The Strongest Weakest Link

I had a radio spot on ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis today, and during the interview, I repeated something that I’ve been saying for a month or so now – I think the Twins are the best team in baseball. I get why people don’t see it that way, as they aren’t as star studded as the Yankees, Rays, or even the Rangers, but what they lack in name value, they make up for with sheer quantity of useful players.

Really, who is the worst player on the Twins who will see significant playing time in October? Probably Jason Kubel, who doesn’t hit enough to make up for his defensive problems in the outfield. But Kubel, while not a good player, is also not a terrible one. He’s a league average hitter, maybe a little bit better, and on days when the ball isn’t hit towards him, he’s just fine. He isn’t actively taking wins off the board, and there’s reason to think he may perform better in the playoffs than he did during the 2010 season.

The same goes for Michael Cuddyer, who is basically the same kind of player – decent bat, bad defense. Both of them have their uses, and yet, they’re the worst players the Twins put out there on a daily basis. Where most teams have offensive holes, the Twins have J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson, and Denard Span, who have each put up about a +3 win season this year. Even their reserve middle infielders, Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto, are valuable role players.

The same is true of the pitching staff. Maybe Carl Pavano isn’t the sexiest #2 starter in the league, but very few of the other teams headed to the playoffs can throw a more effective game 4 starter than Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker. The Twins have four average or better starting pitchers, plus Brian Duensing, who has pitched like one even if he’s probably been a bit over his head.

Relievers? The Twins have a bunch of solid arms down in the bullpen too. Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Capps might not come with theme songs and overpowering fastballs, but they’re good pitchers. Toss in Brian Fuentes as a good situational reliever, Jose Mijares as a quality second LHP, and whatever starter they don’t choose for the #4 spot, and the Twins won’t have any lemons coming on in relief.

The old cliche that you’re only as strong as your weakest link isn’t really true unless you’re in the business of building fences, but the Twins didn’t run away with the AL Central through smoke and mirrors. They put a good team on the field every night with a deep batting order that can score runs no matter what three hitters are due up, starting pitchers who throw strikes, and relievers that can get out of jams. There is no soft underbelly to the Minnesota roster. You can’t pitch around one guy and then go on cruise control.

If this was a 5-on-5 competition, the Twins might be in trouble. However, since every game involves 10+ players, the Twins depth of talent gives them an advantage over all of their competitors. When your worst player is Jason Kubel, you’re doing pretty good. Don’t underestimate the Twins just because they didn’t build a top heavy roster. They can win with this team.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Brendan
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Brendan
5 years 9 months ago

I’ll believe it when I see it, in short series’, I’d still take the Yankees, Rays, Phillies, Giants, and probably the Braves over them.

Brendan
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Brendan
5 years 9 months ago

not sure why i put a ‘ after ‘series’.

DT
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DT
5 years 9 months ago

“Maybe Carl Pavano isn’t the sexiest #2 starter in the league”

Ahem tell that to the all mighty Stache

Bryz
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5 years 9 months ago

On second thought, you probably don’t want to tell that to the Stache. It will make you pay.

Not David
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Not David
5 years 9 months ago

That’s Pavstache to both of you.

Bryz
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Wow, it was a bit hard for me to believe that Kubel has hit 20 home runs but is still a league average bat… that’s what happens when the TV doesn’t tell you about a hitter’s OBP and SLG.

Phillies Red
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Phillies Red
5 years 9 months ago

I’m not trying to be a homer here, but this article could have just as easily been written about the Phillies (and perhaps all the AL teams, for that matter). The Phils worst regular this season is Ibanez, who will back the truck in with 1.5 WAR this season (higher than Kubel, btw). Rollins, who might be considered a weak link, still has a 2+ WAR season and has played superb defense. On the flip side, Werth, Utley, and Chooch (compare Chooch’s .362 wOBA to Mauer’s .376) are looking at 4+WAR seasons, while Vic, Polly, and Howard all check in with 2.2-3.5 WAR.

The Phils also have a 4th starter who is league average, Blanton at 2 WAR. And then they have 3 aces, who have combined for 15.2 WAR this season. 3 pitchers, 15.2 WAR.

The Phils also have “a bunch of solid arms down in the bullpen” lead by Madson who has a 2.64 FIP this year. Lidge and Durbin are solid (~4 FIP), and Contreras is having a quiet, but successful year with a 3.4 FIP. Granted, the Phils do lack a reliable lefty.

The point is not that the Phils are better than the Twins (though, they may be) but that if the criteria is 1) not having any bad position players, 2) having four league average or better starters, and 3) a serviceable pen, then I’m guessing many teams fit the bill. Moreover, if that is the criteria, then the Phils are better fits than the Twins.

Alec
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Alec
5 years 9 months ago

Hey man, not to pick one you, but everything everywher doesn’t need to be about the Phillies. There are other teams.

Phillies Red
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Phillies Red
5 years 9 months ago

Thanks, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

BS
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BS
5 years 9 months ago

puh, didn’t you hear the chant in washington? “every house is our house” =P

Trebecois
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Trebecois
5 years 9 months ago

Well they do play road games at home

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
5 years 9 months ago

Phillies are strong, but to pick nits here, there’s nothing solid about a FIP around 4.00 for a reliever.

Phillies Red
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Phillies Red
5 years 9 months ago

Ah, sorry, that should say “all the AL playoff teams” in the first paragraph. And on second thought, I guess many of them do lack a league average or better 4th starter.

James Holzhauer
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5 years 9 months ago

why are you considering the twins’ strength at #4 starter by looking at two guys who will not be in the postseason rotation?

Joel
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Joel
5 years 9 months ago

This article could have been written about either the Yankees, Rays, Rangers (assuming Hamilton is healthy), and even the Phils as mentioned in the post above if you ignore the fourth starter thing. I tend to think a team’s fourth starter is not going to be the make or break player in a postseason series.

The Twins are damn good, but so is everyone else going into the postseason. The real irritating part about making an unequivocal statement about who the “best team” is that nothing that happens in the postseason will be able to truly answer the question in a satisfactory manner. So any talk is just pointless posturing.

philkid3
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philkid3
5 years 9 months ago

As a Rangers fan, I don’t think it can be said about us. I mean, our worst every day players are pretty bad. Bengie Molina? Maybe Chris Davis or Julio Borbon?

Of course, we probably have better No. 2 and No. 3 starters than most playoff teams, but that’s beside the point.

Mark
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Mark
5 years 9 months ago

The flaw in the argument is probably that Baker and Slowey are average or better than average pitchers. And Blackburn certainly isn’t. The Twins have one ace and two guys with pretty good stuff who are pitching well (Pavano and Duensing). After that it’s an extreme crapshoot. There’s no good 4th starter at this point for the Twins.

The Twins, for the most part, are very deep in “just OK” pitchers. They won’t be sending out any lemons to the mound this postseason – other than Guerrier – but they also will be sending just two guys with the potenial to have anything close to overpowering stuff that paricular day – F Bomb and Crain. Well, three if Baker’s healthy and gets on the mound.

intricatenick
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intricatenick
5 years 9 months ago

“There is no soft underbelly to the Minnesota roster.”

Ummm…. outfield defense?

Mark
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Mark
5 years 9 months ago

That would be a good one. Also….

* lack of shutdown closer
* lack of big bat in the middle of the order if Thome’s not in the lineup

Josh
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Josh
5 years 9 months ago

1. Who has a shutdown closer besides the Yankees? Although out of the 4 AL playoff teams, the twins’ closer is def the worst
2. …that’s why they put Thome in the lineup

To intricatenick: I think he means a player who is an overall detriment to their team. but yes, the twins’ outfield defense is no good. It’s good for them that liriano rarely puts it in the outfield

Bhaakon
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Bhaakon
5 years 9 months ago

The Giants and Padres both have what I would call “shutdown closers” in Brian Wilson and Heath Bell. As to whether that confers any significant advantage in the postseason, I don’t know.

Josh
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Josh
5 years 9 months ago

Point taken, I guess I haven’t paid too much attention to those closer situations. But you’re right about the postseason. As Joe Nathan has shown, regular season dominance != postseason success

TK
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TK
5 years 9 months ago

In addition to Rivera, Wilson and Bell, I think it’s fair to call Soriano and Wagner “shutdown closers”, so half the playoff teams will have one.

tom
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tom
5 years 9 months ago

Kubel is a 0.2 WAR player… the other OF’s not named Span are Young (1.8 WAR), and Repko (0.8 WAR). Cuddyer is 0.7 WAR. I agree OF/firstbase defense is not exactly solid

Minnesota is a solid team but the author can’t abandon the metrics he makes such a big deal over just to fit it to an article. When you look at WAR, there are a few weak links on the Minnesota team.

It’s also not clear to me how a balanced rotation with a strong #4 starter (who might pitch 2 or3 times if a team goes to the WS) is that important… I’d rather have a top heavy rotation.

MarkW
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MarkW
5 years 9 months ago

Josh…but Thome can’t play every day, even as just a DH. And he’s one tweak of his back away from missing multiple games.

Josh
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Josh
5 years 9 months ago

Thome has been playing nearly every day and he’s getting rest in now. With days off between series I’m sure he’ll be fine to play daily until the WS, of course you’re right about the injury concern.

tom is right, although I do think Young and Kubel are significantly better than their WARs this season, there’s no telling which version of each the twins will get. But I would rather have either than Upton/Joyce or Kearns/Granderson offense-wise.

Morneau has begun working out and if he come back at at least 80% strength I think the twins have the best lineup 1-9 of anybody. Big if tho

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
5 years 9 months ago

You’d rather have Kubel’s 105 wRC+ than Granderson’s 119? Not sure why you’d even mention Kearns, since he’ll be limited to mop-up duty in the playoffs.

Doug
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Doug
5 years 9 months ago

The Reds also fit this mold. They have a good bullpen, a deep rotation made up of several good but not great starters, and only two positions where the regular has less than 2.5 WAR. Throw in a very deep and versatile bench, and you’re talking about a team with very few holes. The front end of their rotation has a lot to be desired for, and makes them vulnerable in october, but if you’re talking about teams with few holes, the Reds certainly fit the bill.

stratobill
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5 years 9 months ago

The one thing I’ll agree on is that the Twins have a good bullpen.
But to say they don’t have any weak links on offense is astounding to me.
Denard Span’s OPS is below .700 and he’s suppose to be their leadoff hitter.
I’m sorry, but a .338 OBA with only 37 extra base hits in 608 at bats
seems like a weak link to me. Then you’ve got Hudson (.706 OPS), Hardy (.733),
Kubel (.754 from a corner outfielder who can’t field), and Punto (.627 in 283 PA).
I’d say they were all pretty weak links.

The Twins are a good team but I wonder how much of their record is the
result of being in the same division with the Royals, Indians, and Tigers?
I think that has masked a lot of their weaknesses. If the Rangers’ Josh
Hamilton were healthy I’d have no problem calling the Twins the weakest
of the four playoff teams in the AL.

The amazing thing is that they were so much better after losing Morneau than
they were when he was healthy and having an MVP calibre season. I can’t figure
out how they did it, though I guess it was a combination of weak competition and strong 2nd halves by Thome and Mauer.

MarkW
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MarkW
5 years 9 months ago

stratobill…

Yeah strong 2nd halves by Thome and Mauer AND…

Valencia – .840 OPS, well above average D at 3B
Hardy – .846 OPS, well above average D at SS
Duensing – 2.80 ERA in 12 starts
Crain – 1.10 ERA in 32 IP

Brent
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Brent
5 years 9 months ago

wait…wait…wait…wait…the Al Central is weaker than the AL West? Really? Seattle? Angels!?! A’s in second place?!?! what?????

The Royals suck. always have, always will. The Indians are lousy, no question. But are they any worse than Seattle? BOth Chicago and Detroit are better tethan LAA and Oakland.

People do this with Central teams all the time, they say, if they played in the East they wouldn’t finish better than 3rd. Okay, fine lets try it with the Rangers. If they played in the Central would they win the division. Doubt it. I mean c’mon, the central isn’t a great division, but the only good team in the West is the Rangers, cut and dry. All others are lousy.

Jonathan
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Jonathan
5 years 9 months ago

Whether the Twins are stronger than other teams in across-the-board strength can be argued. One thing is certain though – this Twins team has better around-the-diamond strength than any Twins team in a long time. In previous years, even in years when they would win the division, they would have 2 or 3 positions where they were dreadful, a “stars and scrubs” team construction. Consider last year when they 2b, ss and 3b were all amongst the worst in the league, real sucking chest wounds. Hudson, Hardy and Valencia are SO much better than last year’s Punto-Harris-Casilla etc. And adding Thome has, by moving Kubel into the outfield, in effect increased the depth at DH, 1B, RF and LF. They may not be the deepest in the majors but they’re definitely the best-constructed Twins team since…the late 60’s teams?

adohaj
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adohaj
5 years 9 months ago

If you add up the WAR from a teams pitchers and the WAR from a teams batters the twins are number one in MLB.

Just the playoff teams

Twins 49.7
Reds 45.7
Yankees 45.3
Giants 43.8
Rays 43.6
Braves 42
Rangers 41.8
Phillies 40.3
Padres 38.7

If you like WAR then you better like the twins

Hunter
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Hunter
5 years 9 months ago

The total WAR isn’t really relevant unless you do something to adjust the time lost to injury.

TFINY
Member
TFINY
5 years 9 months ago

WAR includes time missed, in that it is not a rate stat. So it takes into account those people who missed time.

Trebecois
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Trebecois
5 years 9 months ago

is that WAR with Min or War for the season?

Rich
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Rich
5 years 9 months ago

“WAR includes time missed, in that it is not a rate stat”

Which is kind of his point. If a 5 win player misses half the season, he only has 2.5 WAR in your total. That doesn’t change the fact that in the playoffs, hes going to play like a 5 win player does.

Mark
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Mark
5 years 9 months ago

The only WAR that matters, though, is the WAR from the players who will play significant roles in the postseason. So from the Twins you can exclude…

Morneau – 5.3
Punto – 1.7
Baker – 2.5
Slowey – 2.2

Hunter
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Hunter
5 years 9 months ago

Exactly my point. And to add to that, players like Chase Utley, who are really 7.5 WAR +, only have about 5 WAR this year due to injury and missed time…so just looking at his raw number, saying he’s a 5 WAR player, and then just adding that 5 number to the total for the Phillies is misleading.

Again, adding all the WARs together gives misleading and irrelevant results.

adohaj
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adohaj
5 years 9 months ago

So Hunter would you also say that Lance Berkman will play like a 6 win player despite only having 2 war this year? Or what about Aramis Ramierez would he play like a 4 win player with only 1 war this year? I don’t see how Utley is any different.

MarkW
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MarkW
5 years 9 months ago

That’ why WAR is practically useless when the question is who’s the better/best team. Season long accumulation of value doesn’t mean anything when it comes to performance on the field right now. You’re better off looking at rate stats of the players who will be on the field for those teams during the post season, but even then you’d have to subjectively adjust for injuries and how well that player is playing right now.

The only thing adding up a team’s WAR might show you is which team has performed best this regular season.

Hunter
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Hunter
5 years 9 months ago

My point, to state it again for the 3rd time, is that you can’t just add all the WARs together and claim any kind of conclusion. There’s way too many variables.

Hypothetical: Say C.C. Sabathia missed the first 4 months of the season with a strained muscle, but came back and pitched lights out. His WAR for the season might be something like 2.0 WAR due to the missed time. But in the playoffs, is CC going to pitch like a 2.0 WAR pitcher?

No, he’s not. Again, adding up all the WARs of the main pitchers and position players is NOT the best way of evaluating playoff teams.

kre1212
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kre1212
5 years 9 months ago

@ adohaj utley was hurt this year fyi

Alexander
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Alexander
5 years 9 months ago

Kubel does have 0.2 WAR…

jpdtrmpt72
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jpdtrmpt72
5 years 9 months ago

This really does also fit the phillies pretty well.
except they have a better pitching staff
and better outfield defense.
and the D has got to be pretty close in the infield too.
basically, what im saying is that i don’t buy this article. its not a very good one, and it feels morelike an opinion piece

schmenkman
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schmenkman
5 years 9 months ago

More than a bit of AL bias here. Comparing to the Rangers as “star studded”, but not bothering to compare to the Phillies? Hilarious.

Pat
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Pat
5 years 9 months ago

I feel like all their pitchers have the potential to get smoked vs any of the other AL offenses. Liriano is very good, but he’s entering uncharted innings territory. Pavano is solid, and Slowey and Baker are too hittable and will have a lot of trouble navigating through the loaded lineups they’ll face.

While I’m sure the same can be said about the other teams as well, I feel like Price and Garza can shut down the opposition on any given night, as can CC and Pettitte is a very good playoff pitcher. Rangers have Lee, Wilson, and Lewis who I’d say are equal with the Twins.

It’s a very tough call, will the depth win out or will the star power provide enough for a team like the Yanks to run away with it. We can analyze these matchups until our eyes bleed, but honestly anything can happen in playoff baseball.

tom
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tom
5 years 9 months ago

The scary thing about Liriano is his ability to rack up 100-110 pitches in 5-6 innings every once in a while. While he has a nice FIP and aggregate #’s, consistency is not exactly his middle name and he’s shown the ability to spit the bit in the 5th or 6th inning fairly often (for an ace). In his last nine starts he’s only gone beyond the 6th inning 3 times.

I’m curious to see in a playoff atmosphere whether the Rays or Yanks will grind out enough AB’s to have him over 100 pitches in 6 innings or less and how far Gardy will let him go.

cs3
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cs3
5 years 9 months ago

i’d be shocked if the twins break tradition and get out of the first round.

This entire articles seems pretty pointless, because it doesnt even take into account the fact that several of the other playoff team’s top 4-5 batters, and top 2-3 pitchers are significantly better than their respective Minnesota counterparts.
Why compare the absolute weakest part of each lineup/rotation when they will see the fewest at bats, starts, etc and have the least influence on the outcome of a series?

MikeS
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MikeS
5 years 9 months ago

I’m not sure I agree that the Twins are the best team in baseball (Phillies or Yankees, maybe Rays) but I have long thought that the regular season is about winning with your strengths and the postseason is about losing because of your weaknesses.

Joe Nathan
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Joe Nathan
5 years 9 months ago

At least i won’t be around to blow saves to the yankees

JohnOrpheus
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JohnOrpheus
5 years 9 months ago

All this talk about the Twins being the best team in baseball at this point, heading into the playoffs, is baffling to me. I’d be willing to put my house up that they get swept in the first round, whether the play the Yankees or Rays. Phils would sweep them too if the could stumble on a miracle and get to the Series.

Crapshoot
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Crapshoot
5 years 9 months ago

I’ll take that bet.

Total Dominication
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Total Dominication
5 years 9 months ago

Who’s the Yankees worst starting batter, Jeter? He’s better than the other AL SS.
You know who’s a better game 4 starter? CC Sabathia. ANd I’ll take Pettie and HUghes over Pavano and one of the other guys. ANd of course, the Yankees have Mo, 3 set up men, and a light’s out loogy.

MarkW
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MarkW
5 years 9 months ago

Other than playoff experience, Jeter is in no way “better” than JJ Hardy. Hardy is a better hitter than Jeter and a much better fielder.

Nom Chompsky
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5 years 9 months ago

JJ Hardy is absolutely not a better true talent hitter than Derek Jeter. I would take pretty much any bet on their hitting going forward.

Total Dominication
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Total Dominication
5 years 9 months ago

Your missing teh point. Jeter is by far the worst Yankee starter, and has 2.3 war.. This is much better than the worst Twinkies. People might say the Yank DH, but Thames has mashed lefties, and Berkman has hit righties very well.

Mark
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Mark
5 years 9 months ago

Who cares what their true talent hitting is? The playoffs are right around the corner, Hardy has been hot for most of the 2nd half, and Jeter has been one of the worst hitters among AL regulars in this year – and has been showing any signs that he’s about to turn things around. The idea that the 2010 Yankees will have an advantage at SS if they play the 2010 Twins in these playoffs is absurd – barring injury of course.

Of course, the idea that the Twins will be the better team when they face the Yankees in this postseason is also absurd.

Total Dominication
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Total Dominication
5 years 9 months ago

Again, not the point. The point is that the worst Yankee batter is a shit load better than the worst Twin.

hey
Guest
hey
5 years 9 months ago

We get it Dave, you love the 2010 Twins. Their WAR is sooo much better than their run differential. Just like the 2009 Mariners had a WAR that is sooo much better than their record, which was outperforming their outscored run differential. woop di dooo.

cs3
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cs3
5 years 9 months ago

Well this article turned out to be pretty silly, didnt it.

Just like everyone knew it was before the series started…

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