Now that a few weeks have passed since the Twins latest postseason flame out, I think I'm in a position to take a dispassionate look at why recent history, especially against the New York Yankees, has been so brutal to the Twins. This is the time of year where we all start to look at assembling a winning ball club through free agency, trades and internal prospects for 2011. And much of this speculation may be a result of overreacting to this year's sweep at the hands of the Yankees. I've examined every Twins postseason game since 2003, during which time the Twins have posted an inept 2-15 record against the Yankees and Oakland Athletics. And I'll take a hard look at current conventional wisdom in an attempt to separate fact from myth.
The Twins lack of power pitching hurts them against good offensive teams in the postseason.
|Twins - SP||92.2||67||6.51|
|Opponents - SP||111.1||86||6.95|
|Twins - RP||62.0||51||7.40|
|Opponents - RP||49.1||40||7.30|
Over 17 postseason games, the Twins pitching staff has shown very little difference in strikeout rates relative to their opponents. Opposing starting pitchers have struck out a few more batters per nine innings, but to the tune of less than a half a batter per nine. Looking at the strikeout difference solely from a fielding independent pitching perspective, a difference of 0.44 strikeouts per nine innings corresponds to about 0.1 runs per nine innings. This is not insignificant, but it does not explain very much of a 2.5 run gap (more on this later) between Twins and opposing starting pitchers either. In the bullpen, the Twins have actually struck out batters at a higher rate than their opponents, so it doesn't appear a lack of power arms is the problem there either.
The Twins need an "ace" starting pitcher to win in the playoffs
Verdict: Fact (partial)
|Twins - SP||92.2||52||5.05|
|Opponents - SP||111.1||32||2.59|
Over the last 17 postseason games, the Twins starting pitchers have given up about 2.5 more runs per nine innings than their opponents. Over an average of about 5.4 innings per start, this means starters have put the team into about a 1.5 run hole, on average, once the bullpen enters the game around the sixth inning. So it's clear the Twins starters have been outperformed. But what does this say about the Twins "aces"? Over five Game Ones since 2003, when a Twins ace would have presumably started off the series, starters have given up a total of 11 runs over 29.1 innings, an average of 3.38 runs per nine innings, well below the overall average of 5.05 runs. So it's clear the "aces" have performed better than the remainder of the rotation, why do I consider this to be a partial myth? Because the Twins "aces" have performed about how we would expect a #2 starter to perform. And the #3 starters have given up 20 runs in 24.1 innings, 7.40 per nine. In other words, the issue is not so much needing the "aces" to perform better, it's a matter of adding a true "ace" to the rotation, allowing the Francisco Lirianos and Carl Pavanos of the world to bump down a spot to #2 and #3 respectively.
The Twins need better clutch hitting in the playoffs
Over the last 17 postseason games, the Twins have posted a team batting average of .257, versus .269 for their opponents. While this is a healthy difference, it doesn't come close to explaining being outscored by 42 runs (85-43). The real issue is hitting with runners in scoring position. Opponents have batted .277 (39/144) with RISP, while the Twins have struggled, batting .185 (22/119) with RISP. My back of the envelope calculation indicates that the Twins have lost at least 11 runs solely due to lack of hitting with RISP. There's still a lot to explain, but RISP is a start.
The Twins need more power to compete in the playoffs
Over the last 17 postseason games, the Twins have hit a total of 13 home runs, versus 22 hit by their opponents. Using the standard weighted on base average (wOBA) factor of 1.70 runs per home run, on average, this explains about 15 runs of the difference relative to opponents. But explaining runs is only part of the story. In the playoffs, when two relatively even teams are matched up, the ability to score 2-3 runs with a single swing of the bat can be a key to victory. One needs only to look back at Mark Teixeira's clutch 3-run homer this year, or Alex Rodriguez' late inning home run off Joe Nathan last year to know this is true.
In the end, if I'm Bill Smith and I'm looking to set the Twins up for success in the playoffs, it's not going to be easy. Nor is it going to be cheap, as aces and power hitters are going to be very expensive. But unless the Twins are going to count on Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera retiring after this season, they're going to have to look beyond power pitching in order to start seeing success in the postseason again.