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.


Post a Comment

<< Home