7 Down? Let's Throw Hands, Pal

=== Twins Comeback ===

On July 14, the Mariners were -4.0 games behind and debate was on as to whether the season was worth pursuing.  With the M's down variously 4-to-6 games through the middle of July, playing for the future was called in one place "the easiest decision Zduriencik has had to make all year."

Much to Dr. D's surprise, the consensus ran to the idea that it is either (1) impossible, or (2) unrealistic to attempt to win the pennant from 4 games behind with two months to play.

On July 24, they began a 4-game losing streak that took them to -7.5 games back, and would hold this deficit until the morning of July 31 (the last day to trade).  This -7, -8 deficit made debate over quitting, a more reasonable proposition in my view.


=== A Picture's Worth 1,000 Words Dept. ===

The Twins' comeback from 7 games down in September was the second in the last three years.  The Mets also came from 7 games down in September to make the playoffs in 2007.   ... in this case, the Twins came from -6.5 down on September 9th, to create the mass euphoria in the Metrodome that we saw today.


The arguments in July ran that, hey, only X% of teams behind by Y games made the playoffs.   But these missed the point IMHO.  Why is making the playoffs that the only relevant paradigm?   If the Twins had lost in the 10th inning today, would their September baseball have not been worth watching?  Yet, per our local metrics, the 2009 Twins would have gone down as one more team that proves there's no point trying when down by 6 in July...

Had the Mariners come from -7 down to tie the Angels on Sept. 20th -- and then lost the race -- would their attempt to win have been justified?  Sure it would have.  ... it's like saying, we were down 21-3 to the Colts, but we kept our starters in, and tied it 27-27.  We then lost 30-27, but was it correct to keep trying to win?

The 1995 Mariners didn't win.  They attempted to win.  They'll live in history for attempting to win.

The 2009 Twins were what baseball is all about.  It's not for us math majors.  It's for the 12-year-old boys.

The MLB shot-callers aren't necessarily siding with the math majors, either, so it's not like we can go "Cooler heads must prevail."  Jack Zduriencik still traded for Right Here Right Now, taking Luke French over reportedly exciting offers of multiple minor-league blue-chippers.


=== Theory and Practice, Dept. ===

I don't accept it as reasonable, to say that a baseball team should quit when -7 down in July.

But!  I do accept it as reasonable to say that some particular team cannot feasibly win when -7 down in July.  If you thought, well, the 2009 Mariners just didn't have the offense to be there in September, and therefore they should position their resources for 2010, then power to you, buddy.  That's fair enough.

When these Mariners went down -8 about the start of August, I agreed that this team could safely plan on gettin' 'em next year.   The timing was interesting:  the M's tumbled from -4 down to -8 down just as the deadline hit.    The rest of the blogs (with some justification) gave up at this point. 

Zduriencik and Wakamatsu, notably, did not.


=== Fighting Smaller, and Bigger, Opponents  ===

There's one other problem that we have not come to grips with.   And that is that we start from a faulty premise, when we say "We've got to be better than the Angels before we bet into the pot."  It's a logical paradigm, but it's not a sporting one.

Recreation, hobbies, sports, fighting ... are those things really logical at their core?  As V-Ger said of a game system when boarding the Enterprise, "This device serves no purpose"...


Supposing (again) that you had Biff's Sports Almanac, and you flipped it oppen and discovered to your horror that both the Angels and Rangers were going to win an average of 97 games per season, the next ten years.

Would that entitle us to fold out of the next ten pots before the deal?

Think it through.  What if you're Toronto, playing in the Yankees' and Red Sox' division?   The intelligent projection is to assume that those teams are going to go into Spring Training every year, with a lot more talent than you have.

So what do you do, when the beancounters tell you that you're the underdog?  Is "Run away to fight another day" the right paradigm for the Blue Jays?

Nope.  You can't afford to quit, simply because you're the underdog.  Ask Ron Gardenhire.


The Angels are going to be very good.  As long as Scioscia's there.  

If it was going to be another offseason of teeth-chipping .... hey, we can't improve past the Angels anyway!, that would be kind of a long winter, wouldn't it?  :- )

You need to get as good as you can.  And give the other guys a chance to falter.


Dr D


Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Great read as always, Doc.
The thing about the deadline in 2009 (for me), was that typically there was little attention or discussion whatsoever about how good are we TODAY, really?  Your article does a great job of capturing that notion.  How many games back are we?  This is the prime question for 90% of the people, and where 90% of the arguments begin.  But games behind is only a single data point among dozens that need to be considered before making roster changing decisions.
I agree completely that in the "general" 4 games back is obviously a deficit that is extremely manageable.  But, after 3 months, Seattle has a run differential of 296-314.  But, they were a couple of game over .500.  The screams from the sideline were "if we could just score a few more runs, we'd be a real contender."  Except, based on what actually happened during the season, the opposite is true:
Months where Seattle outscored the opponent:
April: 93-84  (13-9)
June: 99-84 (15-10)
Sept: 101-98 (14-12)
Months where Seattle was outscored by opponent:
May: 104-146 (11-18)
July: 100-132 (14-13)
Aug: 129-135 (15-14)
In July, Seattle managed a winning record DESPITE being outscored by 32 runs.  And August, when they actually had their single best offensive month, they were outscored, and didn't have better W/L results. 
Honestly, if the Mariners had REALLY wanted to go for it in 2009 without costing themselves dearly in prospects or gutting future potential, they probably could have -- but what they needed wasn't a big bat, (which would cost way too much, and not solve the actual problem of having 5 of 9 starters hitting under .700 for much of the season).  The club's only realistic shot for 2009 was RELIEF PITCHING.  The bullpen was NEVER very good.
Do you know who finished 2nd for the Mariners in reliever FIP?  (Aardsma managed a 3.01 to finish first).  The first 6 guesses don't count -- because it's VARGAS.  And OLSON had a better FIP as a reliever than: Batista, Kelley, Jaku, and Morrow. 
The problem with "going for it" for Seattle was that they were such a severely skewed team from the norm that normal rules simply did not apply to them.  Because of the exponential impact of run differentials, the truth is that Seattle's "optimal" strategy for competing in 2009 was NOT to get more offense, but to push the run suppression even harder.  And, because overall, the pitching was slightly worse than average, there WAS potential for improving the pitching. 
But, nobody was buying that at the time.  NORMALLY, the easiest place to improve is wherever you are worst.  So, yeah, more offense was the obvious choice.  But Seattle's offensive woes were NOT because of 1 or 2 deficiencies, but due to 4 or 5.  In truth, there was only one logical way to give Seattle a fighting chance in 2009 -- *AND Z DID IT*. 
Now, I don't know that Z "intended" for Olson and Vargas to end up saving a bullpen that was bad and getting worse.  But that is, in fact, what happened.  Cordero never made it back.  Nobody miraculously materialized from the minors to shore up the pen.  But, when Fister and Snell stepped into the rotation, and Vargas and Olson moved to the pen, it was just enough help to obscure how bad the bullpen truly was.
And one really has to wonder ... if Branyan doesn't miss 40 games, how many games closer might Seattle have come in 2009? 
What I loved about what Z did at the deadline was that he didn't give up -- but he also didn't surrender the future.  Washburn wasn't the future.  Wlad wasn't the future.  Even Clement wasn't the future.  (Jeff finished 2009 with a .224/.313/.459/.772 line for the Pirates AAA club, and didn't get a call-up, just fyi -- playing 22 games at 1B and none catching at Indi).
I love the concept that given the typical pundit choice of "are you going for it -- or are you quitting?", Z refused to accept the binary premise and said, "I'm gonna try to win today AND tomorrow."  It's a vastly more difficult job to perform.  And it will typically leave those stuck in binary-land feeling disenchanted, regardless of which side of the coin they believe is bet-worthy.

glmuskie's picture

DO listen to the math majors - in the A/R department.  : )
Sports teams sell hope as much as anything else.  Once that is lost, there go the receivables.

Taro's picture

I didn't even know that this happened. Good for the Twins, although I think they're going to have a really tough time with the Yanks in the first round. The Tigers were better built for the postseason.

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