This postseason, we witnessed yet another three-and-out by the Twins when they were swept by the New York Yankees. This early exit prompted many fans to claim that Twins players are “scared of the Yankees,” despite the additions of J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and Carl Pavano.
I am adamantly opposed to this argument due to a lack of evidence. Seriously, none of us can say that the players are “scared” when we don’t have access to the dugout or clubhouse, even if they carry a 11-24 regular season record (.314 winning percentage) against the Yankees over the past 5 years. Instead, I agree with a theory that someone else mentioned back in October (I can’t remember who, but it’s definitely not my idea) that since the Twins stock the pitching staff with soft-throwing strike throwers, they have a disadvantage when they face the homer-happy Yankees.
To test this theory, I decided to check the regular season record for the Twins against the best home run hitting teams in the league. I chose that all teams that averaged at least 1 home run for an individual season would be included in that season’s sample, and had faced the Twins during that particular season. This led to a minimum sample of 8 teams (2010) and a maximum of 14 (2006).
After finding the win-loss records against these teams for the respective seasons, I sorted these records into four categories: Versus All, Versus Top 6 (the top 6 home run hitting teams in MLB that season), Versus AL Central Teams, and Versus Non-AL Central Teams. Also, these records were compared to the Twins overall regular season record to see if the Twins performed better or worse against the teams that fell into those four categories.
Every year, the Twins had a record in a category that was worse than their overall record, but the most telling evidence is when all the categories are added together.
We see that in every category, the Twins have had a worse record against these “power hitting” teams compared to their overall 2006-2010 record (the “Total” line). However, the one that jumps out the most is their record against the Top 6 home run teams, as they only have a .466 winning percentage. This supports the hypothesis that the Twins pitching staff does not match up well against home run hitting teams. As for the Yankees, they’ve only finished outside of the Top 6 once in the past five years, and that was 2008 when they were tied for 9th. Therefore, we could say that the theory is correct that the Twins pitching staff is not a good match for the Yankees offense.
To the right of the 5-year totals, I included the playoff results for the Twins over these years. All three times they were in the playoffs, they were swept in three games. In 2010, the Yankees finished 3rd in home runs, and they were 1st in 2009. However, the 2006 Athletics finished 16th, which would appear to counter these findings. My response points straight to a phrase we’ve commonly heard during the playoffs: “You can’t script October.” More seriously, the playoff series constitute such a small sample size of games that, as the slogan suggests, anything can happen.
In conclusion, it does appear as though the Twins struggle against the best home run hitting teams in the league, suggesting that their problems with handling the New York Yankees can be attributed to more than just nerves. Despite this finding, I would stop short of claiming it’s the only factor. Nevertheless, the next time you see someone argue that the Twins fear the Yankees, you can counter by stating that the Twins must “fear” the best power hitting teams as well.