Thursday, May 27, 2010

Karma is a Brat

In life, it seems like your luck always ends up evening out. Long streaks of fortune luck will invariably be followed up by a cluster of bad breaks. You get a sweet new job, your girlfriend dumps you. You find a $20 bill on the ground, a passing car splashes muddy water all over your freshly dry-cleaned suit. The timing can change, but ultimately it seems like the outcomes that aren't under your direct control inevitably seem to balance out.

The same is true in baseball. Sometimes a mediocre pitcher will have a prolonged hot streak in which they're consistently getting opposing lineups to hit the ball right at their fielders (see: Hernandez, Livan). Sometimes hitters will slump for weeks because all of their line drives seem to be getting caught. Lucky and unlucky streaks can run teamwide as well. Just look at our Minnesota Twins.

In 2008, the Twins' lineup was exceedingly lucky. As a team, they registered a .748 OPS that ranked ninth in the AL, just below the league average. They hit only 111 home runs, fewest in the Junior Circuit. Their team on-base percentage of .340 was nothing worth writing home about. And yet, the team's hits always seemed to come at the right time and as a result the Twins ranked third in the league in runs scored while narrowly missing a postseason berth. A .305/.380/.446 hitting line with runners in scoring position will help with that. Given that their overall hitting line of .276/.340/.408 was substantially worse than their mark in scoring opportunities, some ventured to wonder whether the team was simply "clutch."

The answer was no. There is little evidence that individual players achieve significantly different results in clutch situations over a prolonged period of time, much less entire teams. That 2008 team had a fortuitous distribution of hits and the result is that they scored substantially more runs than one should have expected based on their overall offensive performance.

Flash forward two years, where the Twins finally seem to see those unlucky rain clouds rolling overhead to wash away all the good luck they experienced in that charmed '08 campaign. Now, the Twins are fielding a much more imposing overall lineup, and yet they cannot seem to get the big hits when they need them. They have the league's second-best on-base percentage at .355, but they're constantly wasting runners thanks to a .264 average and .749 OPS with runners in scoring position (compared to .273 and .779 overall). The more runners these Twins put on, the more inept they become at the plate. With runners on second and third, they're hitting .167 with a .662 OPS. With the bases loaded, they're hitting .169 with a .478 OPS.

So is this team, which includes many of the same players as that 2008 group, simply less clutch? No. It's not like batters are stepping up and completely abandoning their approach at the plate in key situations -- they're striking out and walking with about the same frequency as would be expected. It's what happens when the ball is put in play that is killing them; the 2010 Twins' overall batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .305, but with runners on second and third that drops to .190. With the bases loaded, it drops to .175.

Compare that to the 2008 squad which saw its overall .316 BABIP shoot up to .332 with runners in scoring position. Their BABIP with runners on second and third was .351; with the bases loaded, .324. In '08, batted balls would consistently find a place to land in big spots. This year, in key run-scoring opportunities, line drives are continually falling into outfielders' gloves and hard-hit grounders are turning into double plays rather than seeing-eye singles.

Me and Phil Mackey, along with a few others, had a minor Twitter debate a couple weeks ago because he refused to label the Twins' tendency to fail with the bases loaded a "trend," since his reasoned stance was that the bad breaks were guaranteed to turn around at some point. I don't know how that stops an existing pattern of outcomes from being a trend, but while Phil is right that the team's bad fortune is almost certain to turn around at some point, there's no denying what we've seen thus far and there's no guarantee that it will end any time soon. It's clearly not happening yet, as evidenced by the 28 runners that have been left on base during the team's current three-game losing streak. The lucky hits kept coming pretty much all year long for the 2008 Twins, so it's really not unthinkable that this group could remain snake-bit for weeks, months, or even the remainder of the season.

Despite what a lot of misdirected anger from fans and bloggers might have you believe, the team's struggles in scoring opportunities are not the fault of the manager nor the result of a lack of intestinal fortitude among his players. It's simply an increasingly long string of bad luck. Hopefully it will turn around soon, because for the time being, this talented team is awfully tough to watch.


Ed Bast said...

So the Twins' ineptitude against the Yankees over the years boils down to bad luck? Sorry, it's more than that. The team seems to tighten up in big games under Gardy. I don't know if it's "clutch" or playing scared or what. But the outcome of a game or series of games depends on more than luck, regardless of how reassuring it may be to believe things will turn around and they'll win 14 of the next 15 against NY.

Nick N. said...

This wasn't really about the Twins' lack of recent success against the Yankees, it was more referring to their lack of success in scoring opportunities this season. Although certainly their struggles against the Yankees have been tied to bad luck -- any time you're losing that many games by one run, you're getting some bad breaks.

myjah said...


AK47 said...

Baseball, of all the major sports, always has a way of evening things out. I agree Nick, this talented team is tough to watch lately.

Leslie said...

Can we just admit this Twins team is overrated? If we think that way, maybe we can enjoy for what it is.

BTW, I have had it with Dick and Bert. I am no longer watching Twins baseball on Fox Sports North. Thank God I have MLB.TV where I can listen to other announcers. They are better options than Dick and Bert. Yes, it includes Hawk Harrelson.

Kopy said...

The reason the Twins' luck should turn around is called the law of averages. Unless the field shrinks or the opponents are allowed to bring in a 10th fielder with RISP, the gaps between situational BABIP should decrease. The odds of a ball in play being a hit are (essentially) the same no matter how many players are on base, so the more plate appearances the Twins accumulate, the more the discrepancies between BA with no RISP and RISP should shrink.

It's the same reason you shouldn't bet red on the roulette wheel just because it stopped on black the last 5 times. A roulette wheel being red 20% of the time after 10 spins is not out of the ordinary, but being red 20% of the time after 1000000 spins is practically impossible.

P.S. Dick and Bert rule.

bostro said...

It isn't bad luck if you can't get the ball out of the infield.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else interested in Joe Mauer having 2 HR after 47 games?

Perhaps the 28 last year was an outlier, or a career year, and now he is back to his usual 8-12 per season.

steven said...


The reason you think the Twins "tighten up" is because they aren't getting good results. If the balls were finding holes, then no one would have that opinion.


That is definitely not true. a lot of the bad luck is tied to hitting balls sharply at fielders. Which is the best formula for a double play. But it is luck that so many are going at fielders this year.

If they would be, instead, hitting bloops over the shortstop's head, we would be calling this team clutch, when they were just getting lucky.

Ryan M. Boser said...

Agree with Ed. I don't really buy the "luck" thing... there's been something going on between the ears. Choking is contagious. So are clutch performances. These are human beings, not random numbers on a roulette wheel. Here's hoping that last night's win and Kubel/Blackburn's clutch performances can have a positive contagious effect coming into the summer months. After losing their last 12 against the Yanks, we've won 2 of our last 4. That has to do wonders for our confidence going into a 5-game playoff series.

Anonymous said...

if it is all about luck then lets just field the cheapest team we can and hope for good luck. luck might factor into a couple plays a game and that is it, but the opposing team gets lucky sometimes too. luck is like when you lay down a bunt that rolls foul, hits a rough patch and bounces back fair for a single. luck is not an excuse for the pathetic performance with RISP. watching a pitch right down the middle and then swinging at a bad pitch is the cause. if you get a good pitch and hammer it right at the short stop for a double play, that's not bad luck, that's baseball. from the games i have watched that isn't the case. most of the time they are either taking a perfect pitch to hit and then swinging at a pitch that is tougher to handle and hitting a weak grounder, popping out, swinging and missing. Or they just put the first pitch they see in play, even if it is a bad pitch. It's like they decide before going to the plate whether or not to swing at the first pitch and that is not the way you want to do it, especially with RISP. if you get a good pitch to hit, you go after it, even if it is the first pitch. poor pitch selection is the theme here. you're not going to get a hit every time with RISP if you swing at a good pitch, but you will definitely get more hits. that's the key. not luck. BABIP is not all based on luck. sharply hit balls find holes more often than balls that aren't hit solid. and the twins aren't hitting them solid right now. stop trying to find excuses for them. they will turn it around once they start hitting better pitches.

Ed Bast said...


The reason I think the Twins tighten up is their 6-18 record in the playoffs under Gardy (3-16 if you remove the 02 ALDS). If it were all about luck, wouldn't they at least be .500, or close to it? I think that record speaks for itself. But you might be one of those guys who is perfectly fine with winning the Central every year and nothing more, which is your perogative.

Also, it's funny how none of the opposing teams hit balls hard right at guys. This is a problem strictly attributed to the Twins, right? Or could I make the wild and crazy statement that every team in every game hits balls hard right at players?

Funny, you never hear the Twins bloggers mention other team's "luck" in the equation. Like, I could say, boy, the Twins got lucky that the 9 hits Blackburn gave up (and a few hard hit outs) were scattered, and did relatively little damage.

Or I could say hard-hit outs are part of the game, and Blackie was solid.

Nick, I ask you again: have the Yankees had any bad breaks during their run of recent success against us? I'd say they've had plenty. They just do a better job of capitalizing on the chances they do have.

DomeDog said...

Nick- where are you getting your BABIP situational splits? I've looked for those all over and haven't been able to find them.

Andrew said...

I don't buy into the "luck" thing either. There was something to the approach the twins had at the plate in '08. With runners on they had the ability/approach to shorten up their swing and push the run across the plate or move it over.

rghrbek said...

I agree with Ed.

Luck is something that you attribute to a few weeks run, not to two months of futility.

The twins have plenty of time to turn it around, but the results for two months are not just about luck. It's in their heads.

2008 wasn't a fluke. They got on a role. The whole "smell em" thing Redmond did I think had a profound impact on the guys hunkering down when there was RISP.

Hitting is contagious and once they start stringing hits together, their top 6 or 7 guys could become more clutch.

As for the 8th and 9th black hole spots in our order...well.

As far as the Twins being bad in the playoffs? Yes some of it is definitely on Gardy, but much much more of it is that we have played an unbalanced schedule since 2001, against the worst division in baseball. We just haven't been a very good team going into the playoffs (with the exception of maybe the 2006 team).

Nick N. said...

Nick- where are you getting your BABIP situational splits? I've looked for those all over and haven't been able to find them.

They're available on

Bryce P Wandrey said...

I don't know what luck has to do with the Twins' performance against the Yankess in the past or this season or with their inability to consistently drive in the runners on base against any team this year...but...

This IS a good team. There is NO question about that. I wish the starting pitching could be a just a tad more consistent and dominating but still, it is a positive where just a year ago, with the departure of Santana and Garza we weren't sure if we would could field 5 major league calibre starting pitchers. Now we have a fine starting rotation and a pretty good bullpen even without Nathan.

When I look at a lineup (which we have most days) that has Hardy hitting 8 and Punto/Casilla/Harris, etc hitting 9 I am pretty confident.

Reading most of these comments you would swear this was a blog about the Chicaog WhiteSox 2010 team and not the Minnesota Twins.

p.s. My mom love's Dick and Bert.

Anonymous said...

I'm with anon (poster #7)

Can we get a post or thread going here about Mauer's lack of power this year. I really am worried that last year was a mirage for Mauer. After his hot first half last year, the power dropped significantly and this year hasn't given me any confidence it's coming back. That's half of one year out of seven years of big leauge service in which he's demonstrated above average power. Is anyone else worried?

Schruender said...

By the way Nick don't know if anyone has mentioned this but the Blue Jays are tops in the big leagues in runs scored while having the second lowest on base percentage. Numbers weren't meant to correlate perfectly.

Anonymous said...

mauer's numbers are still great without big homerun totals.

Nick N. said...

By the way Nick don't know if anyone has mentioned this but the Blue Jays are tops in the big leagues in runs scored while having the second lowest on base percentage. Numbers weren't meant to correlate perfectly.

The Blue Jays also lead the majors in home runs by a pretty significant margin.

Anonymous said...

The original post made no mention of luck as the reason for lack of success against the Yankees. Though if you actually watched any of those games, you can certainly find examples of it, from Melky Cabrera's perfectly-placed walk-off bloop off of Nathan (yeah, I'm sure he was AIMING for that exact spot) to Delmon Young's extra innings bases-loaded line drive smoked right to Texeira. The point is that when you put the ball in play, whether it's a hit or an out is at least somewhat dependent on luck, and your going to have streaks where poorly hit balls will find their way for his and well hit balls do not. That's just the nature of baseball.

David said...

Wow! Looks like the Twins just got a whole lot more clutch! What a bunch of gamers!

Anonymous said...

p.s. My mom love's Dick...

tee hee