Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Minnesota Twins vs New York Yankees; St. Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Minnesota Twins (87-76) 1st place, American League Central vs New York Yankees (103-59) 1st place, American League East:

Keys for the Twins: HIT!!!!; don't let past pitching implosions cloud the present; give the Yankees pitchers a chance to lose the strike zone.

After the frenzied hot streak that got the Twins into the one-game playoff with the Tigers and the classic game itself, there's every chance of the club taking a deep breath and relaxing, happy that they're in the playoffs. Because of that, they could find themselves ambushed by the Yankees and down 5-0 before they even realize what happened; then they could head back to Minnesota down two games and be swept out of the playoffs before their hangovers have subsided.

The biggest problem a team has when they have to go on a tear down the stretch just to make the playoffs is that by the time they get to the playoffs, their pitching is in shambles. The Twins are in such a state that they're forced to start rookie Brian Duensing in the first playoff game at the new Yankee Stadium; there's every chance that he'll be overwhelmed.

What is a benefit for the Twins in the pitching matchup is that C.C. Sabathia has historically been too strong and amped up in the playoffs and has not pitched well. If they're not overly aggressive, they could get some baserunners and some flat fastballs to hit; in Yankee Stadium, with the way the ball flies out of the park, they'll score their share of runs.

The Twins have had trouble holding leads against the Yankees because of bullpen meltdowns and Yankee power and patience; if they get a lead, they have to hold it. This can be handled by scoring, scoring and scoring more. The Yankees pitching isn't in the greatest shape despite their salaries and if the Twins are as pesky as they've been, they have a shot.

Keys for the Yankees: Get good starting pitching; score early and often; take a lead into the late innings.

The key to the Yankees post-season will be the pitching. For the record, I'd start Andy Pettitte in game 2 over A.J. Burnett, but manager Joe Girardi chose to go the opposite way. The issue of Jorge Posada/Jose Molina behind the plate for Burnett is a distraction and nothing more; I'd DH Posada, but can understand why Girardi is doing what he's doing. The tension between Girardi and Posada has always been palpable and is only going to get worse as things move forward.

The Yankees have the advantage of being able to bash their way past any starting pitching issues; that the Twins pitching staff is so tattered will lead to baserunners and possibly big innings. The Twins don't generally beat themselves, so the Yankees need to be patient and wait for the young Twins pitchers to make mistakes.

Burnett has never pitched in a post-season game and might be too pumped up to have good command; the decision to use Molina----with whom Burnett's more comfortable---- behind the plate is what's best for the team. Whether it does much good remains to be seen.

The Yankees bullpen, with Joba Chamberlain joining Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera, must slam the door if they have a lead. If the games are close late, the Yankees have historically had the Twins number.

What will happen:

The Twins aren't going to be satisfied by just making the playoffs, but there's bound to be some inadvertent relaxation that goes on as the game starts; this could lead to a rapid deficit in the series. The Yankees starting pitching issues are going to crop up. If the Twins somehow won game one, I'd be frantic over Burnett in game two if I was a Yankee fan.

I doubt that will happen.

The Yankees are going to score and score a lot. These are going to be high-scoring affairs and the Twins cannot hang with the Yankees in a slugfest.

It's going to be fascinating to see Carl Pavano pitch against the Yankees in game 3 and if the series is tied 1-1 for the game? It's a must watch.

The Twins pitching is in such a shambles and so exhausted that it won't matter how many runs their offense scores, they can't hang with the Yankees aside from taking one game. And that's what will happen.


  • St. Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers:

Keys for the Cardinals: Feast on the Dodgers starting pitching; get good starting pitching of their own; get runners on base in front of Albert Pujols; Matt Holliday must make the Dodgers pay.

The Cardinals rode the trio of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Piniero into the playoffs. The starting pitching matchups are clearly to the advantage of the Cardinals as the Dodgers are starting Randy Wolf in the opener; young Clayton Kershaw in game 2; and evidently Vicente Padilla in game 3. The Cardinals starting pitching is battle-tested and tough; Wainwright proved his fearlessness in the 2006 post-season when he took over as closer and was brilliant. Carpenter might be heading for the Hall of Fame if he wasn't so injury-prone; and Piniero has enjoyed a resurgence under Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan.

Despite La Russa's skills at mixing and matching with his bullpen, closer Ryan Franklin has never closed in the playoffs and struggled down the stretch; the Dodgers bullpen is superior to that of the Cardinals. The Cardinals need their starting pitchers to get deeply into the games to avoid any bullpen meltdowns.

It goes without saying that Matt Holliday is going to get his RBI opportunities as the Dodgers will avoid giving Albert Pujols anything to hit at all. If Holliday is hitting, the Cardinals are going to score a lot against the Dodgers shaky starters.

Keys for the Dodgers: Manny being Manny; starting pitching; score, score, score; get into the Cardinals bullpen; hand the game to their bullpen with a lead; control Pujols/Holliday.

I wouldn't feel comfortable with Wolf in the opener; Kershaw has wicked stuff, but he's a kid, it could go either way with him; and they're starting Vicente Padilla in game 3 and won't have Chad Billingsley until game 4----if there is a game 4. The Dodgers must keep the games close into the late innings and hope the Cardinals have to dip into their bullpen, then the Dodgers will be able to feast.

Manny Ramirez had a bad year for him, but he tends to rise to the occasion in the post-season. If Manny is ripping, he's as, if not more, dangerous than Pujols. My hunch is that the Cardinals pitchers are going to challenge him and that could be very, very risky. If Manny is hitting, he could wreck the whole series for the Cardinals.

Manager Joe Torre isn't going to let Pujols beat him; early in the series, they'll see what Holliday can do with runners on base. If he doesn't hit, the Cardinals will have trouble scoring. Torre's not going to go long with his starting pitchers either, which will make whomever is the long reliever of choice very, very important. (It's unknown whether Torre and the Dodgers are going to have James McDonald, Jon Garland or Jeff Weaver on the roster; I'd use McDonald.)

What will happen:

The Dodgers bullpen is superior to that of the Cardinals and I do believe their lineup will be able to score on the Cardinals solid starting pitching. Manny is going to bust out in a big way. While it's almost impossible to stop Pujols completely----there's been talk about what's "wrong" with Pujols because he's had a homer drought; watch him go deep on the first pitch he sees----he can be controlled. Holliday will be of utmost importance to the Cardinals chances. He might also be pressing a bit because a big post-season can increase a player's paycheck exponentially as he enters free agency----see Beltran, Carlos.

Playoff series usually boil down to a battle of the bullpens and I have more confidence in the Dodgers relievers than those of the Cardinals. This is going to be a long, drawn out battle and will come down to a game 5. In that game 5, the last team standing will be the Dodgers.


  • Viewer Mail 10.7.2009:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes:

I couldn't get on your blogspot site again today. Have it checked! I like your prediction for Sox-Angels. If the Yanks get through the AL Central winner, as you predicted they would (since you predicted they'll win the WS), I'll be able to drive down to Anaheim to see a game.

I think we established long ago that I'm a complete and utter clod, so it should be no surprise that I can't even cut and paste a website url properly.

The Boss will only permit you to go see the Yankees-Angels if you wear the Peppermint Patty T-shirt.

John Seal writes RE: the Joba Rules:

Prince Paul,

As part of your response to Joe's e-mail regarding stat zombies vs scouts, you wrote:

"Have the Yankees had success with their research and development in how to use Joba Chamberlain? On paper, they insist what they're doing is right, but what about in practice? Has it worked? Would Chamberlain be better if they loosened up a bit, lost their paranoia and let him pitch?"

Now I'm no Yankees fan, and barely pay any attention to the team. So consider me well out of the loop when it comes to the Joba Rules. My question is: are those rules, as you imply, strictly based on statistical analysis? Or are there (God forbid) intangibles (e.g., age, personality, family background, media spotlight issues) that may also be influencing the way the team is handling him? In other words, could the Joba Rules be the product of an unhealthy construct built equally from stat zombie viscera and scout zombie bits and pieces?

PS. Love your production work, especially on those De La Soul albums.

No one seems to know exactly what the genesis of these floating rules are. All we hear is a vague reference to gradually increasing the number of innings that he'll be allowed to throw. Supposedly, the optimal increase is no more than 40 innings a year; after that, the thinking goes that it's more likely a pitcher will get hurt. That they keep altering the "rules" tells me they're just pulling stuff out of their asses to see what works and that's more dangerous than adhering to them strictly.

To me, it's taken out of context. You can find pitchers who've gotten hurt throwing loads and loads of innings and pitches; and you can find pitchers who haven't. Chamberlain had arm trouble from overuse in college and that's part of the reason that he fell to the Yankees in the draft to begin with despite his obvious gifts. There's also an implication that his motion is stressful; I don't think it is overly stressful.

The Red Sox have been pioneers in studying historical pitchers, their own possible draftees' medical histories and which types get hurt and don't; one would assume the Yankees are doing something similar. The reactions of the fans and media have affected the Yankees use of Chamberlain as well whether they admit or not. If they really believe in what they're doing, why are they constantly adjusting it?

I'm sure the scouts were in love with Chamberlain on first sight; and the Yankees are trying to apply stat zombie numbers and computer printouts to keep him healthy and it's making a mess. Part of a pitching coach's job is to be able to spot flaws and minuscule alterations to a pitcher's mechanics that show he's tired. Pitchers get hurt when their legs go because they begin to overstress their arms; so if the pitching coach and manager aren't allowed to have some flexibility with leaving a pitcher in if he's pitching well and looks strong, all the rules and numbers in the world aren't going to let him develop to his full potential.

With the haphazard way Chamberlain's been used, it's no wonder his mechanics desert him. The only way to develop timing is repetition and he's not getting the required reps.

Um. "Production work"? "De La Soul"? Uh. Thanks(?)


That one went past me John. Anyone will tell you I'm notoriously slow on the uptake.

Joe writes RE stat zombies:

Nope, didn't answer the question. You consistenly harp on "stat zombies" without any illustration on why using statistics is bad. Your answer has you backpedalling like a cornerback. YOU are the one engaging in name-calling, YOU are the one trying to exclude people.

I'm a BTF regular, if you read through the pages over there you'd often find spirited debate over various issues both stat-based and otherwise.

When you resort to name calling (as you do on your blog) then you are the cause of the "implication that I'm some crusty, Bob Feller-style miserable old bastard who doesn't want to hear about anything that's happened after 1985."

I answered the question, Joe. You just don't like the answer I gave, and that's on you.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the above comment:

I think this is the part that answers the question, Mr. Joe:

"Not only do I use statistics, but I don't think any organization can effectively function without a group of stat zombies analyzing and crunching numbers. In today's game it would be idiotic to ignore the stats----old and new----that are popping up every day. My issue with stat-based analysis is not the endeavor in and of itself, but the way the adherence to the numbers, computer printouts and "optimal" usage for players has permeated the game and taken experience, knowledge (about players and people) away, ignoring and ridiculing those that look at other aspects because there's no "hard data" to quantify them. There's nothing wrong with statistical evidence as long as it's not used at the expense of other methods of building a team; methods that have just as much----and sometimes more----value. Sometimes a veteran scout's eye is a better judge of a player than said player's numbers. He might like the way a player moves; runs; throws; or even behaves----there's nothing wrong with that and it's worked before. The arrogance and pomposity inherent with the new blood that's infecting the game has degenerated us into the current situation. Warring factions within organizations unable to find common ground; people thinking that because they can read numbers from a sheet that they can tell an experienced and successful baseball man what to do and getting abusive when they're dismissed; using numbers as the end-all, be-all when flexibility and interpretive skill is required----all have created this battle between belief systems where they shouldn't be one.
This idea----that gained prominence in the farce that is Moneyball----that the Ivy League educated "geniuses" are going to reinvent a game that's impossible to quantify was absurd on the surface. No one is dismissing the importance of a high on base percentage; but it's not the final word in all things. Sometimes chances have to be taken that aren't cut and dried in the numbers. Have the Yankees had success with their research and development in how to use Joba Chamberlain? On paper, they insist what they're doing is right, but what about in practice? Has it worked? Would Chamberlain be better if they loosened up a bit, lost their paranoia and let him pitch? Did the Mets make a mistake in trading a player they didn't want in Ryan Church for Jeff Francoeur? All we heard at the time was how much of a "better" player Church is than Francoeur; but what did Church do for the Braves? Almost nothing. Francoeur, aggravating because of his lack of patience, is five years younger and is a thoroughbred who needs to be bridled. The Mets may not be able to tame him, but if they do, they'll have an MVP-quality talent who lit up the clubhouse with his personality, hustle and enthusiasm. It's not just about OBP. It's about building a team of people. It's about maximizing what a player can do and using him accordingly instead of dismissing and dumping him for what he can't do. The stats aren't the problem; the people who are elbowing their way into the game armed with no knowledge aside from numbers are. If you look at the comments on BBTF about whatever subject is broached, there's no discussion; no exchange of ideas; no debate----just lame attempts at abuse and it's not helping the cause for those who believe in statistics. The reasonable stat people know that there's more to building a team than just applying numbers----it's failed miserably when it's been attempted most notably with Paul DePodesta and the Dodgers and Sandy Alderson with the Padres. As long as the situation is "us against them" with no room for consensus, nothing's going to change and neither side will gain anything from such a war of attrition until one side is completely dead. Both schools of thought should agree that that won't help anyone or advance either side of the debate and until this condescension and arrogance ends such a consensus won't be reached."

Makes sense to me.

Oh, Captain, my Captain!!!

Fragile Freddy (aka JOE!!!!) writes:

So effectively Mr. Lebowitz (hope I spelled that right, sorry if I didn't) has no problem with statistical analysis his issue is with people with bad people skills.

However, for some reason scouts and others are not part of his name calling campaign, only "stat zombies."

I don't quite grasp lines like "adherence to the numbers...has permeated the game." He seems to be going out of his way to be critical only of statistical endeavors.

He states there is an "arrogance and pomposity inherent with the new blood that's infecting the game has degenerated us into the current situation" without explaining what the "current situation" is. Assuming that the "current situation" is an overreliance on stats, please explain why this is bad?

To me it seems that relying on factual data rather than nebulous concepts like "Player X is a winner" is the way I'd want to run a business. Just as I would not build a house without the aid of a level and a tape measure using all the available information before building a ball club seems wise.

Mr. Lebowitz chooses instead to resort to name calling which does not exactly inspire confidence in the equity of his positions.

It's indicative of an attempt to objectify people by casting them in the third person instead of confronting them directly. Such was the case in The Silence of the Lambs as the serial killer Buffalo Bill orders his victim to follow instructions:

It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.

It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

Now it places the lotion in the basket.

It places the lotion in the basket.

The only person who addresses Mr. Lebowitz in the third person while in his presence is Mr. Lebowitz.

That you chose to use a different name to do this is even more of a reflection on you than the refusal to accept Mr. Lebowitz's initial answer to your question based on Mr. Lebowitz's well-considered feelings on how to run a club.

The way the stat zombies run their clubs is rapidly disintegrating into ridicule and rampant firings and this has nothing to do with name-calling or misunderstanding of numbers; it has to do with bottom line incompetence.

One by one, the DePodestas, Ricciardis and even the Beanes and the exalted Bill James are shown to be just as imperfect and worse in formulating successful organizations. Your quote to "build a house without the aid of a level and a tape measure using all the available information before building a ball club" falls apart as the results of the previously mentioned GMs and analysts are looked at with greater scrutiny instead of the star stricken awe created by Moneyball. The fear to protest that is inherent in those who don't believe in it as a final arbiter of finding players has bolstered the argument and emboldened the stat zombies for far too long.

Such is not the case with Mr. Lebowitz.

Mr. Lebowitz is not afraid.

You have something to say to me, address me directly. And use your real name rather than hiding behind "Fragile Freddy" Fragile Joe.


Joe said...

Oops, I had not realized I was logged into my account, never intended to obscure myself.

You still haven't answered the questions as I pointed out.

Jeff said...

For the record, I believe the "name calling" began with the rampant ramblings of those making fun of Mr. Lebowitz and his site on BBTF way back when. From time to time I check over there to see what the discussion is, and said name calling seems to be normal activity for those involved. Even I was attacked, much to my amusement; and that childish brand of chiding one another with clever EQA, PECOTA and VORP insertions -- which attempt to mask the deeper, underlying angst of the group mind -- seems to be the only element that garners any type of discussion, if you can call it a discussion.

Gabriel said...

What answer do you seek, Joe? Mr. Lebowitz answered with his point of view, that I think is very reasonable. That's why time series analysis is not the ultimate way to model a stock, for example. You need the expertise of your finance guys to guide you and to eliminate illusions created by the numbers. Statistics are not an end, they're a tool. That's the same think Mr. Lebowitz is proclaming. Most sabermetricians discard any argument that is not based on their statistics, and even then they reject other people's numbers because there are stats that they like more than others.

And if you want a math argument, variance exists. Therefore, altough the numbers can say something VERY useful, the events present some form of randomness and therefore the results aren't definitive. And in this variance is included things like attitude from the player, pitching motions, and the like. As long as the variance is positive, no result can be said definitive.

She-Fan said...

I was all set to leave a pithy comment but then my phone rang and I've been on with someone for a half hour while trying to remember what I was going to write here! Forgive me. Just know that I'm counting on your prediction of Yankees in 4 to be 100% accurate. No pressure though.