Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Playoff Predictions and Added Ranting

The mad scramble for a spot on the 25-man playoff roster is under way and the countdown has begun before Tim Lincecum squares off against Derek Lowe on Thursday, but before I get to any of that, here are some quick predictions for the first round, starting with the American League.

Rays 3, Rangers 2

I kind of wish these teams weren't meeting in the first round, because I like them both and would normally like to see a deep playoff run for both of them. The Rangers haven't been to the postseason since 1999 and haven't won a playoff series in their entire history, while the Rays are the paragon of shrewd team building, utilizing very limited resources. Both teams are built similarly, with an emphasis on pitching and defense, but the Rays have a deceptively good offense and I think they'll squeak this out. Should be an exciting series, though.

Speaking of the Rays, the next time some beer-drunk simpleton tries to come at you with the "Moneyball is dead" argument and says that Billy Beane's saber-friendly methods of building team offense didn't work, just point to Tampa. The Rays ranked third in the AL in runs scored, despite finishing thirteenth in batting average. If you look up and down their starting lineup, you'll find a rogue's gallery of subpar batting averages, the most extreme being Carlos Pena at .196. How did they score runs with such an inability to rack up hits?

Well, good friend, they did it by ranking sixth in the league in OBP and first in walks. Even though the batting average was low, they were still getting a lot of runners on base. When they got on base, they were great at moving across the diamond, as the team led the league with 172 steals and only got caught 45 times. The love of OBP and the disregard for batting average are, of course, two of the major tenets of Moneyball that traditionalists still get up in arms about, all these years later.

The Rays are doing a nice job of proving that the philosophy* not only still works, but that you can utilize these skills without having to rely on slow players with zero defensive skills like the A's did in the early-Aughts. The Rays have compiled a bunch of burners who can play good defense while also getting on base at an above-average rate. They're almost a perfect example of a "Moneyball" team, even if no one realizes it or decides to write a book about them. Tell the drunk guy at the bar to put that in his Alaskan Amber and choke on it.

*I guess we'll call it that; focusing simply on OBP when discussing whether Moneyball has "worked" or not has always been a shining display of a clear misunderstanding of the book, but that's a rant long past its expiration date.

Yankees 3, Twins 1

In 2003, 2004, and in 2009, the Twins made the playoffs and faced the Yankees, only to get creamed each time. 2004 was the most devastating, as the Twins appeared ready to take a 2-0 lead back to the Metrodome, only to have an exhausted Joe Nathan blow it in extra innings in Game 2. Then Ruben Sierra inexplicably showed a pulse in Game 4 of that series, putting Minnesota in the unenviable position of having Kyle Lohse on the mound with the season on the line. Soon the Twins were no more.

Is this the year the Twins finally break through and beat their erstwhile tormentors? I hope so, because I'm sick of the fucking Yankees. They used to be a fun villain, awesome to hate in a Kurtwood-Smith-in-Robocop kind of way, but now they're just a bunch of boring geriatrics, and if they advance to the World Series instead of the three other teams that feature exciting young players, my head might explode.

With Justin Morneau healthy, I'd take the Twins, but he's gone and I don't trust Minnesota's pitching at all. Who's behind Francisco Liriano? Carl Pavano? I fear smoke and mirrors and a low strikeout rate. Scott Baker? Kevin Slowey? Both are likely to get tattooed by the Yankee sluggers, and the Twins' miserable corner outfield defense won't help matters. The Yankees have pitching issues themselves, but I think their bats should be more than enough to blow by the Twins. Gotta root for Joe Mauer, though, who my Minnesota-based uncle insists is my clone (looks-wise; certainly not talent-wise).

Phillies 3, Reds 0

I don't see this being close, but maybe I'm wrong. The Phils have essentially three aces going in Roy Halliday, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, and that seems like death to opponents in a best-of-five series. The Reds have a terrific set of hitters, but man, that's quite a gauntlet to run in a short series. Combine that with their high-octane offense, one which I doubt the Reds' shaky pitching staff can control, and I think this'll be a quick exit for Cincinnati. Which would be too bad. Any new blood that makes its way deep into the playoffs is good for baseball and more fun for me.

Giants, ehhhhhh...

I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to make a prediction for this series because I'm not going to jinx this team. Any words in this space will involve me predicting the Giants to sweep behind three perfect games from the starting pitchers and a five-homer performance from Buster Posey in Game 3, so I refuse to be the one responsible for the jinx that brings the Giants down.

I could use the old reverse-jinx trick and predict that the Braves will win, but then I just look like an asshole rooting against his team for the sake of being right on some stupid blog predictions. Then I really look like an asshat if the Braves do win. So forget it.

--Here's a brief look at some players who I don't think should be on the playoff roster come Thursday. I'm sure you can guess one of them, if you've read through this blog in the past 24 hours and are familiar with my typical obsessive hating.

-Travis Ishikawa. I think Ishikawa might be the most one-dimensional player I've ever seen. He does one thing well, and that's play great defense at first base. Sadly, that's the only position he plays and he doesn't hit. His performance as a pinch hitter this year has drawn praise, but his .874 OPS in that role is a total fluke. Small sample size, people! Pinch hitting statistical noise and good glove aren't going to be enough. The Giants could use a good left-handed bench bat, but Mike Fontenot will have to do.

-Dan Runzler. On a team that now sports Javier Lopez along with Jeremy Affeldt, Mr. Erratic is about as redundant as you can possibly get. I can't stomach Runzler's walk-the-bases loaded act in regular season blowouts, so I think my eyes would melt if I had to watch him pitch in the postseason. His exclusion is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

-Chris Ray. If the Giants really are going with eleven pitchers, that means a three-man battle royale between Ray, Guillermo Mota, and Barry Zito for that final spot in the pen. Zito has been such a mainstay that I think the Giants are going to keep him active, regardless of whether he deserves it or not. Hooray for tokenism! Mota was a total non-entity in the second half of the year, but he still throws hard and his ability to get a strikeout could prove useful in a tight spot. Ray is essentially mop-up fodder whom I have little faith in, but he could still have some value if the Giants do decide to go with twelve pitchers.

-Jose Guillen. Yep, here it is. Guillen will never be left off the playoff roster, but he certainly should be. I just freaking hate this guy. He's a bad player and everyone realizes it except for the two guys who matter: Brain Sabean and Bruce Bochy. Aaron Rowand can't hit anymore, but he's still pretty good with the glove, so he gives you some value. Nate Schierholtz is a great glove who needs to be around as a late-game defensive sub. Guillen gives you nothing but the ghost of a hitting ability that was once there. Unfortunately that ghost haunts Bruce Bochy's dreams, playing him like a Power Glove.

--A quick link for your enjoyment. Keith Law, one of my favorite baseball columnists around, offered his postseason award ballot on ESPN the other day. The real fun, though, begins in the comments section, and it gets really good when Klaw starts to respond. It's pure comedy gold.

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Can I just burn my money instead?
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