'd still only be expected to drive in 2 runs per 5 plate appearances. That's an absolute upper bound on the damage we should expect, and it's still not enough to win a game.

Sometimes he might hit two home runs against you. In 4 trips to the plate, he has about a 5% at hitting at least two home runs. By contrast, he has a 15% chance of going 0-4. He is three times more likely to go hitless than he is to hit two home runs. The conventional wisdom to pitch around him is based largely on the weakness of the rest of the order. If Pujols goes ofer, the rest of the lineup has some work to do. Yesterday, the Twins were victims of a rare- but nonetheless possible- occurrence. I'm willing to excuse the pitcher for throwing meatballs because all of these probabilities implicitly incorporate the reality that pitchers can't always hit their spots. Even then, Pujols did not beat the Twins yesterday. The Twins lost because they made a fielding error, hit a batter, the guy hitting ahead of Pujols had two hits, and the Twins refused to generate any offense after the fourth inning.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Annual Traditions

While I've been too lazy to post, Twins players, coaches, and reporters have begun one of my favorite June traditions. "This is where we were last year" rings the chorus. "We usually hit a hot streak about this time" the say. Where did they end up last year? They lost game 163 1-0 because they only managed a single win against the Royals on the final weekend. In 2008, "last year" they muddled to a sub-five-hundred third-place finish after muddling around .500 for the first two months. In the Twins favorite last year- 2006- they completed a 4-month comeback to overtake the Tigers and earn the right to a disastrous, embarrassing three-game sweep against the A's. In 2005, they were about .500 in June, and finished at about .500 for third place. I'm sick and tired of the Twins propaganda machine telling us to be excited about mediocrity. A good place to be in June is having already played two and half months of good baseball. In 2002, by June, the Twins commanded a several game lead in the division. A dominant series to begin the month knocked Cleveland down for several years, and the White Sox stumbled about .500. At this point, talk focused not on their status in the division, but rather on how the Twins matched up against other teams in Major League Baseball.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2005 San Diego Padres

Usually a pennant race features two top-tier rivals playing a heated September series while perhaps scoreboard-watching another foe. The 2009 AL Central may feature a team contending not with another ballclub, but instead a theoretical benchmark. In 2005, the San Diego Padres won the NL West with a record of 82-80. Without doing the research, I'd wager this is the worst ever record to win a division. Second place Arizona finished at 77-85. Could we see the AL Central champion finish the season with a losing record? Conventional wisdom suggest that at about this point of the season, a team or two will hit a hot streak to win pole position for the pennant race. But what if Detroit has already had the hot streak to put themselves in first? If "normal" is worse than they've played- or they slump for a week or two- the entire division could sink below .500. The division's saving grace may be that the games they play amongst each other guarantee 180 total wins for the division.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

AL Central

June begins with just 8 games separating first place from last in the American League Central. After a fast start, the Royals have quickly faded to 4th place. The Twins and White Sox have spent two months muddling around .500. Despite high hopes, the Indians early struggles prompted many pundits to dismiss their 2009 season. To date, the Tigers have successfully countered the cynics' speculation of a fire sale. This early June series featuring an inconsistent Twins club hosting a disappointing Indians club will likely define the season for the Central division. A sweep by the Twins announces their intention to win a division title. On the other hand, a sweep by the Indians drags the Twins towards the cellar and gives the Indians hope. In all likelihood, one of the teams will win two of three. Either case suggests four more months of mediocre teams with the least bad holding out to win the division.