August 15, 2005

A nice, meaningless win

Because of the Twins' lackluster play over the last couple months, Twins fans will lose the chance to watch their team play in October. The excitement that comes along with playoff baseball, even in the first round, is really something special, and not being able to experience that this season is a major loss.

Before that -- before we miss out on pressure-packed games against the Yankees or Red Sox -- what we've also lost is games like last night. The Twins and White Sox, in Chicago, in the middle of August. And it was a good game, too. Yet it didn't matter one bit, as Chicago's lead in the AL Central became insurmountable a long time ago and the Twins' chances in the AL Wild Card race became slim just shortly after that.

In years past, last night's game would have been exciting to watch. This year, it was just a three-hour reminder of how disappointing this season has been for the Twins. It felt like the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl that was a blowout at halftime. Both teams were trying their hardest, because it was important to them, but in the end the White Sox could always just point to the standings and say, "Big deal."

That's the real shame of this season. Not that the Twins will miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001, but that they will miss out on meaningful, exciting, pressurized games in August and September. I never had visions of the Twins winning the World Series this year and there's nothing particularly wonderful about losing in the AL Division Series again. It was the journey to get there that I was looking forward to. Instead, we can look forward to another six weeks of games like last night.

* * * * *

In the seventh inning of last night's game, with Justin Morneau at the plate for Minnesota and Damaso Marte on the mound for Chicago, Twins television play-by-play man Dick Bremer said the following:
Morneau is hitting .246 on the year. He's hit .245 against left-handers, so it's really made very little difference who was pitching against him this year.

Stuff like that makes me crazy. First, it shows an illogical worship of batting average. Second, it shows that Bremer isn't able to think critically about what he watches on a daily basis. And third, it shows that Bremer isn't really all that great when it comes to observing what he sees on a daily basis. Because anyone who thinks Morneau has been as good against lefties as he has against righties this season -- or even that it's remotely close -- just isn't paying enough attention:

2005         AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     IsoP     IsoD
vs RHP .250 .332 .504 .836 .254 .082
vs LHP .245 .278 .364 .642 .119 .033

Like many Twins hitters over the last several years, Morneau has been close to useless against left-handed pitching this season, hitting .245 (Bremer would stop right there) with a horrible .278 on-base percentage and a powerless .364 slugging percentage. Against right-handed pitching, his batting average is nearly as low (Bremer would, again, stop right there), but he has a passable .332 on-base percentage and a very good .504 slugging percentage.

Being able to look past batting average to see other facets of hitting isn't some advanced sabermetric concept, it's as simple as recognizing that all hits are not created equal. Morneau walks a fair amount and hits for excellent power against right-handed pitching, with 30 walks and 14 homers in 266 plate appearances. Against southpaws, he has just three walks and two homers in 117 plate appearances.

The end result, despite nearly identical batting averages, is a 194-point gap in OPS that is more or less the same as the difference between Juan Castro (.661 OPS) and Derek Jeter (.842 OPS). It's almost 2006, people. Let's start acting like it.

* * * * *

One of my favorite writers is coming to town this week. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders and ESPN.com Page 2 will be signing copies of Pro Football Prospectus at The Bookcase of Wayzata Thursday evening.

Here are the details:

What? Aaron Schatz meeting fans, signing books, and kissing babies.
When? Thursday, August 18 at 7 p.m.
Where? The Bookcase of Wayzata: 607 East Lake Street (Mapquest)
Why? Buy a good book, meet two guys named Aaron who write about sports on the internet, and get out of the house.

For more details, you can call the bookstore at 952-473-8341, check out the bookstore's website, or check out Football Outsider's website. Drop me an e-mail if you plan on attending.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Franchises at Birth: The Colt .45s/Astros and the Mets (Part Two) (by Steve Treder)

Today's Picks (87-75, +$1,090):
Kansas City (Greinke) +160 over Seattle (Pineiro)


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