MLB Playoffs 2011: The Commandments of MLB Playoffs
You've heard it all before. Good pitching beats good hitting. The cream always rises to the top. The early bird gets the worm. Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mama's back. You might as well throw every cliche in the book out. Like most cliches and superstitions, analysis of the playoffs rarely ever hits the mark.
Justin Verlander goes 24-5 and dominates the league in the last month. The Tigers are destined to go 1-0 with two more good pitchers to go. Well, rain comes on Friday and dashes that plan. In the regular season this would be no big deal. In a five game series it could mean everything.
So, how is one to negotiate the mountains of analysis on the tube, in the paper and on the net? Well, the first thing to remember that with all their vast experience, swagger and fancy makeup they probably don't know anymore than you and me. So, remember these rules (or guidelines) and you should be fine.
Small Sample Size
It's funny how often people forget this rule of thumb. Baseball is all about sample size. We make these guys go through 162 games to figure out who really is good and who isn't. You condense that down to five games and you are bound to get some outliers.
In other words, does anyone really believe the Diamondbacks are this bad? Of course they aren't. Pick out any two game stretch of any team in baseball and you will find some outrageously ugly baseball. You'll also find brilliant baseball. Think about it, why does the secretary that picks colleges based on colors win the NCAA tourney bracket every year? Should she take Dick Vitale's place?
Leave Chemistry in the Classroom
God love those pundits. Basically, when a team is succeeding and they can't explain it they fall back on the crutch that is chemistry. This team has great chemistry. The whole is greater than sum of its parts. You've heard it all before. You know what makes great chemistry? Winning. You know what makes bad chemistry? Losing.
Talent usually finds it way to the top and when the most talented team doesn't win it doesn't necessarily mean they weren't playing well or working well together. Another team may have simply gotten hot or even one pitcher.
Okay, I'm breaking my own rules here, but take a look at the scores of these games. The Phillies torched the Cards in game one. The Brewers have done it in two games. The Rays did it once and then the Rangers returned the favor. Heck, the Yankees looked pretty big in game one.
Great pitching always beats good hitting is one of the great myths of our day. Great hitting beats crappy pitching. Great pitching beats crappy hitting. When two great players face each other there should be some give and take. Offensive players may have worse numbers overall in the playoffs, but pitchers usually will too.
The Rules from the Book Don't Cease to Exist
The book changed the way we think about strategy, but that didn't happen in the playoffs. We learned that sacrificing is usually a bad idea and that stolen bases are bad unless you have an exceptional success rate. We also learned a lot of batting order.
Teams are using these principles during the season and then they abandon them. It is just good baseball to move the runner over and take chances on the bases. It isn't good percentage baseball, but it is good baseball and when you play what we would call Earl Weaver ball today, you are chastised when it doesn't work.
It Doesn't Matter If You Are Hot or Cold Coming in
In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals limped into the playoffs. If they had played in any other division they would have been making vacation plans by early September. Luckily for them, they played in the Comedy Central. They managed to hold off a late run by the Houston Astros to barely win the division.
A few weeks later they were holding up the trophy. We often assume that you want to be hot coming into the playoffs and I suppose it would be better to be hot than not. Of course, this year nearly every team came in hot, so that doesn't particularly matter.
Enjoy the Moment
Consider this my PSA for Major League Baseball. Often it can seem like numbers crunchers want to suck the joy out of the game. It can seem difficult to understand, but we compartmentalize the joy. When you understand the mathematical odds of Dan Johnson hitting a home run with two strikes then you come out that much more amused.
We believe in playing the percentages and probabilities, but no one can predict when those individual events will occur. Whether they occur in blowouts or close games makes a huge difference. In other words, even the sharpest mind in the game can't predict the next walk off homer. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Don't Try to Learn Anything for Your Team
Think about the absurdity of it all. Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive Cy Young in 2009, but it wasn't until after 2010 that teams knew they needed a Tim Lincecum. Really? When you win the title teams want to replicate your success. They really don't even realize what they are trying to do.
The Giants were a very flawed team as they showed this season. They happened to catch lightening in a bottle and suddenly executives and pundits were treating them as if they had a magic elixir. Yes, they had great young pitching and an absurdly deep bullpen. Wouldn't you love to have that?
The truth is that you know good baseball. Good baseball is good baseball before and after the playoffs. One team will be better than everyone a grand total of 11 times. They could be as accomplished as 11-8 in the playoffs and people will hail them as geniuses that have found the secret of the universe. A stretch of 19 games does not a genius make.