Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quite the Halladay

I don’t know much about college football. I don’t follow it. I never quite got the idea of cheering for a team when you know the players are only there for four years, at the most. (Which is probably why Theo drives me so crazy.) But, a few years ago I was driving somewhere, and listening to the radio as they discussed a conference championship game of some sort. One team was favored, and they were discussing what the underdog would need to do in order to win the game. They had a list of things that, if the underdog did well, would lead to a victory. After that discussion I got out of my car to do whatever it is I was doing. Afterwards, I got back into the car to realize that the game was over, and the favored team had won with a score something like 69-0. Apparently, the underdog didn’t do anything on that list. Or, the announcers were just trying to create hype for a game they knew would be a lopsided mess.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. In the car, I hear a preview of the Reds-Phillies game. The hosts were talking about all the things the Reds could do to win the series. They were an athletic team. They could go first to third, or score from first on a double. Their pitching was capable of spinning a gem. They could claw and peck their way into the series. They agreed, though, that the first game would be very telling.

We all know how that worked out. Apparently base runners have trouble going from first to third if they’re not on first to begin with. Pitchers can pitch as well as they like. It doesn’t much matter when Roy Halladay tosses another no-hitter. Imagine if the Phillies had kept Cliff Lee for game 2?

I think it’s great that Halladay pitched his no-no in his first career playoff start. People like to talk about having playoff experience. Well, Yankees fans like to talk about having playoff experience. They like to tell you that the playoffs require a higher mental ability. It’s a rare person that can perform well in the postseason. The first time on the stage naturally turns players to jelly. I guess not in this case. Nobody ever remembers that just because you’ve never does something doesn’t mean you can’t. Much like the idea of a “clutch” hitter, it’s often ex players who promote the idea through their broadcasting roles. They have a vested interest in making people believe that aside from being lucky enough to have great physical gifts, they’re tougher mentally as well. They’re better people. When it comes down to it, most players perform in the playoffs about the same as they perform in the regular season. The only difference is the sample size. Take David Ortiz, the MVP of the 2004 ALCS. In that series, he hit .387 (12 hits in 31 AB). Pretty good. In the 2004 season, he batted .301. The difference between .387 and .301 when you’re talking about 31 AB? 2 hits. In 2007, David Ortiz hit .292 in the ALCS (7 hits in 24 AB), compared to .332 for the season. The difference between the two with 24 AB? 1 hit. So, Ortiz, the greatest clutch hitter in the history of sports who carried his team on his back through the 2004 ALCS, was within a couple hits of the performance you’d usually expect from him. How about Ortiz’s very first ALCS? With Minnesota in 2002 he had 16 ALCS AB’s and collected 5 hits, for a .313 average. For the regular season? He hit .272. The difference over 16 AB’s? Less than a hit. So, even in his first trip to the ALCS, he performed right where you’d expect him to. Playoff experience? It’s just something announcers like to talk about.

Otherwise they’d have to research stuff.

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