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October 8, 2004
When It Counts
On Wednesday, some of your tax dollars went to Frank Deford for an editorial he did on National Public Radio. Mr. Deford's thesis was that those who think the expanded baseball playoffs are a bad idea are, in so many words, insane in the main frame. He defamed those who don't think highly of the wildcard and three division as "whiny purists" or some such thing.
Not only were there not enough teams before the format was changed to double the number of entrants, he contends there are not enough teams now. Mr. Deford--to his credit--does not have the sort of job that requires him to be away from a television during the daytime. If he did, he might take a dimmer view of adding any more playoff teams than we already have. Those of us so burdened with jobs that do not allow us to keep a TV handy or even, heaven forbid, have a radio going, miss out on a large portion of the first round of the playoffs.
Then there are those of us who have to get to bed at a decent hour so that we might arise the next morning rested enough to eke out our meager livings. For us, a game that goes until two in the morning Eastern time (one Central) is stretching things a bit on the other end.
Have you shed enough tears for the baseball-deprived working men and women yet? If not, consider the world that Mr. Deford would have us inhabit. As you know, baseball is not the sort of sport where you can be handing out byes. Week-long layoffs just don't work in this line of endeavor. Because of that, expanding the playoffs would probably require a doubling of the number of teams to 16. Without getting into the ramifications of opening the postseason door to sub-.500 teams, what follows is what a first-round playoff schedule would look like if the Deford's of the world had their way.
Division winners are seeded one, two, three and the best wildcard team is seeded fourth. We'll waive the "can't-play-a-team-from-your-own-division" rule currently in place, if only because I'm too lazy to create a hypothetical scenario that involves such foolishness. We'll also keep with the current non-simultaneous schedule, since the simultaneous version of a few years ago was such a dismal failure.
2004 First Round
...and so on...
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This Derek Jeter fellow: god or mortal? He was certainly a mortal on Tuesday night in Game One when he bounced into a double play in the fifth and grounded out with a man on second to end the seventh. Jeter gets a pass on these sorts of things, though. Had he come through on either of those occasions, his game-winning run the next night would not have been the life and death event it has become in lore and legend.
In the reportage of our culture, Jeter can do no wrong in October. What is interesting to me is that, back in April, the press was cruelly charco-broiling him about his alleged slump. Had they taken the time to examine the situation, they would have realized that what he was going through is part of the process of finding one's level over the course of a 162-game schedule.
Just how does Jeter measure up compared to other players in terms of the relationship between their regular and postseason performances? Let's not compare him to people like Brian Doyle but to the select few who have seen the most postseason action. Of this group, none have replicated their exact regular season stats as perfectly as Derek Sanderson Jeter. Coming into the 2004 afters, he is three points below his career batting average, four points below his On Base Percentage and seven points above his slugging average in the postseason. Add up the three discrepancies and what have you got? Zero. (Not especially scientific, but the purpose here is to show which players are most like themselves in October.)
Naturally, we can expect extremes to even out over the long haul. The more exposure to the postseason a player gets, it stands to reason that his stats will come to resemble what he has done in the regular season. Looking at the group of men who have made the most postseason plate appearances, though, that is not necessarily the case.
It can be argued that matching one's regular season performance in the postseason actually means one has improved because of the high quality of the pitching among playoff teams. Very well. Does he elevate his game like nobody else, as has been suggested?
Here's a fairly comprehensive list of the most active postseason players ever. This is followed by the aggregate difference between their batting, slugging and on base averages over or under the regular season:
Mark Lemke: +73 points Pete Rose: +62 Reggie Jackson: +55 Roberto Alomar: +25 Rickey Henderson: +15 Paul O'Neill: +6 Derek Jeter: 0 Yogi Berra: -32 Bernie Williams: -40 Chipper Jones: -55 Omar Vizquel: -76 Mickey Mantle: -110 Jorge Posada: -175 Tino Martinez: -181 Kenny Lofton: -182 David Justice: -216 Manny Ramirez: -291Lemke, of course, has a .641 career OPS, so when he elevated his game when it counted, it wasn't to an especially lofty level. It can also be argued that someone like Manny Ramirez has a lot farther to fall than Jeter or Tino Martinez. Nonetheless, though, this does represent a pretty impressive showing for Jeter, all told.
In conclusion, Jeter is somewhat better in the playoffs than he is in the regular season. The notion that he "turns it on" when it counts, though--that's hard to take. It implies that he isn't trying the rest of the time, and Jeter does not strike one as the type of player who ever lets down.
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People like me--the sort who question the role of the closer in our society--were seen dancing in the highways and byways on Thursday afternoon when Phil Garner brought in Brad Lidge to face the sweet meat of the Braves lineup a full two innings before closers are supposed to show up in games according to the scripts provided all skippers by the Ancient Order of Base Ball Managers.
That he ultimately gave up the tying run is beside the point. What matters is that he was used at the right time rather than at the expected time. Kudos to Bobby Cox for following suit with his closer, John Smoltz. So, has the revolution started?