Monday, February 28, 2011

Success vs. Failure

The turning point in Game 1 of last year's ALDS match-up between the Twins and Yankees came in the sixth inning when Curtis Granderson delivered a two-run triple against Francisco Liriano with two outs.

You might recall the situation. The Twins led 3-2 at the time, and Liriano had been dominating for much of the game. At the time Granderson stepped in, Minnesota's starter had pitched 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven while allowing only two runs on five hits. If he could retire Granderson -- who had fared very poorly against left-handed pitchers throughout his career -- Liriano would have had a quality start in the books and sent the Twins into the seventh with a lead.

Unfortunately, that's not how it went down. Granderson drove a ball high off the right field wall, bringing home two runs and knocking Liriano out of the game. The Yankees would go on to win and sweep the series.

Many sour Twins fans look at this event as a failure on the part of Liriano -- further evidence that he buckles under pressure and cannot be trusted in big spots (this analysis, of course, ignores the fact that he shut down the league's highest-scoring offense over the first five innings).

But if you ask a Yankees fan about the play, they'll give you a different viewpoint. Most likely, they'll tell you that it was a great piece of hitting by Granderson, who managed to get the best of a very good pitcher, changing his team's fortunes.

This is a topic I've been wanting to write about for a while: the difference between success and failure. Or, more specifically, the difference between our perceptions of success and failure.

There's a psychological aspect here that tends to cloud fan analysis. When a player on our favorite team reaches an unfavorable outcome -- a batter strikes out, a pitcher gives up a home run, a base runner gets thrown out stealing -- we tend to blame it on him rather than crediting his opponent. The opposite is also true. When Twins fans reminisce about Kirby Puckett's momentous home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, our first thought isn't, "What a crummy pitch by Charlie Liebrandt." Similarly, when we recall Jack Morris' gritty 10-inning performance the next night, most of us don't think, "Boy, the Braves' lineup sure did suck in that game."

So, setting aside our emotional intensity as fans, can we really claim with confidence that Liriano failed in that key spot? He went to his best pitch, delivering a slider that tailed away from the lefty swinger, and Granderson simply went out and got it. It's true that Grandy has had his struggles against southpaws over the course of his career, but he's a good baseball player. He's collected 55 extra-base hits against lefties in the majors, and not every one of those has come on a mistake pitch.

I write this post not to make any specific point, but rather to get people thinking about success and failure in a different way, especially when analyzing specific events. Just because things don't go the way we'd like, it doesn't mean we always have to blame somebody. In major league baseball, and especially in the playoffs, the opposition comprises the most elite players in the world.

Sometimes it's more a matter of the other side succeeding than our own side failing.

The juxtaposition between success and failure exists in many places, from baseball fields to poker sites.


Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

Interesting perspective...I wouldn't call this particular moment a failure, because it was definitely unlikely. It's true one has to congratulate others for successes and give credit where it's due. It's easy for many fans to lose sight of that when emotionally invested in games, especially the playoffs.

The frustration of this moment for me, however (aside from bringing back all the bad memories of that very pathetic series) was just how painful it was to watch that inning as a whole unfold. It just had that "here we go again" quality and really took some thunder out of the game for a lot of us. And while I don't blame Gardy for most of the Twins' playoff ineptitude, I felt this was one of the moments (like in 2004) where he managed the bullpen poorly. Liriano can run on a pretty short tank, and when you've got one of the best bullpens in baseball, you should be ready to use it in a situation like this in October. Considering he went to Mijares too late anyway, Fuentes would have been the go-to in that situation, as far as I'm concerned.

I ultimately give the Yankees credit for how well they played in that series, but they also capitalized on some all-around awful play by our Twins. Going 2 for 18 with RISP was very embarrassing.

Ed Bast said...

This is sort of like blaming 12 straight playoff losses on "our bats going quiet" instead of maybe considering we keep getting outpitched.

I understand your point Nick, but I think when it comes to the Twins so many fans are incapable of criticizing their favorite club. We're a cute little team that could, small market, heck they tried to contract us but we fought through it all - but we still can't be expected to beat the big bad Yankees, they're big and bad and have a big payroll, blah blah blah. Well we're not a small market team anymore. It's not good enough to simply make the playoffs and get swept year after year.

So instead of finding excuses for the team, why can't we admit some shortcomings and improve the team? Why do we have to watch our competition get better this offseason while we get worse? As hard as it is for us Minnesotans to admit, this organization is not perfect. But until we can admit our faults and improve on them, this Culture of Mediocrity is going to persist, and we're always going to be decent but not great.

socaltwinsfan said...

Let's not discount luck in these cases, either. What I remember most from this specific moment is that Rick Anderson was quoted as saying as soon as the ball was hit, he turned away thinking it was an easy out. The ball carried to the wall like it hadn't all season. It was a high fly ball that glanced off the wall. If Span catches it, the Twins get out of that inning. And for those wanting to take out Liriano before that in the sixth inning after just 102 pitches, the Yankees left CC Sabathia in after he had walked back-to-back hitters with two outs to tie the game and he was still allowed to face the right-handed hitting JJ Hardy, who struck out with the bases loaded to keep the game tied. And even if the Twins are a "big-market" team now, they still have a payroll that is half of the Yankees. HALF. That is ridiculous.

VodkaDave said...

How much are they paying you for those gambling links? (Not trying to hate, just generally curious)

Ed Bast said...

Socal, ah, the old "luck" excuse. When you run out of all other excuses, chalk it up to luck. You could say Frankie made a poor pitch, but that would suggest one of our beloved Twins did something wrong.

"And even if the Twins are a "big-market" team now, they still have a payroll that is half of the Yankees. HALF. That is ridiculous."

Texas had half the payroll of the Twins, and miraculously managed to smoke the Yankees in the ALCS. Ridiculous, indeed.

Anonymous said...

In other words, Granderson was sitting on the slider and there's nothing that could have been done?

Nick N. said...

In other words, Granderson was sitting on the slider and there's nothing that could have been done?

I don't claim to know what Granderson's strategy was and I'm not saying with full confidence that Liriano didn't fail execute like he wanted to.

What I'm saying is that situations like these aren't as black-and-white as some fans make them out to be. Just because Liriano gave up a crippling hit, it doesn't automatically register as evidence that he choked, or that Gardenhire made a mistake by leaving him in the game.

Anonymous said...

What is black and white is that the twins haven't won a playoff game since 2004.

Anonymous said...

I remember that hit and I seem to recall everyone saying that pitch was damn near unhittable, and somehow the batter got a piece of it. It was just one of those deals where the stars all lined up right and the big play happened.

Scrappy teams get pissed when something like that happens and they turn up the heat. The Twins wilted, and wilted and wilted. It was painful to watch. Please, let's not revisit it! We'll all need therapy again.

But hey, it’s a new season! Maybe Ed Bast thinks the Twins got worse over the off season but I don't. Go Twins!

Harold Weisberg said...

Doesn't really explain 12 playoff losses in a row? Dokay. I suppose we should take our hats off to Tex who blasted the eye high slider off Crain too. Yeah, he went up and got that one like Granderson. You dont lose 12 playoff games in a row without considering they choke. All the Twins care about is making it to the playoffs hoping that through the law of averages eventually they will make a long run and do some damage. Any other playoff team has to work a lot harder on the field and in the front office to make the playoffs and it shows each october.

Anonymous said...

Opponents succeed when they beat your team in a closely fought contest; our teams fail when they lose 12 straight.

Danny said...

Look at 2004 and 2006. The Twins had arguably the best starter in baseball, and yet they only mustered 1 win in the playoffs. Surely, they should have won the Series with the best starter, right? I agree the Twins have issues in the postseason, however, an ace doesn't make a difference if you can't hit or your bullpen blows it.

Ed, how do we fix this problem, this year? I'm dying to know.

Ed Bast said...

Well Danny since we didn't do anything about it in the offseason, we need to make a deal at the deadline for a top-line starter. Like we could've for Cliff Lee last year, but didn't, because we didn't want to get rid of a guy who might be here in 2014.

I'm not saying that guarantees anything, but it would at least put us in a much better position. You know, so maybe we can win a game when our bats go quiet. Which would get the proverbial monkey off our backs, which might make the hitters more confident, so on and so forth.

Someone will become available, always happens. We just have to be willing to (gasp) part with one of our beloved prospects.

Wachs said...

I hate it when people jump to conclusions about one single PA. A blind man could hit a homerun if he has the swing and luck permits. The odds of Granderson hitting that shot were dim, but it was a very real possibility. It's easy to fault a pitcher who has struggled over a stretch of time, but it makes no sense to blame him for the loss. Give all the credit to Granderson for delivering when it counted. Furthermore, it upsets me that the consensus (at least, that I've seen among Twins fans' comments on MN blogs) is that we "are not built to win in the playoffs". If you make the playoffs, it is because you beat other teams on a consistent basis. This isn't the NBA where the better team almost always prevails. Just like Granderson's small odds of capitalizing on Liriano, the Twins will someday beat the Yanks in the playoffs. I just hope we get the chance.

Snortwood said...

That was the inning, but the critical moment came earlier. With one out, Texeira doubled. Up 3-0 with a runner on 2nd, no big deal. Ignore that guy for the most part, and go after the hitters. Which Frankie pretty much did, going after A-Rod with everything he had. Only problem was, at some point in the A-Rod at bat Frankie threw a slider in the dirt, Joe couldn't handle it, and Texeira moved to third. Then A-Rod walked. So -- instead of 1st and 2nd and an out, it was 1st and 3rd. That made all the difference in the world, because with 1st and 2nd Cuddyer at 1B plays back, and the shot (assuming all things play out the same) that Cano hit is an easy force at 2nd for the 2nd out, and very likely a 3-6-1 dp. At the very least, it's the 2nd out and the inning plays out much differently. But with runners on 1st and 3rd Cuddy was playing in, holding A-Rod, and Cano put it past him and everything pretty much fell apart from that point. But -- my contention is and was, the critical point came in the A-Rod at bat, when the defense was forced to come in and that opened up a hole that wouldn't have been there if they would have kept Texeira at 2nd base. And the great thing about it is, nobody can dispute that! It's all, well, conjecture. And that's the last time i'll go into it, since it's over and done with and none of this will change what happened in that awful inning, at least so far as Twins fans are concerned. Onward!