The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Aaron Gleeman Bashes the White Sox - Not the Surprise of the Day

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Apparently that’s a phrase that Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times hasn’t heard of before. In his column today Aaron attacks the Chicago White Sox for some comments various Sox players made about the Twins and their playoff chances.

For whatever reason there seems to be a rivalry of sorts between the Twins and White Sox (which makes sense because they’re division rivals and one of the two teams has won the division title each year since 2000) as well as there’s a rivalry between the fans of the two cities. This is somewhat unusual, as Sox fans don’t really mix it up as much with Tiger, Royal, and Indian fans (even when the Tribe was at their peak – although Albert Belle moving between the clubs did help to stir up some emotions).

Still, Gleeman, like many others from the Twin Cities, is quick to point out the Sox flaws and quotes that are found in the newspaper. It’s almost as-if Aaron was at the game, or in the club house and actually has a feel for how this stuff is really going down. You have to keep in mind though that he doesn’t – and neither do I. We only know what’s being told to us by the media (online, in print, on television, via radio, etc.). Who really knows if we’re getting a fair take on the AL Central “rivalry” between the Twins and White Sox or if it’s just being hyped up to create some modicum of excitement in an otherwise boring division? Very few of us, I’d venture to say. Those of us in dorm rooms in Minnesota and the far reaches of Miami probably aren’t too tuned into the reality of the situation though.

What strikes me as funny though is how Gleeman uses statistics when it’s convenient to him and completely avoids them when it would work against them. To try to rub a little salt in the wounds of Sox fans, Gleeman – after droning on about what poor sports the Sox are and how they’ve failed since 2000 – lists the final records of both the Twins and the Sox since 2000 (he’s wasn’t generous enough to include the 2000 season, which was the last year in which the Sox took the division title). This is nice and neat and tells a pretty story for the Twins.

What it leaves out though is that the Twins have been extraordinarily lucky in each year since 2001, while the White Sox on the other hand have not been so fortunate. Many sabermatrecians favor metrics like a Pythagorean win percentage or a Pythagorean record. You can read more about the theory here. Essentially what it is is a predictor of a teams wins and losses based on how many runs a team scores and how many it allows. The theory is, and it makes sense, that better teams score more runs and allow fewer than poor teams. By this measure the Twins have outperformed (meaning they won more games than their Pythagorean record should have) in 2003 (5 games), 2002 (8), and 2001 (4). Using Pythagorean expected wins, the White Sox would have won the division title in 2003, and would have tied the Twins for wins in 2002 and 2001 (check out to confirm the details).

Gleeman also doesn’t address Mark Buehrle’s assertion (quoted in Gleeman’s article) that the Twins will struggle to make it out of the first round. This is probably because it’s simply true. The Twins (like the White Sox might have been if they’d been healthy this year) benefit from playing in a weak American League Central division. They are no better than the fourth best team in the American League this year, and if they were in any other division would likely struggle to make the playoffs. However, as we saw last year with the Florida Marlins and the Anaheim Angels the year before that, anything can happen in the post-season (both of the past two World Champions were Wild Card entries in the playoffs – they weren’t even the best teams in their own division during the regular season).

Well, that’s my rant for the day. I used to enjoy and The Hardball Times. I still enjoy The Hardball Times now and then, but overall many of their writers seem to have an axe to grind or a bent that I have a hard time relating to, and to me – especially since they seem to want to come off as Baseball Prospectus Lite – a more balanced approach would be more appreciated.


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