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Updated: October 5th, 2010 3:54pm
Numbers Game: Does momentum (or lack of) matter for the Twins?

Numbers Game: Does momentum (or lack of) matter for the Twins?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Numbers Game is an extension of the State of the Twins section, where we dive a little deeper into stats, trends, sabermetrics, and basically make peoples' heads explode.

MINNEAPOLIS -- How much does momentum matter heading into the playoffs?

Well, in the cases of the Minnesota Twins (losers of eight of their last 10 regular season games) and the New York Yankees (losers of eight of 11), they'd like to hope momentum doesn't matter much at all.

"You don't ever want to look at it and say, 'Oh, these games don't mean anything,' because when you step on the field you want to win," Jim Thome said about the doldrums the Twins experienced after clinching the American League Central.

"But I will say this, I'm sure the intensity level will be a lot different on Wednesday than it (was) closing down the season. With that said, you want to try to keep it, it's just hard. It's not the same intensity."

Thome added, "If I had to describe it, it's almost like the last week of spring training coming into opening day. Let's face it, you get to that last week of spring training and the goal is to keep everybody healthy. And it's kind of the same thing. You don't ever want to say the intensity is (low)... But it's a different vibe (in the playoffs)."

Manager Ron Gardenhire admitted earlier in the week that he was stressed out about losing, but also said, "We went in as hot as you can be hot (in 2009) and got knocked out in the first round."

"It's not that I want to lose, believe me," the manager added. "I want to make sure we're healthy right now more than anything else. I've had some concerns over that, because some guys haven't healed up as quickly as I hoped they would. So over this last week, my biggest concern is making sure these guys are healthy, and we want to win the ballgames, yes, but I just want to go in with the opportunity to have everybody out there that's supposed to be out there. And that's what we're trying to do right now."

History would suggest momentum at the end of September is somewhat irrelevant as well. The correlation is sporadic at best when looking at the past 15 World Series winners.

Hypothetically, a momentum study like this would probably require some heavy-duty mysql database work, and a much larger sample size, but the point is clear when looking at the following examples.

1995 Braves (90-54) were swept in a three-game series to finish the season.
1996 Yankees (92-70) went 5-6 in their final 11 games.
1997 Marlins (92-70) lost four in a row and seven of nine to end the season.
1998 Yankees (114-48) won their last seven.
1999 Yankees (98-64) lost five of nine in the final two weeks of the season.
2000 Yankees (87-74) lost seven in a row and 15 of their last 18 games.
2001 Diamondbacks (92-70) lost last two, but won eight of their last 11.
2002 Angels (99-63) won their last two, but lost eight of their last 12.
2003 Marlins (91-71) won six of their last seven to end the season.
2004 Red Sox (98-64) won seven of their last nine.
2005 White Sox (99-63) won five in a row and eight of their last 10.
2006 Cardinals (83-78) lost nine of their last 12.
2007 Red Sox (96-66) won four of their last six, but finished 6-7 in final 13 games.
2008 Phillies (92-70) won 13 of their last 16.
2009 Yankees (103-59) won seven in a row before dropping three of four to end the season.

Each case is different. Some teams clinched early, much like the Twins, and some teams battled until the final weekend for playoff positioning or division titles. Some teams may have rested starters or dealt with injuries.

I'll let you guys dissect those scenarios further, if you feel the itch.

In the Twins' case, their top priority was getting everybody healthy, and they succeeded, for the most part. The starting lineup is intact, and both the starting rotation and bullpen have a full array of responsive bodies, assuming Jon Rauch's bullpen session went fine on Tuesday.

In reality, hot streaks and cold streaks in baseball -- both from a wins and losses perspective and from an individual player perspective -- are difficult to predict and quantify. Streaks can turn on a dime at any moment on any day, mostly because of the individualistic nature of the game.

Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin dove into the momentum discussion in The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball a few years back. All three of these men have spent time working for major league baseball teams.

They looked at all individual player performances between 2000-2003 in the major leagues and discovered 6,408 five-game "hot streaks" (defined using their own parameters) and 6,489 five-game "cold streaks."

The Book actually uses a metric called weighted on-base average (wOBA), but to keep peoples' heads from exploding, I'll translate it to OPS.

Average OPS during the 6,489 five-game cold streaks
.362 OPS
Average OPS in the one game following the five-game cold streak
.792 OPS

Average OPS during the 6,408 five-game hot streaks
1.300 OPS
Average OPS in the one game following the five-game hot streak
.886 OPS

As you can see -- and as most people already intuitively understand about baseball -- everything migrates toward the middle.

The only thing predictive about hot streaks is that they will eventually cool off, or regress toward a mean. The same is true for cold streaks.

None of this is to say that the Twins will or won't advance to the American League Championship Series in two weeks.

But they are (relatively) healthy now. And they are a very good baseball team.

And they're possibly due for a hot streak.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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