On too-many-homers and the postseason

Last night it was Michael Kay posing the question of whether you can homer your way to victory in the postseason to Paul O’Neill, and Paulie repeating the new found wisdom that, no, you can’t. Pay no mind to all of those hugely important and highly memorable postseason home runs the Yankees hit from 1996-2001, I guess, this is a formula that just doesn’t work in October because, you see, there’s Too Many Good Pitchers once you get to the postseason (the members of the 1996 Braves and 2000 A’s just collectively admired their super-awesome World Series rings as I write that, I’m sure).

There are two obvious rejoinders to this great playoff pitching myth that I see. First and foremost, the Yankees have actually been quite good against the league’s best pitchers this season. In fact, they’ve scored at least five runs in games started by Justin Verlander (twice), Felix Hernandez, Gio Gonzalez, Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, David Price (twice), and James Shields (three times). Indeed, the notion that you need to small ball your way to victories over the very best pitchers just seems bizarre to me. Sure, the best pitchers might be less likely than the average starter to allow a home run, but shouldn’t they also be less likely to allow opposing teams to string together hits and “productive outs” to scratch out a run here and there, to say nothing of being less likely to allow the number of baserunners you’d need to get 3-5 runs this way? If we’re assuming for the sake of argument that the opposing starter is on his game when you’re facing him in the postseason, wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a lineup of mashers who’d be more likely to turn the fewer number of mistake pitches into extra base hits to do maximum damage when given the opportunity, as opposed to a lineup that needs to get a larger number of hittable pitches to string togethera bunch of singles or get a fly ball deep enough to the outfield for a sacrifice fly?

Secondly, I really would have thought that we would have stopped delivering pronouncements about What Wins In October after last year’s ALDS. You remember that time, right? Back when the 2010 Giants had shown us that all you need is love good starting pitching and the Phillies and Rays were pert near invincible thanks to their starting rotations, especially in the shorter divisional series round? Well, lo and behold, neither of those (legitimately) great rotations even made it out of the first round, losing to the eventual league champions in five and four games, respectively. In addition, the Cardinals didn’t exactly ride a run of stellar starting pitching performances to the championship.

Sooner or later we’re all going to be forced to admit that there’s no singular recipe for playoff success. October is, by definition, a small sampling of baseball, and that means that, by and large, the game turns on who gets lucky/hot at the right time, and the somewhat wacky things that can happen in one week or one game. Cody Ross turning Roy Halladay into a batting practice pitcher. A.J. Burnett delivering the pitching performance of the year. Neftali Feliz catching half an inch too much of of the plate, allowing his cutter to be lifted the opposite way for a game tying hit, instead of missing the end of the bat for a World Series ending strikeout. Those are the things that decide postseason games and series, not how a team is scoring runs in June.

And, of course, as I said yesterday, there’s an implication here that the Yankees are the newest version of the 2010 Blue Jays, a team that doesn’t do much of anything besides hit a ton of home runs, that’s just wrong. In fact, about the only thing the Yankees are not doing well, or at least about as well as you’d expect them to be doing, is hitting with runner in scoring position. That’s not unimportant, of course, but considering that nothing else seems to be out of whack, there’s nothing that can really be done about that but sit back and hope it starts to normalize.

Well, not letting Don Kelly hit a solo home run in a Game 5 you wind up losing by one run would help too, I guess. Would have been nice if a few local sports writers had lectured him on the virtues of postseason singles before that game, huh?

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

17 thoughts on “On too-many-homers and the postseason

  1. jay_robertson

    There IS an upside to the Yankees, and their RISP problem. If you end up getting more guys ON the bases than anyone else, you can have a low RISP % and STILL score a lot of runs.

    I discovered that in a stat a couple weeks ago – the one where the Yankees were last in hitting % with the bases loaded. Yet they were also tops (tied) in the major league for the number of Grand Slams. ;)

  2. brian

    Well EVERY YEAR (or, sorry, 17 out of every 18 years) the yankees make the playoffs… its a long season, what else is there to talk about besides potential postseason vulnerabilities…

    As usual, the main point brien is making is legitimate but he goes too far… there is ABSOLUTELY a difference between postseason and regular season baseball, it's subtle, but it's there…

    For instance, in October it's a little colder and the ball doesn't travel as well, especially since they usually make the yankees play at 8:07 at night, so some of the *marginal* home runs die at the wall..

    don't believe me? Then you weren't in the ballpark for game 5 last year, because that ball Jeter hit is gone on your average july night… but in october? didnt quite make it… hey its just one play, but its one play that would have changed the outcome of the whole series…

    none of this is to suggest the yankees can't win it all this year… they can, however i do wish they had "bernie in his prime" type of player who could hit home runs but also get on base .400, bat .320 and get the clutch SINGLE when needed at times

    • brian

      last night tomlin was throwing 89 MPH fastballs thigh high right down the middle…

      you just don't see that as often in October, it's harder

      • BrienJackson

        You don't see lineups like Oakland's or Seattle's or Minnesota's very often either. Why doesn't anyone ever apply the same "it's harder" line to the pitchers who have to face the Yankees' lineup?

    • BrienJackson

      Well sure, it's different, but the *biggest* difference is the sample size and travel schedule, no? That's what introduces so much quasi-randomness into the picture. For example, let's imagine an insanely good diving catch in centerfield that ultimately proves to be the difference in the game. If that happens in August, it's awesome, but still just represents one game out of 162. Being the loser of that game won't in any way preclude you from winning 100+ games or anything like that. But if it happens in, say, Game 3 of the ALDS, it can swing the entire series.

      And yes, maybe balls don't carry as well in October but…so what? Jeter should have made a conscious attempt to hit that ball LESS hard so that it blooped in front of the outfielders instead of going to the warning track? And, of course, this is true up until the point that it isn't [insert joke about how Jim Leyritz, Tino Martinez, or A-Rod really should have shortened up and tried to hit a single instead of the really important home runs they hit]. And, of course, the balls that Young and Kelly hit in the first inning of that same game DIDN'T die on the warning track, did they?

    • BrienJackson

      And not to be mean, per se, but I think this:

      "Well EVERY YEAR (or, sorry, 17 out of every 18 years) the yankees make the playoffs… its a long season, what else is there to talk about besides potential postseason vulnerabilities… "

      only kind of proves a point I make from time to time that there's a certain segment of Yankee fans who are just *bored* by winning a lot of regular season baseball games, so they're constantly casting about for some sort of manufactured adversity for the team to overcome. Which is cool, but I sure wish the rags didn't cater almost exclusively to this group of fans. It's just downright exhausting for people like me who just really enjoy watching, say, Robinson Cano swing the bat or Andy Pettitte set up a righty for that slider on the back foot.

  3. williamjtasker

    I knew you were going to write something like this after hearing this line for three straight nights. I'm glad you did too. What a bunch of hogwash.

    • You should see the original rough draft. :)

  4. LarryAtIIATMS

    Brien, keep hammering on this drum. The idea that home runs are a liability makes me laugh. I like a manufactured run as much as the next guy, but it's crazy to think that the formula to victory against a Felix Hernandex is to score 5 runs a game with Baltimore chops, hit-and-runs, and suicide squeezes. True enough, the baseball does not travel all that well on cold October nights … but a one-hop double off the left field wall is still an effective offensive weapon.

    To give the other side its due … with the aging of the left side of the infield, the injury to Gardner and Nunez in AAA, the Yankees do not have much speed on the bases. I think the Yanks RUN the bases rather well, but they're 11th in the AL in stolen bases. I have no evidence for this, but I think that the stolen base is an effective weapon in the post-season, particularly when you're in a series against a team (like, say, the Red Sox) with a subpar defensive catcher. If anyone wants to pick on the offense of the 2012 Yankees, then I think this is the area to focus on.

    (If you want to pick on the 2012 Yankees in general, I'd focus on those advanced defensive matrix numbers.)

    • roadrider

      Well, sure, any positive contribution to scoring runs is an effective weapon in the post-season (or the regular season, spring training or the WBC for that matter). The problem I have with the SB is that you need about an 80% success rate for it to make sense. Furthermore, you can also run yourself out of innings or, even if it's successful, take the bat out of the hands of your big hitters (opening a base for an IBB or pitch around).

      I would really hesitate to promote a guy like Nunez who has so many holes in his game just because he might be able to steal a base.

  5. sayedthescrivener

    Not sure if anyone has looked at it this way: Is it not true that some of the best hitters in the league, i.e. Pujols, produce, to a great extent, via the home run? Do we say of these players that they are likely not to do well in the postseason because of this? No, we don't. Then why say it of teams that produce the bulk of their runs via home run?

    The only objection I can think of to this line of argument is "what's true of the part is not necessarily true of the whole," which, I believe, is defeated by simply pointing out that no one in their right mind would object to having a team of Albert Pujols'.

    • BrienJackson

      This is why I keep pointing out that the Yankees are at the top of the league in OBP, wRC+, BB%, and don't have a bad K% when you consider the power they hit for. In other words, the implication that they're just swinging for the fences all the time is totally wrong. They're underlying performance is very good AND they have a ton of power as a team. That sounds like a great mix to me.

  6. David

    Someone posted up a new TNG /facepalm graphic if you need one; I found it hilarious:
    http://comicalconcept.com/illustration/make-it-ts

    Sometimes a Picard /facepalm or a Picard/Riker /doublefacepalm isn't enough — you need a Chinese-food Riker /facepalm!

    • These are my readers.

      • David

        Hey, we all need a good /facepalm at some point! <3

  7. DustyYF

    "Sooner or later we’re all going to be forced to admit that there’s no singular recipe for playoff success."

    That should be the big takeaway here. Offense, pitching, and defense wins games no matter what month the games take place. And the ratio of each of those elements varies wildly.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/8

    There's a list of WS winner's ERA vs the league's ERA leader up to 2010. I know ERA isn't the preferred stat, but it gives a little bit of insight. There's just not much of a pattern to go on there, and that's the point. I'll look for a better list (particularly one that measures the WS winner up with the league average as well as the league best).

  8. Rupert Murdoch

    Brien,

    Know that you will never, EVER write for the mainstream media. You write rational, coherent thoughts. These are poisonous to sales. Manufacturing stories (and fear) is how I make a living.

    Consider your phones tapped.

    Sincerely,
    Rupert

    P.S. and home runs are bad!

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