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October 3, 2008

Prospectus Today

Are You Experienced?

by Joe Sheehan

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"However, in taking on the Cubs, [Manny] Ramirez must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with several position players and pitchers who offer little (if any) post-season experience."

Chad Billingsley: 6 2/3 IP, 1 R, 7 K
Dodgers 17, Cubs 5, 2-0 series lead

"[David] Ortiz said he still believed their lack of post-season experience would hurt the Rays in the long run."

Evan Longoria: 3-for-3, 2 HR
James Shields: 6 1/3 IP, 3 R, 4K
Rays 6, White Sox 4, 1-0 series lead

We go through this every single year, but the storylines never change. The notion that post-season experience is a driving force in post-season success never goes away. No matter how many times a team with little or no post-season experience—the 2007 Rockies, or the 2006 Tigers, or the 2003 Marlins, or the 2002 Angels—makes a mockery of the idea, we find ourselves back in the same situation each fall, with writers and players pointing to experience as a factor on par with talent, when in fact it doesn't matter at all. Whatever success teams with post-season experience have that makes it look like it is a factor—say, the Yankees from 1996-2001—is better explained by this: teams that get back to the postseason a lot tend to have good baseball players.

Playing well is what matters, and despite the endless discussion of the value of playoff experience, there's not much correlation between having been there before and playing well now. It's a stock storyline that allows for easy, space-filling quotes, and facile explanations of good and bad performance. Every time a young player fails to make a play, or doesn't get a hit in a key spot, or spits the bit on the mound, it gets attributed to an inability to handle post-season pressure. Whenever a veteran succeeds in a comparable situation, the experience is cited as the reason.

It's all just too easy. The fact is, baseball doesn't work that way. Players handle pressure successfully, on balance, or they wouldn't be MLB players. Sometimes, MLB players make mistakes, have a bad start, a lousy week, and it has nothing to do with pressure. Baseball is a hard game, but it's hard in April and June, too, and this idea that has developed over the last 15 years—which seems, to me, to have started when MLB went to three playoff tiers in 1995—that October baseball is vastly different from the regular season, has led us down a pretty misleading path.

Adding to the irrationality is that the threshold for post-season experience seems to bounce all over the place. Some writers referenced the Phillies' 2007 post-season experience as an edge for them over the Brewers. Apparently, getting wiped out in three games is valuable, and spending about 15 minutes in the postseason makes you experienced. Other pieces compared the Brewers' and Phillies' experience—neither has won a post-season game or series since before the Division Series existed—as if the two were comparable.

How about this? Post-season baseball is just baseball with more media credentials and fewer games between flights. Pressure? There may be more, but is it any more than that faced when you're trying to get drafted? Make a team? Win a playoff spot? Does this week really feel more pressure-packed for the Brewers or White Sox than last week, every game a must-win game, did?

The stock storylines don't add anything to our enjoyment of the game. Whether it's "post-season experience" or "veteran leadership" or "pitching and defense" or "small ball," all these attempts to fit the postseason into boxes limit our knowledge rather than expand it. If we're going to break down these games, and figure out why players do well and poorly, why teams win and lose, let's wipe the slate clean and focus on what's happening on the field.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  The Week In Quotes

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Lack of experience is no match for Javy Vazquez's fabulous ability to come up small in the big games.

Especially when your inexperienced players have loads of talent.

Oct 03, 2008 10:37 AM
rating: 0

I agree with every word in this article. Let's just start with that premise. But writing articles about how the MSM does not understand the received wisdom of the sabermetric community is also a lazy way to fill storyline space and make deadline. Whether it's season-end awards or some space-filling quote about experience, tearing these totems down is getting dull and repetitive. I love Joe and his writing, but this is a really weak effort.

Oct 03, 2008 10:47 AM
rating: 2

Keep tilting at those windmills, Joe. We hear you, but you're preaching to the choir here.

Oct 03, 2008 10:48 AM
rating: 0

Obviously experience is not nearly as important as fandemonium, Joe. Exhibit A: Had Hendry any sense he would have outfitted every man, woman, and child with noisemakers and Black Cats. Wrigley would be like a Chinese New Year's parade on HGH. Lack of foresight doomed the Cubs defense, hexed their bats, and so forth. QED.

Oct 03, 2008 10:54 AM
rating: 0
Paul Mahler

The radio commentators for the Phillies/Brewers game last night (I assume ESPN radio, since I am in N.Cal), made a big deal about how the Phillies experience last year (three and out) made them "hungrier" this year ... along the lines of they realize that just getting there is not enough.

Meanwhile the Brewers, making their first apperance in 26 years, were "just happy to be here" and could already consider their season a success. Meaning what, they did not want to win as much as the Phils, or that they had a psychological excuse for losing?

It's enough to drive you nuts.

Oct 03, 2008 11:08 AM
rating: 0
Jesse Wigtil

It already has driven me nuts. Commenting on Game 1 of the Sawx-Angels series, Jim Rome asked if there was some kind of magic formula in which putting on a Red Sox jersey made someone play well in the postseason. This while discussing the two-run homer from Jason Bay, whose success was completely unexpected due to lack of postseason experience. This is analysis?

My head hurts.

Oct 03, 2008 12:19 PM
rating: 0

While I'm watching the games, my wife keeps telling me, "You don't have to put on music for me, you can listen to the game." I say, "It's not for you."

Oct 03, 2008 11:21 AM
rating: 1

I think Mr Sheehan does need to keep writing these articles. Yes, the Bill Jaems disciples and long time readers are "the choir", but yet we still hear the same crap over and over again on TV and radio. Baseball Prospectus continues to get more and more popular, and that message needs to continue to be spread to new readers. I, for one, realized these things long ago, yet Ii still enjoy reading the articles.

Oct 03, 2008 12:13 PM
rating: 2

Exactly. Most of us already know this, but if a few new people read this article and are swayed, then Joe's moving the margins of public opinion, and that's important.

Oct 03, 2008 12:25 PM
rating: 2

I think the reason sports writers and talking heads and guys like that will probably be saying stuff like this for a long time is they feel they must come up with answers to questions that are kinda complicated. And complicated answers sound wishy washy and the public won't stand for wishy washy answers.

They feel they must have an answer to the question of why the Cubs lost their first two playoff games at home. So they say it's because they weren't hungry enough or they didn't play with intesity and swagger and that kind of jive. Playoff experience fits in with these types of answers.

Answers like that are easy and simple and impossible to disprove. But they are just made up and don't mean anything either.

The real answer is we don't know a lot of stuff for sure. But we have data and history and knowledge of why teams win and why teams lose. And experience and swagger and intensity and hunger are easier concepts to spout off about than what studies show.

The fact that a lot of former players repeat this stuff doesn't help. Former players like to think they won becasue they had great heart and guts and were just better people than the guys they beat. They don't want to say that luck and ebb and flow and secret sauce and other things had a lot more to do with it than which team had more swagger and guts and playoff experience and stuff like that.

So the writers and talking heads feel they must have an answer to those questions. And the answer can't be based on some kind of study of the issue. It must be something simple that you can rattle off quickly and most of your audience will nod their heads and say "that's right."

Oct 03, 2008 13:32 PM
rating: 0

Thanks Joe. I wish someone would just ask a fellow broadcaster, "Yeah, but doesn't everyone start out with zero post-season experience?"

Oct 03, 2008 13:41 PM
rating: 0

I agree about 97%. The difference is that I've heard more than one player, particularly pitchers, say that they go out there really amped up and overthrow for a few innings. I've always gotten the impression that these guys are thinking "Wow, it's the playoffs/World Series." I know that at least a few guys have said as much. But all that wears off after a batter or two, or at the worst a couple of innings, and I honestly can't remember hearing anyone say that it kept juicing them up year after year. (Maybe they wouldn't be willing to share that even if it were true.)

Oct 03, 2008 15:54 PM
rating: 0

All I can say is that I'm glad the Rays are beating the White Sox--if only because it means I won't have to listen to Harold Reynolds yammer about "speed" and "intensity" any longer.

Oct 03, 2008 18:09 PM
rating: 0
Vinegar Bend

remember that a lot of Joe's columns end up on SI.com these days, so his audience is more mainstream than it used to be.

Oct 04, 2008 00:04 AM
rating: 1

How about this gem? When an inexperienced guy succeeds in the post season, an analyst says "He's so young, he doesn't understand the magnitude of the situation. It's just like any other game to him." Really? He is 21, not severely retarded.

Oct 04, 2008 12:20 PM
rating: 2
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