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2011 MLB Playoffs: Chaos Theory and the World Series

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2011 MLB Playoffs: Chaos Theory and the World Series
Harry How/Getty Images
Most fans couldn't pick Nelson Cruz out of a lineup two weeks ago.

The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals begin the World Series tonight in the conclusion of what has been one of the more memorable Octobers in recent memory. We have tackled the playoffs from every angle here at Bleacher Report, so I'm not going to wax on wild cards and regular season records. You've heard it all before.

What is remarkable in every sport is how people try to attach meaning to the chaos. I suppose that is human nature. For centuries, people have attempted to explain the unexplainable through religion, philosophy, science and various pagan rituals. What was once up is down and what was down is up and will be all over again.

I'm really no different from anyone else. I love baseball because it offers enough time to find trends and numbers that can predict the future with some sense of accuracy. When that time line drops to five or seven games, those methods become difficult at best. That doesn't stop the more famous of the pundits from laying down their generalizations of how a team should experience success in the postseason.

Let's take the Rangers. They scored 39 runs in the six games of the ALCS. That amounts to six and a half runs a game against a team that had the most dominant starter and reliever in the game this season. Does hitting really triumph over pitching? The notion seems as silly as the reverse. You can breakdown the game through match ups, looking at numbers from the first two rounds, or consulting astrological signs.

Baseball is a game of ups and downs and the secret is really no secret at all. Whichever team has more players on the upswing will win the series. Can a manager, general manager, or other coaches effect who will be on the upswing? I suppose you can put them in comfortable positions and help them relax, but there is no empirical proof that clutch performance exists in any systematic way.

Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Is David Freese going to be a big star?

Of course, there is no empirical proof that it does not exist either. Some players seem to roll sevens in the playoffs and pennant chases more consistently than others. Others tend to roll snake eyes too many times. However, those numbers are fewer and farther between. Consider the following below and tell me what you see.

. . . . . . . . . . . .AVG/OBP/SLG

Player A. . . . . ..262/.356/.490

Player B. . . . . ..278/.358/.527

Who was the better player? We would say Player B, but the difference is not as great as it would seem. Both players are Reggie Jackson. A is from the regular season while B is from the postseason. It should be noted that he played in only one postseason after 1982 and fared horribly. Yet, he continued to collect plate appearances until he retired in 1987. He hit over .250 only once in those last five seasons.

In other words, during his prime, Jackson was just as good in the regular season as he was in the postseason. Some could argue that this still makes him a clutch performer, but I would argue that we remember the great moments and forget the bad. This is the chaos that exists in sports. You either can be afraid of it or you can embrace it. One more example just for fun.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .AVG/OBP/SLG

Player A. . . . . . ..283/.378/.544

Player B. . . . . . ..283/.388/.520

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Was Reggie Jackson really a clutch performer?

Okay, now most of you would choose Player A in a very close call. You would be choosing the regular season version of David Ortiz. Player B is his playoff version. Again, one could argue that since you are facing better pitching in the playoffs, that would still constitute clutch performance. Fine. I'm, not here to get into a semantic argument over what clutch means.

Memory is a funny thing sometimes. Lawyers tell us that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable testimony there is. Our memories play tricks on us. Often, it is colored by our emotions. Many hate Alex Rodriguez, so they hold onto the notion that he is decidedly unclutch and so they remember the failures more than the successes. They like Derek Jeter, so they do the opposite. 

Those of us that delve into sabermetrics can tell you the likelihood of any player succeeding in any given situation. We cannot tell you exactly when they will do it. That's what makes sports so fun to watch. You don't know what the outcome will be.

Here locally, most Astros fans would call Brad Ausmus one of the worst regular-season hitters in franchise history. He was a hell of a catcher, but he just wasn't going to hit for power. Yet, he hit the home run that sent the 2005 ALDS into extra innings.

Yankees fans of old would say the same about Bucky Dent. Yet, he was Johnny on the spot in the one game playoff in 1978. There was Don Larsen in 1956 and countless other examples. Who knows where David Freese and Nelson Cruz will be in 10 years. They may be wrapping up memorable careers or they may be a distant memory. Either way, they are here now and both huge reasons for their clubs being where they are.

This is why baseball is the greatest sport in the world. There is about a week and a half left of baseball, and someone is going to be a star and someone is going to be a goat. I can't tell you who that will be any more than the next person. We just have to sit back and watch the chaos happen.

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