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October 4, 2009

Prospectus Today

Do or Die

by Joe Sheehan

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Well, isn't this just a little bit crazy? After writing off the chance of any interesting races, or a dramatic finish to the year, I'm now writing about two teams tied for a division title with about eight hours left in the regular season. There's at least a 50 percent chance of a one-game playoff Tuesday as well. That 24-1 shot the Twins had after they lost Wednesday is now basically a coin flip thanks to three straight wins and the Tigers' failure to produce any offense.

There will be a lot of focus on Jim Leyland's decision to go with Alfredo Figaro yesterday rather than move up Justin Verlander, but I don't mind it. Verlander has thrown more than 125 pitches in three straight starts, and pushed himself to the limit in escaping Tuesday night's game with a lead. The difference between Verlander and Figaro is significant, but that's not the issue; the question is whether a short-rest Verlander and Rick Porcello (and then Eddie Bonine in a playoff game) would be better than Figaro, a fully-rested Verlander, and then a fully-rested Porcello in a potential playoff. I'll take the latter scenario, and it looks even better if you shift the goal from "winning the division" to "winning a championship," the likelihood of which declines considerably if Verlander can't make two starts in the AL Division Series. If the Tigers win Saturday behind Figaro, that remains a possibility. If Verlander starts Saturday, not only is there a greater risk of ineffectiveness, but the path to using him in the ALDS Game One on Wednesday is closed off. Leyland made the championship-maximizing decision.

It's not the starting pitching that should shoulder the blame for the Tigers being in this mess, anyway. Oh, they haven't gotten a great start since Tuesday afternoon or a good one since Thursday, but it's the offense that has failed. Against Scott Baker, Jake Peavy, and Freddy Garcia, the Tigers have scored four runs in three games, rapping 16 singles and a double in the three contests. That is a pathetic performance at any point in the season, and it shines a light on just how limited an offense this is.

The Twins have won three straight, but have come a bit shy of being impressive in the process. They hammered a Triple-A pitcher Friday night, built a 10-0 lead, then were forced to use their good relievers as the worst team in the league charged back to 10-7 before petering out. Saturday, the Twins got four gift runs thanks to that same opponent's failure to put major league outfielders in the game, coughed up the lead, and needed a late home run, again off of a Triple-A pitcher, to pull out the win. The takeaway for me hasn't been "boy, what a good run" or "they beat Greinke" so much as "that bullpen is vulnerable" and "if I had to watch the Royals more often, I'd probably become a WNBA fan."

The Tigers can't blame the schedule-maker, though. Three weeks ago they got their shot at the Royals and went 1-5, scoring 17 runs in the six games against a team with maybe three big-league pitchers on its staff. If they lose the division by a game, today or Tuesday, they can look back at those games as the reason why.

Playing their first must-win game since 2006, the Tigers will now put Verlander on the mound. The righty is working on full rest, although it's again worth noting that he has topped 120 pitches in three straight starts, five of seven, and seven of his last 10. I have no idea if there's been an effect; he's given up four runs or more in three of his last four starts, but his peripherals are solid, as are his velocity and movement. CC Sabathia was worked about as hard, even harder late last season, and he made it through, although he then pitched poorly in his lone post-season start for the Brewers. Verlander should be effective as ever today, and given the Tigers' pen, he'll probably throw another 120 pitches. He matches up against the Sox' second-best starter in John Danks, a cutter-throwing lefty who has been more effective against righties in his two full seasons. A Tigers team already struggling to score runs isn't going to be helped facing Danks.

The Twins have a much easier assignment, facing a wretched excuse for a baseball team. Then again, they had that same assignment the past two days and managed to make it interesting, so who knows what we might get today? We're talking about a team who's plan for winning the division includes the line "start Carl Pavano on three days' rest." That's right…it's not his turn. Three days after he was slapped around by the Tigers, the Twins are calling on Pavano to start on short rest in a game they have to have.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but these aren't good baseball teams. One of them is going to get into the tournament, and once there they'll have no worse than the six- or seven-percent chance that is the floor for any team in this format, but I'm hard-pressed to remember two postseason candidates worse than this. I'd take any of the teams that stumbled into the tournament, or even the barely-over-.500 Padres, over the current versions of the Tigers and Twins. The drama has been nice, but it's entirely an example of the tallest-midget situation you will occasionally get when you carve 30 teams into six sub-groups. Were it not for the unbalanced schedule and interleague play, there's an excellent chance we'd be looking at a sub-.500 team in the postseason.

So yes, let's appreciate the drama today, enjoy the fact that the baseball season really did run a full 183 days this time around. Let's just not mistake it for good baseball.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

48 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

RayDiPerna

Fun turn of events the past two days.

So the playoffs really start for us today, with the two Twins/Tigers games, and then (hopefully) a one game, winner-take-all playoff after that. And then it's full steam ahead into the first round.

Oct 04, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 0
 
ErikJH

Joe, I greatly enjoy your work, but your tendency to focus on the negative is a little wearing at times. Yes, the Twins and Tigers are not particularly good this year, but does any baseball fan not know this? Is that trenchant analysis really a worthy topic of your last regular-season column? We get it -- the AL Central is going through a down year. It would have been if you could have found something else about this race on which to focus, maybe something like the fact that the Twins, while deeply flawed, have gone 15-4 to get here.

Oct 04, 2009 11:51 AM
rating: 10
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)


I guess I could talk about how they play the game the right way. That doesn't get mentioned enough.

I've watched the Twins make a stunning amount of mistakes and bad decisions over the last couple of weeks. And no matter how many dumb bunts they lay down, baserunning mistakes they make, or silly swings they take, it's always "they do the little things." They actually DON'T. That's been papered over by laughably bad competition (11-1 against KCR, CLE, CHW) and the best months of Michael Cuddyer's and Delmon Young's lives. This is the September equivalent of the Blue Jays' April.

If you want to hear about how gritty they are, there are two cable networks devoted to that storyline. The facts are this isn't a very good team and it's competing with one just as bad. If you drafted all 30 teams right now, the Twins and Tigers would go in the teens.

Oct 04, 2009 14:39 PM
 
ErikJH

Joe, thanks for the response. Of course I don't want you to talk about how they "do things the right way" -- that's not what I was saying. (And I agree: The Twins haven't done the "little things" right for at least a decade.) Plus, I have no illusions that these teams are among the best in baseball. But who does? You're arguing something that nobody disputes, at least nobody who reads BP. I think it's reasonable for us to expect you to try for something different or surprising, not just to counter ESPN's blather.

Oct 04, 2009 15:10 PM
rating: 10
 
aareinsch

I agree with ErikJH. There was, for instance, in Saturday's game a fairly compelling momentary showdown between the best position player and the best pitcher in the AL that may have been worth digging into a little bit. I don't expect BPro writers or readers to bother with the "Twins do the little things" reputation because, true or not, it's not very interesting. What's good about this site are conversations about what *is* interesting about baseball, not perfunctory pieces about how uninteresting the baseball I've been watching the past few days is. Or weirdly disconnected follow-up scolding that seems better directed towards John Kruk or Harold Reynolds.

Oct 04, 2009 15:26 PM
rating: 7
 
kradec
(175)

Who's the Royals' third ML pitcher? I'm assuming the first two are Greinke and Soria........

Oct 04, 2009 12:21 PM
rating: 1
 
acmcdowell

Out of curiosity, who do you have as the ChiSox #1? Peavy? Floyd?

Oct 04, 2009 12:30 PM
rating: 0
 
John Collins
(110)

Buehrle, I'd have thought.

Oct 04, 2009 13:16 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Yes, Buehrle.

Oct 04, 2009 14:31 PM
 
andrews

Joe,

I just think you don't like the Tigers and Justin Verlander.

"he's given up four runs or more in three of his last four starts, but his peripherals are solid"

A 34-4 K/BB ratio in those last 4 starts (ok 34 hits in 29.1 innings but that's not really peripherals is it) - if that's merely solid i guess you need to be Bob Gibson to be merely good.

Oct 04, 2009 12:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I love Justin Verlander. I've compared him to Kevin Brown.

Oct 04, 2009 14:31 PM
 
andrews

Hi Joe,

My venting is stored up from a whole season when I can't remember reading an article of the great strides forward Verlander's he's made this year, or a positive article about the Tigers for that matter. Who would have thought he would finish on 269 k's?

I'm not really singling you out and I apologise for you taking a season frustration due to one throwaway comment (the solid peripherals one.

How good would his numbers be if leyland didn't continually leave him in games too long - last night was another example - I suspect he'd be a Cy Young frontrunner with most of the other managers.

Oct 05, 2009 05:40 AM
rating: 2
 
RayDiPerna

Andrews, do you really think that Joe's line of thinking went:

1) Verlander has great peripherals in his last 4 starts; but
2) I hate Verlander; so
3) I'm going to write that he has "solid" peripherals instead.

Your point here seems kind of silly, Andrews. (Hopefully I can say that without being rated below the threshold.) It's more likely that Joe wasn't obsessed with word choice there and that "solid" fit just fine. Which of course it did, since his point wasn't to denigrate Verlander there.

Seriously, people need to chill with the tired accusations of bias.

Oct 05, 2009 17:34 PM
rating: -1
 
andrews

Ray, I've just seen this one - seriously why not let Joe respond - I've already qualified my statement in my 2nd reply to Joe and basically retracted it.

I'm new to posting here - though have been a member for years - so if there is a history of this I'm not responsible for that.

ps so you agree that a 34/4 K/BB ratio is merely solid then ;-)

Oct 08, 2009 06:21 AM
rating: 0
 
jerrykenny

Unfortunately, thanks to the advent of Selig ball (ca. 1994) the only meaningful late season competition can be between also rans (either teams competing for the wild card or bad teams like the Twins and Tigers "slugging" it out for a division title in which even the winner will not have as strong a record as the wild card team).

Classic pennant races between two strong teams, one of which will have to go home at the end of the regular season (Dodgers/Giants 1951,1962; Yankees/Red Sox 1978; Yankees/Orioles 1980; Braves/Giants 1993, etc.) are a thing of the past. They simply can't happen any more. The Red Sox still had a chance (OK, a small chance) at the division title last weekend. They didn't even make a pretense of competing! This is a fraud on fans.

The solution is to dump the wild card, which is a silly gimmick designed to wring more TV bucks out of FOX and ESPN for an over-hyped additional playoff round, and consolidate the leagues into two divisions each. The two winners in each league square off in the LCS and those winners meet in the World Series. Baseball thrived for a long time with two eight-team leagues so don't tell me it can't do so with two 7-team divisions in the AL and two eight-team divisions in the NL. This is the only scenario that does justice to the regular season competition and gives the best chance of having the most deserving teams in the post-season.

For those arguing that we need even more wild cards - consider this. The World Series this year will not begin until October 28 and won't conclude until the middle of the first week of November. This is just madness. Unless you have a proposal for shortening the regular season by two weeks don't even bring up the subject of more wild cards.

Oct 04, 2009 13:13 PM
rating: -1
 
sockeye

Agreed.

And what I love (sarcasm here) is that baseball tried to sell the split into three divisions as something that would make for more compelling stretch runs, and most pundits were content to parrot it hook, line, and sinker.

Umm, no. Now we have an even lower chance that any one division is going to house two teams that are both very good, and go down to the wire with horns locked. Instead, what we are usually left with is one very good team in a division with a bunch of mediocres, or a "MN vs. DET" type of Battle of the Mediocres.

I'd love to see BP do a piece on the frequency with which we see a compelling race between two very good teams now that the 3rd division has been added.

Oct 04, 2009 17:18 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

The point has been made repeatedly, by many staffers, over the years. I can't cite you any particular version of the song (search my stuff using "Selig," maybe), but it's been covered like "Unchained Melody."

Oct 04, 2009 17:29 PM
 
Benjamin Harris

One implementation I would like to see to do justice to the regular season is more condensed series. Teams have made it this far because of their depth; they haven't been playing two games followed by an off-day all season. Why are the playoffs different? I'd like to see all series be seven games and last one week, then teams could have an off-day between series. This would also ensure that teams don't have ridiculous 10-day layoffs between series. As it is now, there are teams that are built to GET to the post-season, and teams that are built to WIN in the post-season. Arizona essentially won in 2001 because they had the best top-of-the-rotation, not necessarily because they were the best team.

Oct 04, 2009 19:24 PM
rating: 2
 
deep64blue

The November thing can be fixed by getting rid of the excessive off-days in the post-season and/or scheduling one double header a month during the season.

I support a second Wild Card in each League, these would be two one-off games after the Regular Season. This would ensure winning the Division would have more of a reward than getting in via the Wild Card.

Oct 05, 2009 03:50 AM
rating: 2
 
John Collins
(110)

And ironically several years ago when the Twins and Detroit both really were good, and the Twins dramatically overtook them on the last day of the season, it was pretty much meaningless since both teams were going to the playoffs anyway.

Oct 04, 2009 13:18 PM
rating: 3
 
Hendo

"I'm hard-pressed to remember two postseason candidates worse than this."

Youth and modesty are commendable assets, Joe, but it's worth noting that Baseball Prospectus' "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" chronicles the 1973 National League East in which only one team (the Mets) finished over .500, and that by but three games.

Oct 04, 2009 14:35 PM
rating: 1
 
youwouldno

Yeah, we get it, neither the Twins nor Tigers are world beaters. How long exactly did that realization take? Can I get paid for coming up with such insights?

Oct 04, 2009 14:44 PM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Yes, but not as well as for talking about their grit and determination and savvy.

The Twins are thisclose to being a religion.

Oct 04, 2009 14:49 PM
 
amacrae

I don't think anyone is asking you to talk about their grit and it's insulting to your readers to assume that.

It isn't surprising that this glass half empty review of the AL Central playoff race is coming from the guy who predicted that The Tigers would go 75-87 and The Indians would win the division at 84-78.

Oct 04, 2009 15:06 PM
rating: 3
 
youwouldno

As a Twins fan, it is just annoying to me on the one hand to have the patronizing "they just play the right way" crowd, and then also the analytical community responding with criticism of the team. Why do you even care what John Kruk or some other dope thinks?

If a poll were done among knowledgeable Twins fans, the manager and GM would both come up with approval ratings well below 'religion' status. Criticize the team by the same standards you would any other- not because some national media types are clueless.

Oct 04, 2009 15:14 PM
rating: 6
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Evaluating the Twins by reality-based standards was what engendered the initial criticism. The Twins are not a good baseball team in the absence of Morneau and Slowey. That they've won a bunch of games over awful teams the last three weeks doesn't change that. That they tied for the lead of a really bad division after 162 games doesn't change that.

That's the point. In the context of the larger discussion about the team, which is mostly fawning, it's worth making.




Oct 04, 2009 15:26 PM
 
youwouldno

This is an article for BP subscribers. It is not part of the "larger discussion" about the team and is read (almost?) exclusively by people who realize that grit does not win championships.

So far as their current situation, no team in history has come back from where they were (should they pull it off). It is an interesting feat, and the mediocrity of the division doesn't change that.

Oct 04, 2009 15:38 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Well, it's possible, even probable, that I've exhausted that particular audience. I appreciate you reminding me of this.

A decade is a long time.

Oct 04, 2009 16:52 PM
 
elm
(41)

If that's a veiled "Good-bye Cruel World" comment, please don't stop writing "Prospectus Today." I think most readers do share your basic viewpoint, but I, and I hope others, appreciate the vigor and insight with which you express it. It's one of the things I've loved and have kept bringing me back for nearly ten years now. I may be able to predict what your point will be when I see the topic you choose to write about, but I love seeing how you choose to express that point.

Oct 05, 2009 08:27 AM
rating: 1
 
John Collins
(110)

Seconded

Oct 05, 2009 09:34 AM
rating: 0
 
ErikJH

Um, Joe, by "initial criticism" I assume you mean me. I NEVER quarreled with your assessment of the Twins. Never did it. For someone who prides himself on being an objective analyst, you're awfully fond of shooting down strawman arguments.

Oct 04, 2009 17:32 PM
rating: 4
 
jdseal

Comment on WNBA is just plain rude. I'm a big fan.

Oct 04, 2009 16:34 PM
rating: -2
 
Carewfan29

I think the Twins run is interesting because they've played many of these same bad teams all season and didn't have a run like this before now.

Hey, they are greatly flawed and get too much credit for willingly handcuffing themselves by never spending money. But I don't think they should have to apologize for what division they are in.

Oct 04, 2009 17:57 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

Joe, in case you're feeling friendless and alone, despair not. I enjoyed your insights and have no interest in serving as your assignment editor.

On the other hand, doesn't *everyone* make the WNBA playoffs?

Oct 04, 2009 18:45 PM
rating: 4
 
RayDiPerna

Do people here comment just to criticize? There's nothing wrong with this column.

Oct 04, 2009 19:28 PM
rating: 3
 
jlebeck66

Agreed.

Oct 05, 2009 02:23 AM
rating: 2
 
Jeff Evans

I agee with AndrewP above. (Clicking on 'post reply' isn't working). Nobody's bitched about their famously bad trades or some of their personnel decisions any more than I have. But they might think that with an unbalanced schedule and playing in this division that they really don't have to spend any more of that money that they love to hang on to.

That doesn't mean Twins fans can't enjoy the ride though. Especially when we didn't expect much to begin with. Sure, we'd love to see them increase payroll by adding some real talent. But we've got to look at it as: You suppose Pirates, Reds, or Royals fans and their like would like to be in this situation this often?

Oct 04, 2009 21:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Ameer

Wow, I'm shocked to see the amount of criticism this column is getting. I enjoyed it just fine.

Also, as Jeff Evans noted above, "Post Reply" is not working in IE8. It seems to work fine in Firefox.

Oct 05, 2009 04:24 AM
rating: 1
 
ackbar

So, according to the views discussed in this comment thread, this article should've read something like:

- The Tigers and the Twins made it to a one-game playoff! Yippee!

- The Twins did it because they went 15-4 at the right time (because they're really clutch and play to the schedule) and the Tigers (although they tried very hard) just couldn't score enough in the final three games. But it's ok, they'll still get one more chance!

- Truthfully, I don't like Justin Verlander. His facial hair concerns me. But, I must admit, his peripherals prove that he is of a supreme constitution. A 34:4 K:BB ratio far outweighs the runs he's given up over the past four games in the short-term. But hey -- I don't want to belabor the point here. I have to write 2000 words about Verlander in my upcoming series, "Say Some Nice Things About Each and Every Baseball Team".

- I'm hard-pressed to remember two postseason candidates worse than this. (EDIT: My bad. There were those teams in the NL East 36 years ago in a part of a book I didn't write. That certainly is not the exception that proves the rule.)

- So, essentially, the Twins and Tigers aren't really that great. If you agree, can write that sentence, and would like to make some money, please join us for BP Idol 2, where you can ape the stories written by BP authors without providing any of the context or analysis that justifies said statements, but in a popularity contest.

- Oh, and my prediction of how the Tigers and Indians would play wasn't accurate. I hope that someone in the comments points this out in a smarmy manner to prove that my logical thought processes, when applied to 4,830 Major League Baseball games in a given year, weren't totally accurate. That will totally disintegrate my position.

Personally, I'd rather not have Joe sound like a Windows 7 commercial.

Oct 05, 2009 07:13 AM
rating: 9
 
Bill N
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Thanks Internet Nanny for making sure Joe's feelings weren't hurt too badly. We all promise to play nicer in the future, lest we get another stinging reply such as this one.

Oct 05, 2009 09:08 AM
rating: -6
 
OuagadougouGM

Yeah, there are quite a few better teams that did not make the playoffs....the Rays, Rangers, Braves, maybe the Marlins and Giants...but at least the best player in the AL has a chance to make the postseason. Once they're in, who knows what could happen? Most scenarios I'm imagining involve a quick and embarrassing doom at the hands of the Yankees, but who knows? It would be more promising if the Twins had any good starters beyond Baker (who is starting Tuesday)

Oct 05, 2009 07:42 AM
rating: 0
 
noplot

As a fan of both the Twins and Lynx, trust me, not "everyone" makes the WNBA playoffs. Otherwise the Lynx would have better than a 1-4 record in two playoff seasons (in eleven of existence).

On the article itself, Joe's largely right; this team has been held together with chewing gum and string all year. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it and enjoy it, though. Now to convince my supervisor to get out of work early Tuesday for a 2pm Pacific start...

Oct 05, 2009 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Madison

I agree with most people's sentiments. Joe, your audience is not an audience of people who live and breathe ESPN sentiments and columnists' fairy-tale sentiments. Recognize that and focus on something more substantive. It is definitely getting old.

Oct 05, 2009 10:14 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

I completely agree with Adam.

Oct 05, 2009 12:02 PM
rating: -2
 
Drew

I completely disagree with Adam. The reason why Joe is the best writer at BP is that he has strong opinions and isn't afraid to express them. There is a reason why his columns have more comments than all the other columns combined.

Oct 05, 2009 14:34 PM
rating: -1
 
dcarroll

Joe is an outstanding writer and analyst. But I suspect that the reason why he receives so many comments is that his columns stir things up. Whether that is his inclination or his assigned role, or a little of both, is unclear to me.

Oct 06, 2009 08:46 AM
rating: -1
 
twinkies25

Man, Joe just has a bias against the Twins, doesn't he? I'm sick and tired of the Twins getting a bad rep. They aren't a great team, but that doesn't mean Joe should be shooting them down. Yes, his opinionated stuff is refreshing, but dude, cut the anti-Minnesota bias, and talk about how good Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are, instead of bashing a wonderful man, and good player, in Cuddyer, and a growing player in Young. I'm not mad at him, I'm talking the media in general, even BP!!!! Minnesota is great, and once BP realises that, than I'll really be happy (not that I don't love this site, it's just that they have a man crush on Joe Mauer, and forget everyone else, which makes me mad, because I thought they knew better).

I love this website, but I thought you guys would appriciate the Twins, and I thought you knew better than to bash a human being. I guess I was wrong.

Keep up the good work though, but I'd like you to say something nice about the Twins so I don't have a nervous breakdown

Oct 06, 2009 14:27 PM
rating: -3
 
twinkies25

Ok, I apologise for my previous remark. Just disregard everything except the last line.

"Keep up the good work though, but I'd like you to say something nice about the Twins sometimes too, and not just saying bad stuff and loving on Joe Mauer (even though he deserves it)".

I love your work, Joe, just making sure that you remember that Minnesota is a good team, not great, but they are a good team.

Oct 06, 2009 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
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