In 2007 Cano roped 2 home runs in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians on his way to a .333/.375/.800 line that couldn’t help the Yankees get into the next round. After an off-year in 2008, Cano stumbled out of the block in 2009 with a .167/.167/.167 line in the ALDS before recovering in the ALCS to notch a .261/.414/.478 line. He shrank again in the World Series to an awful .136/.130/.136 line. So, he’s gone from a big-game hitter to a not-so-much-of-a-big-game hitter back to a big-game hitter before choking and then recovering from the yips this postseason. Does that make sense to you? Nah, me either.
No, it’s seems more likely that Cano is simply an excellent hitter who ran through an excellent patch of the season, just a slew of games that are coming at the right time (Larry touched on this earlier). Now, it should also be noted that it is more likely that Cano will do this than, say, Francisco Cervelli, but that has more to do with Cano being a good hitter than Cano being more clutch. In a similar line of thinking, good teams that run through the playoffs aren’t really more clutch than other teams. They are just playing well at the right time, but yes, it’s more likely that that the 97-win team will play well than the 89-win team. But again, that has more to do with the 97-win team being better.
Looking from the opposite perspective, Jorge Posada didn’t have an inspiring postseason. He hit .273/.333/.273 in the ALDS before a .263/.300/.368 line in the ALCS. Before you go any farther, what’s your impression of Posada? Clutch or unclutch? Well, his line for his CAREER in the postseason is .241/.349/.381. Ew. So why is that? Is Jorge just a choker? After posting a career regular season line of .275/.377/.479, does he really just fall apart in the postseason? And if he does, how does one explain all the good series (and there are some) he has had in previous postseasons? Now, I’m willing to admit that, after 119 games in the playoffs, there might be something off about Posada in the playoffs. 119 games is still a pretty small sample size, but his lines are not even close to being close. It makes you wonder about “clutchness”, doesn’t it? Sure, but you shouldn’t start there. What other reasons are there? One of the more plausible answers, after dismissing better pitching (sure, but other guys hit okay against those guys) and cold weather (ditto earlier parenthetical), is that the long season for catchers wear on them more. You’ll note that Posada still draws a fair amount of walks in the postseason, leading to a decent OBP, but his power, nahmally good, is absolutely gone. Would the wear-and-tear of a long season on those legs do the trick? I’d be more inclined to believe that than Jorge “I’ve been awesome in New York all my life” Posada can’t perform under pressure, but I’m open to debate. When you look at other players, search for other answers first.
So what’s my point? Am I just trying to rain on Cano’s parade? Nope. I like Cano. I thought he got a bad rap in 2008 when his BABiP tanked. Nope, my point is to make you hesitate a little before naming guys “clutch” and “choker” because it’s often unfair (results bias–if you change your reasoning simply as a result of the result, it’s probably not good reasoning). You have to realize that the playoffs are really just an extension to the season and are bound to the same fluctuations that 5-10 games during the season are. Sometimes you’re good, and sometimes you’re not. Some guys just don’t play well for a few games. Cano was on fire, and he deserves all the praise you can give him about his hitting prowess. But good hitters are just more likely to do well simply because they’re more talented. Alex Rodriguez, the king of chokers (apparently), has a .290/.395/.528 line in the playoffs, which is just slightly down from his .303/.387/.571 line during the regular season. Don’t let your perceptions of a few games mar your image of a player. It’s disappointing to lose, and it’s understandable to be frustrated. Just take it out on Lady Fortune and not the players, who work their hardest but are at the Lady’s mercy.
Now, about Brooks Conrad … just don’t get me started … something about exceptions to every rule.