Wooden's World of Baseball

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The '87 Twins: No Longer The Worst of The Best?

First of all, I have to thank Tom Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, for the snarky (sneaky?) headline. I've long referred to the 1987 Twins as the worst World Series Champions for three reasons:

1.) 85 regular-season wins
2.) Just two road playoff wins -- both against Detroit in the ALCS (read: no road wins in the World Series)
3.) An abysmal 29-52 road record (contrasted to 56-25 at home)

Remember, this is back in the day when home-field advantage was rotated back-and-forth without regard to record: the AL had it during the World Series in odd-numbered years, the NL in even-numbered years; likewise during the LCS with the A.L. West and the N.L. East in the "odds," the N.L. West and A.L. East during the "evens." Take a look again at point #3 if you're not getting where this is going.

The implication is rather obvious: In a short series, that random (unearned) one-game edge can be huge — especially for a team like the '87 Twins, who had just two pitchers who won more than 9 games during the regular season (Blyleven and Viola) and, naturally, those same two pitchers won six of the eight games needed, albeit with a rather pedestrian 4.72 ERA (contrast that to the run of Johnson and Schilling in 2001, in which the Diamondback Duo posted an unbelievable 1.31 ERA over 89.2IP).

Naturally, this begs the question: Are the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals the "new" worst of the best?

Based on the above criteria, yes, because they had fewer regular-season wins. Now the obvious counterargument is that the Cards had to go one more round and had to face three opponents with superior records (San Diego, 88 wins; N.Y. Mets 97 wins; Detroit, 95 wins) and home-field in the first two rounds was determined by regular-season performance (sorry, but the All-Star game is a weak determinant when overall interleague records is so much more obvious and fair).

The obvious retort: The Twins played the bulk of their games (84) against the then-far-superior A.L. East (e.g. the 1987 Yank-mes finished 4th with 89 wins) and posted a 42-36 divisional record while the Cards played half their games in their own division and still had a losing record (39-42).

Well, let's look at something beyond wins and losses: How about the most basic of stats: runs scored (offense) vs. runs allowed (defense)? The 1987 Twins scored 786 and allowed 806; the 2006 Cards scored 781 and allowed 762. Using the Bill James Pythagorean Theorem, the '87 Twins overachieved by finishing 85-77 instead of 79-83 whereas the Cards were only 1 game better: 83-78 vs. 82-79. How do these totals rank vs. their peers? The 1987 Twins were 8th of 14 A.L. teams on offense (runs scored) and 9th on defense (runs allowed) while the 2006 Cards were 6th and 5th of 16 N.L. teams, respectively.

The 1987 Twins had one undeserving HOF player (Puckett), one deserving-but-not-yet-voted-in HOF player (Blyleven), and one HOF player who should be embarrassed to wear the ring (Carlton). It's too soon to tell for sure, but the Cards may have them matched there with Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds — assuming that voters will now be favoring defense once again (14 Gold Gloves between them, both in the Top 5 for most won at their position). Not that that necessarily matters (not every World Series winner has a HOF player on it) but it's measuring stick that many folks use readily nevertheless when comparing teams.

As much as it pains me to admit it, the 2006 Cardinals do appear to be just slightly worse than the 1987 Twins, even though they were better statistically (+19 vs. -20 run differential). The tiebreaker? Divisional record. The 1987 Twins posted a winning record against a seven-team division that was 26 games below .500 vs. the opposing division. The 2006 Cardinals posted a losing record against a six-team division that was 65 games under .500 vs. the rest of the NL and the AL. Even when you factor out interleague play, it's a worse division.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Expansion and New Playoff Format in the Can-Am?

Thanks to Joe at Spirit Fans HQ, we've learned that the Can-Am League may be tinkering with its playoff format yet again — another tangential admission that the North Shore were given short shrift for the second straight season. In the same Nashua Telegraph article, there is reference to expansion and the elimination of the All-Star series with the American Association (nee Central League).

Playoff Format
I recognize the financial implications of having a split season. Nashua and Quebec, the two bottom-feeders in the 1st half, were much more competitive in the 2nd half, even if it didn't show in Nashua's attendance figures (that's another topic altogether). In any other season, Quebec would have won the 2nd half, but the Spirit's 33-win tally (a league record, including its former incarnation as the Northeast League) was the roadblock.

That said, I've never been a fan of "predetermined" formats. Quebec — a #3 wildcard team — getting the 5th and deciding game was a joke. Quite frankly, I'm now starting to think that a team that wins both halves should get to host the final four games (since a 2-1-2 format would create "too much travel") but that's probably something that will happen once every 10 years or so.

If 2-2-1 is out, then I believe that the team with the best overall record gets to host three games. I'm sure most teams would prefer to go 3-2, but I like the idea of having a choice. If the teams are in close proximity, then a 2-3 format might be in order, especially if you finish the season at home.

The perennial rumor of Atlantic City leaving the Atlantic League has resurfaced. The Nashua Pride are saying they'll give it another try, but the betting man has to go with one team out, one team in rather than Atlantic City joining and the Grays or Aces being reborn. I'm sure some folks think the Plymouth Eels may be the 10th team, but that's also assuming that both Atlantic City and Plymouth can join (all indications seem to be pointing towards Plymouth gunning for the CanAm). Further complicating matters: The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs — will they be online and ready to go in 2007? One would think that the Atlantic League's goal is to drop the Road Warriors in favor of the Blue Crabs. Food for thought, but way too early to call.

All Star Game
I think they mean more in the minors when they're intraleague, but not the stupid "World" vs. USA format, which is really contrived (especially when Puerto Rico, an American territory, is deemed to be non-USA). Think Northern Division vs. Southern Division. Or first team vs. second team. But given the shortness of the season, naming a midseason and postseason team is probably the way to go. I'm sure the players would appreciate those three off days added into June, July and August (perhaps the 1st monday of those months?) to get more rest.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Offseason Blues and Ramblings

It's hard enough that baseball, as I follow it, has been over now for six weeks. (I'm counting the Red Sox in that summation). But it's even harder as a displaced New England sports fan here in suburban D.C., where football matters more — and it's bad football right now. (The 2006 Deadskins are very much of the 1991 Patriots, if that helps paint the picture).

Tonight's NLCS getting rained out doesn't help. Not that I would have watched more than 2-3 innings, with Fox's habit of starting games at 8:19 p.m., which is usually the middle of the 5th inning on a normal baseball night in the summer. I understand the need to start in prime time, but why can't they do the freaking pregame @ 7:30 on the regional Fox Sports Nets, then have first pitch at 8:05? And, please, do we have to see who's in the crowd every 3 minutes? It may have been clever, maybe even necessary, when Fox was a fledgling network and needed every gimmick possible to promote its TV series, but now it's just annoying.

I read that above paragraph and realize the effect that Bob Ryan is having on me. But he's right: The GAME is entertainment enough. Even in lovely little Woodbridge, VA, home of the Potomac Nationals (would you believe, an affiliate of the Washington Nationals?) they play music between innings and whenever there's a break in the action. I've actually stopped conversations and picked them back up after the warmup tosses were done.

How long until Spring Training?