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Playoff Baseball is Different

Updated: October 23, 2013

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Photo courtesy of gossipextra.com

“”My ‘expletive’ doesn’t work in the play-offs. My job is getting us to the play-offs. What happens after that is ‘expletive’ luck.”

Billy Beane in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball

Photo by Brett Farmiloe

Since Billy Beane is truly a smart guy this famous quote is either 1) a piece of baseball wisdom, or 2) a convenient excuse for a guy who hasn’t had much ‘luck’, depending on your point of view.

His point is well-taken though, playoff baseball is different than the marathon that is the regular season. Statistical abnormalities even out over the course of a long season and Billy’s portfolio approach to value plays on that.

But the playoffs are different. Different not only because of sample size but different because of what it takes to be successful in October.

  1. Pitching Rules-Some people complain about the 1-0 October games, some love ‘em. But the facts do bear out that good pitching beats good hitting. Thus far in the 2013 postseason pitchers have recorded 8.84 strikeouts/9 innings (vs. 7.57 in the regular season). They have held batters to a microscopic OPS of .649 in October (vs. .714 in season). Actually it only seemed there were so many 1-0 or 2-1 games because they were the ones that stood out…they were absolutely riveting. Pitching rules in October, and power arms play especially well.
  2. Scouting Also Rules-This is the baseball equivalent of a football coach having 2 weeks to prepare a game plan. Come playoff time teams have the opposition thoroughly dissected, and clubs that can invest in scouting have a distinct advantage. Pitchers are incredibly prepared with every batter’s weaknesses. Defensive positioning gets more specialized and creative.
  3. Fundamentals Matter-With good teams matched up over the course of a series it’s often the misplays that make a difference. Fundamental mistakes such as missing the cutoff (Yasiel Puig) or running through a 3B stop sign (Miguel Cabrera) stand out, and teams that give up extra outs tend to pay a price.
  4. Photo by Keith Allison

    Look for Transcendent Players-We spend all season focused on the most talented players such as Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. But come October you’re looking for transcendent players who are difference-makers, leaders who truly make others around them better. In this year’s World Series we’re blessed with two of the best. Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game, a solid hitter who should probably be NL MVP this year. But his handling of a pitching staff and game situations is the reason all these great young Cards’ arms have so smoothly acclimated to the majors. Dustin Pedroia is a flat-out winning player whose toughness is downright infectious. Like with a Derek Jeter, you just can’t quantify his impact on the character of his club but you know it exists. Every club wants a Dustin Pedroia.

Billy Beane has a great approach for his small market situation but Moneyball doesn’t account for power arms, scouting, fundamental players or great leadership. Hence the A’s are not very ‘lucky’ come October.

An image that just exemplifies playoff baseball…ALCS Game 3, John Lackey was locked in a 1-0 duel with Justin Verlander, 1-out, bottom 7th, and Victor Martinez singles through the middle. In the regular season pitchers give up hits like crazy, no big deal, we get the aloof look. But in this case Lackey looked downright distraught, having allowed a single baserunner. Not only are the fans tense, the players are tense. Great drama.

This year we’re blessed with a great Series matchup, two best records (each with 97 wins), two historic franchises. They’re both balanced teams with hitting, defense, bench, starters and bullpens. Both teams have been stellar over the past decade (give the Sox a pass on the season of Bobby V) with two Series crowns apiece, so the winner would have to be considered the team of the past decade. As a side note, given how both clubs are loaded with great young talent and smart operators we could be looking at the clubs of the next decade.

These things never seem to play out as they look on paper but this has all the makings of an epic Series. I love playoff baseball.

This post was written by

Dave Graziano – who has written posts on Big Dog Sports Blog.
Short Hills, NJ USA


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