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You can't believe everything you hear

Posted at 11:08 AM on June 24, 2005 by Bob Collins (7 Comments)

My boss, who insists I write this thing on my own time (and I do), won't like this a bit but since I referred to the mainstream media that covers the Twins as "poodles" yesterday (they are), I have to be fair and criticize us too.

I think it all started yesterday morning when the electronic media's primary news source -- the local newspaper -- carried a predictably trite column by Patrick Reusse called "Twins are latest Twin Cities team to be a four-star flop." I don't know if Reusse is at the head of this parade or is just sweeping the elephant doo at the end of it.

In his column, Reusse compared the Twins to the Timberwolves and Vikings, as underachievers who played far below expectations and experienced a drop off in production and talent at a time when they were expected to contend for an AL Central Division title. "They had to go out and get everyone hyped up," he said.

With the Twins 10 games back in the Central Division, it was a nice little angle. And it's one this very radio network picked up on when it assigned a reporter to do a story this morning that we slugged internally as Twins suck, a characterization that sort of fits the way they've been playing for the last 10 days. We then aired a story on Morning Edition that documented the disappointing season and the failed expectations.

There's only one problem: there isn't a shred of truth to it.

Want to take a guess how many games worse the Twins are this year than last year? I'll give you a hint. It's less than 1.

That's right. The Twins record through 70 games last year? 39-31. The Twins record this morning? 39-31. Does that sound like underachieving and a drop in performance? Want to go back further? OK, compared to 2003, the team is playing one game better this year. It is just one game worse than 2002.

In other words, this is pretty much the same level of performance that delivered three straight Central Division titles. And, as I recall, Patrick Reusse didn't write any articles in 2002, 2003, or 2004 about the team being overhyped. And none of our pieces questioned the legitimacy of the Twins performance on those occasions when we dropped in to assess it.

Now, perhaps there's good reason to wring our hands over the fact the Twins are 10 (actually 9.5 now) games behind in the division. But being overhyped isn't even close to one of them.

Patrick Reusse didn't anticipate that the Chicago White Sox, currently in first place, would have a season of historic proportions, and neither did anyone else. So what's with the blame game?

What could we and Patrick Reusse have done in the interest of a more informed public that expects such things from the media? We could have challenged the assumptions and told you all of that.

The Chicago White Sox this morning stand at 49-22 on the season, that's 12 games -- 12 games!!! -- better than they were last season. And that's reason 1, 2 and 3 of why the Twins aren't likely to win a Central Division title this year.

We could've stopped there and satisifed our journalistic obligation. Or we could've waded into this deeper yet. We could've told you that the ChiSox are beating the bejeebers out of the Local 9 for a couple of reasons (a) great pitching and, more likley, (b) an incredible streak of good luck.

An online friend of mine on the Cleveland Sports Mailing List, Todd Sawicki, notes the following:

For the record the ChiSox are the luckiest team in all of baseball by having the largest positive win differential (only 2 other teams have positve differentials above 2 - Nationals and Padres). The Royals, Indians and Tigers are actually some of the unluckier...

Team        W    L    D1   D2     D3
Chi_Sox     49   22   6    9.2    9.2
Tigers      35   33   -0.9 -1.5  -2.9
Twins       38   31   0.8  0.5   -0.3
Indians     37   33   -0.4 -1.3  -1.6
Royals      25   46   -2.3 -3.6  -5.6

The point is that when you break down the secondary stats - the ChiSox shouldn't have 4 starters with ERA's below 4.0 and given their secondary stats shouldn't be scoring the amount of runs they are scoring - hence lucky.

Based on the secondary stats the amazing thing is that based on stats the Indians, Twins, ChiSox and yes even the TIGERS should all be about 38-31. Based on what you would expect - the teams are fairly equal.
Teams can be slightly lucky like -- +1 or 2 games -- but not +9 - that's super flukey.

Here's the glossary from BP that Todd supplied:

W, L : Actual team wins and losses.

RS, RA: Actual team runs scored and runs allowed.

W1, L1 ("First-order wins"): Pythagenport expected wins and losses, based on RS and RA.

EQR, EQRA: Equivalent runs scored and equivalent runs allowed (equivalent runs, generated from the opponent's batting line)

W2, L2 ("Second-order wins"): Pythagenport wins and losses, based on EQR and EQRA.

AEQR, AEQRA: EQR and EQRA, adjusted for strength of schedule: the quality of their opponent's pitching and hitting. If AEQR is higher than EQR, the team has faced better than average pitching; if AEQRA is higher than EQRA, the team has faced worse than average hitting.

Now, I guess I don't expect Patrick Reusse, or any Public Radio newsroom that doesn't regularly cover sports, to have known any of this. But I do expect editors and columnists to at least ask the question "is what everyone is saying really true?" Because if it's not, that's a hell of a better story.

That's the business we're in.

Comments (7)

The crazy thing to me is that we're not even at the All-Star Break yet. I've been a baseball fan for a long time, and I have a good enough memory to know that major, MAJOR moves are made in the standings after the break. I also remember teams that surged from nowhere at the beginning of the season, and were plagued by injuries, fatigue, and opponents that have wised-up after the break.

I'm saying that 9.5 games are hardly overcomeable, the ChiSox are hardly invulnerable, and the Twins are hardly terrible. We had a slump, a home-stand that wasn't, and it turns out that we can't even blame it on interleague play. Those are viable things to rant about, but let's not act as if an AL Central title is out of reach.

Posted by Monster | June 24, 2005 12:42 PM

The perception vs. reality where sports teams are concerned inevitably comes down to money. The Akron Beacon Journal today that the Indians are suffering mightily in ticket and merchandise sales are down 50 percent in the last four weeks. And that situation wasn't helped by a 3-game sweep at the hands of the BoSox. And yet, the Indians are four games better than they were a year ago, which should
net them about 90 wins on the season. So it's a team that's on the upswing rather than the downside. And, in fact, at this point this year, the Indians are closer to being in the playoff picture than they were a year ago, they're just farther away from winning a division. But we have not gotten comfortable with the notion that the wild card could -- and probably will -- come from the Central Division.

Posted by Bob Collins | June 24, 2005 3:13 PM

Of course you are right, Bob. But as for Reusse, I recall that he's made a habit of predicting doom for the Twins at the beginning of the season, and picking another club to put the local team in the shade, only to be forced temporarily to suspend his disbelief when his favorite finally falls by the wayside.

He's always looking for the Twins to be exposed as pretenders; and I don't mean "he's too critical of the Twins." I think he goes into each season believing that the Twins are pretenders, and he looks for evidence to prove him right. I guess he's just playing the smart angle. If you want to predict ultimate failure for any team at the start of the season, you'll ultimately win your bet a lot more often than not.

Posted by frightwig | June 24, 2005 11:15 PM

i know monster isn't concerned at 10.5 then...but when do the rats start to jump the ship? 15? 20? when does the avg joe stop watching the pennant race? i would wager when it's double digits. the wildcard is nice and all but you won't see people flocking to the bump to see a wildcard race. they may watch casually on tv but they won't pay hard earned $$$ on wildcard potential. imho.

Posted by kinsella | June 25, 2005 6:32 AM

Here's another angle to consider. How would you have felt if on June 1 (the Twins were 29-21)someone would have said to you the Twins will be 40-33 on June 26? Or how about on June 8, when they were 35-22? True enough, the season is long and winning and losing streaks come and go. Right now what is disconcerting, however, is how the Twins are losing right now (pitching, their strength, has not held up) and who they are losing to (Brewers? Giants? Detroit? L.A.?). Had they played even .500 since June 8th (against mainly inferior teams) they'd be 43-30, 6.5 games out and ahead in the wild card standings.

Most certainly, the Twins have, since 2002, played much better in the second half of the season. For the record, I was disappointed with their play in 2003 in the first half (remember? down plenty at AS break?) and in 2004. Perhaps they will play better in the second half this year, too. It's just that they are probably playing for second place.

Last year, I was saying that it would be interesting to see how the Twins would respond in a more competitive division. We're going to find out this year. A playoff berth this year (even if it's the wild card) would be a very good year and would really put the stamp on this team, maybe even moreso than the three previous divisional championships. On the other hand, a third place finish (or worse) would be very disappointing indeed.

Posted by SBG | June 27, 2005 10:00 AM

To be fair to Reusse, he did explain during one of his innumerable appearances on the "other medium" (KSTP Radio) that it was Chicago's unexpected -- and statistically unreal -- success that spelled doom for the Twins this season.

Even in his column, he took a mighty (if sidelong) blow at the sports media's *attitude* and its disconnect from reality. Also the way that such an attitude affects public perceptions of the team.

Not that different from the points made above...

Posted by Floyd Barber | June 27, 2005 11:22 AM

it's a living...but someone at the paper has to be a foil to sid's love of everything MN & bobby knight.

Posted by kinsella | June 27, 2005 4:15 PM

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