MAY 18, 2004
Terry Ryan’s Minnesota Twins
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com
In a May 17, 2004 edition of the New York Times, Murray Chass wrote:
“Terry Ryan will never rise to the glamour level of Billy Beane, and the Minnesota Twins will never be as celebrated as the Oakland Athletics. No one is likely to write a best-selling book about Ryan and the Twins, as has been done about Beane and the Athletics.
But the Twins deserve every bit as much attention and credit as the Athletics have received in recent years, turning a low-budget band of young players into a championship team.”
Related, others in the media have recently zoned in on the “Praise Ryan” theme. The scrawling on this scorecard is in agreement with those who state that Ryan deserves kudos for the job done in Minnesota this year, and in the three seasons prior.
However, there are also many parties around who, when hearing voices raised to sing the song of Ryan, are just as quick to counter with a qualifier along the lines of “Well, the Twins should win these days because of the pushover division in which they play.”
Having recently witnessed this argument made often, it was time to look at whether or not it was valid.
Thanks to the fabulous Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, we are able to look at the relative offensive and pitching results of each American League (AL) team over the last three seasons and determine which division winners truly had patsies in the division on which to feast.
THE 2001 SEASON
In 2001, the Yankees, Indians and Mariners were division winners. The A’s won the Wild Card. That year, the Twins finished 2nd in the AL Central – 6 games back of Cleveland.
It is true that (in the AL Central) both the Indians and Twins benefited from playing the Royals and Tigers as much as they did in 2001 – as Kansas City and Detroit were not good teams that season. However, the Twins and Indians did have to play each other - many times that year. And, they had to play the White Sox (who were an above average team in 2001) many times as well.
Therefore, half of the divisional rival teams that the Twins played in 2001 were good teams.
This is the same situation that the New York Yankees found themselves in during 2001. New York had to play Boston and Toronto (who then had strong teams) as well as being able to take on Baltimore and Tampa Bay (who then had weaker teams). Further, in the AL West, both the Mariners and A’s (who made the playoffs) had the benefit of frequently playing the Angels and Rangers in 2001 – the latter two being below average teams that year.
In summary, every team that did well in the AL during 2001 (in terms of contending) had two teams in their division who were less than average teams (on which to prey). Where exactly was the exclusive divisional residency advantage for the Twins in 2001?
THE 2002 SEASON
In 2002, the Yankees, Twins and A’s were division winners. The Angels won the Wild Card.
Clearly, the Twins (playing in the AL Central) had an easy go of it that season with divisional foes the Royals, Tigers, and Indians being poor teams. But, the Twins still had to finish above the White Sox to win the division (and they beat Chicago by 13.5 games) and the Sox had a very good team in 2002.
While the Twins in 2002 did not have many challengers from within their division, Minnesota efficiently beat Chicago (again, a good team that year) who also benefited from playing in the AL Central.
This is the same situation that the New York Yankees found themselves in during 2002. New York was only challenged by Boston (who had a good team) in 2002. The Yankees (like Boston) also benefited from having frail teams (that season) like Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay in the AL East (to devour upon).
The AL West was a different story in 2002. The A’s, Mariners and Angels were all good teams (and only the Rangers were meager).
In summary, two AL division winners in 2002 had only one good team in their division to beat. Where was the unique advantage of playing in the AL Central for the Twins in 2002? Two of the three divisions in the AL that season had a “merely beat one team” road to the post-season.
THE 2003 SEASON
In 2003, the Yankees, Twins and A’s were division winners. The Red Sox won the Wild Card.
In 2003 (as it was in 2002), the Twins (playing in the AL Central) had an easy go of it that season in terms of facing divisional foes such as the Royals, Tigers, and Indians (poor teams) several times. But, the Twins (again, as they did the year before) still had to finish above the White Sox to win the division (and they beat Chicago by 4 games).
The White Sox in 2003 were a very good team. From a statistical standpoint, a case can be made that Chicago (as a team) had better hitting and pitching than Minnesota that year.
As they did in 2001 and 2002, the Yankees' situation mirrored the Twins in 2003. New York’s only competition in 2003 for the AL East title came from one team – the Boston Red Sox (who the Yankees beat by 6 games). And, similar to the comparison of Chicago and Minnesota in 2003, from a statistical standpoint, a case can be made that Boston (as a team) had better hitting and pitching (as a team) than New York that season.
The AL West in 2003 was a fifty-fifty deal. The A’s and Mariners were good teams. The Angels and Rangers were below average teams.
In summary, all division winners in 2003 had only one strong challenger within their division to conquer. Again, where was the divisional placement advantage for the Twins in 2003?
Finishing high in the AL Central during 2001 and 2003 was no different than finishing high in any other AL division those years – from a perspective of internal competitive boons and challenges. Winning the AL Central in 2002 - in terms of divisional “chutes and ladders” to navigate - was exactly the same as winning the AL East that season – relatively speaking.
For that reason, there is no justification to discount the recent triumphs of Terry Ryan and the Twins because of the division in which they reside and have played.
Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com. Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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