Cafardo's Deep Postseason Wisdom

Merriam-Webster defines depth as, among other things:

"the quality of being profound (as in insight) or full (as of knowledge)..."

To be honest, I had a hard time conceptualizing this, at least until I saw the picture of Boston Globe sportswriter Nick Cafardo next to the definition.

Cafardo writes in his weekly Baseball Notes column on postseason performance. In keeping with the fine tradition of his work on the 2003 draft, he displays superb wit and acumen in the article.

For many teams, it's about getting deep into the postseason, winning it all. Yet how much thought goes into rosters to make sure teams have the players that will perform once they get there?

This is a great question. My guess: three whole minutes of thought. Let's keep going.

Since 2002, the Angels have been a consistent division winner, but they never seem to get very far. Why is that?

Another searching question from St. Nick. Let's anticipate his answer:
1) The Angels front office builds teams that emphasize making outs (steals, squeeze plays) rather than doing things that are more consistent with scoring runs (hitting homers, getting on base consistently).
2) Mike Scioscia's overrated managing and philosophy of aggressiveness actually hurts the team. See 2008 ALDS, Game Four.
3) It's pretty easy to win a division when there are only three other teams in it. And when two of them are the Mariners and Rangers. And when the third team (Oakland) averages $40 million less in payroll than your team does, and is constantly rebuilding.

Are we right?

Do they have players that just can't come up big in the biggest moments?

Huh? Is Nick Cafardo, exemplar of all that is great in sports writing, inspiration of little children, and defender of the game of baseball, truly judging players on just a handful of playoff at-bats?

The Angels added Mark Teixeira in late July and he provided some much-needed thump to their lineup. While Teixeira did more than his teammates in the playoffs (seven singles and one RBI in 15 at-bats), it wasn't enough.

Teixeira didn't pick up the ball and throw 18 shut-out innings, while hitting five homeruns, to win Games Four and Five. All he did was hit .467 / .550 / .467, and constantly get on base. Clearly the sort of guy you don't want to re-sign.

Respected Indians general manager Mark Shapiro says identifying solid postseason players is difficult.

Shapiro then launched into a long discussion of player evaluation, and how judging a player based on a few dozen postseason at-bats is misguided and foolish. But Little Nicky was bored and fell asleep, so rather than try to digest what was written, he just copied and pasted it from the email.

"In this market and in my opinion, [seeking good postseason players] is one small attribute that could be an added bonus but not a real driver in a decision," he wrote in an e-mail. "Postseason experience and, really, pennant race experience is meaningful in the ups and downs of a pennant race but difficult to quantify, and the bottom line is performance.

"We look at a lot of variables in the decision-making process - primarily subjective (scouting), objective (statistics), medical, financial, mental makeup, and personality. The experience you mentioned could fit in as a small, positive intangible that helps shape decisions but not impact them in a meaningful way."

All work and no play makes Nicky a very dull boy. All work and no play makes Nicky a very dull boy. All work and... Hey, let's talk about the Yankees!

This offseason, the Yankees went wild with the signings of Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Sabathia's postseason history is poor - 2-3. 7.92 ERA. Burnett has never pitched in the postseason. Incumbent Chien-Ming Wang, a two-time 19-game winner, is 1-3 with a 7.58 ERA in four postseason starts. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, arguably the best all-around player in the game, is hitting .159 in his last 44 postseason at-bats with one homer and one RBI.

Let's not mention that Sabathia has been worked to the bone each of the past two seasons. Or that A-Rod's career postseason line is .279 / .361 / .483, or that he hit .421 / .476 / .737 in the 2004 ALDS? Spoils the mood, doesn't it?

Speaking of playoff failure, how 'bout them Cubs?

The Cubs have fizzled in their last two playoff appearances because of a lack of offense. Derrek Lee hit .545 (6 for 11) against the Dodgers in last season's Division Series, but didn't drive in a run.

Funny, I thought the Cubs lost because Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano combined for 11 runs in 11 innings. Nick Scratch knows better - it was because Lee didn't hit a homerun in every at bat. Choker.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and '07 because they had players such as Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon who...

Let's play Fill In the Answer. Which of the following completes the sentence:
A) "were good or great players at the top of their game."
B) "made fewer mistakes and got luckier in a small sample size."
C) "stepped up their games when it counted most."

Time's up! Nick chose C. See me after class, son. Bring your parents. And a belt.

I want to stop, but I can't. It's like I've crossed the event horizon and can't escape the gravitational pull of this column's stupidity.

"[Identifying good postseason players] is certainly not a primary consideration - more of a secondary factor at best," said Sox GM Theo Epstein. "Ted Williams didn't perform in the postseason . . . I would take him!"

Epstein then explained to Nick that Ted Williams was one of the greatest baseball players ever, and he only ever had 25 playoff AB in his 21 year career. But Nick just covered up his ears and started singing "My Humps" at the top of his voice.

Well, Nick, we're having fun with your piece, but could you make it more poignant? Maybe suggest that the Sox won't win a World Series without Manny, or something?

In the playoffs is when the Sox will miss Ramírez most.

Hallelujah!

In 2007, they had a fearsome threesome of Ortiz, Ramírez, and Lowell. Intimidating to any pitcher, no matter how good.

Whereas Ortiz, Bay, Lowell is only mildly off-putting, only slightly vexacious. And since we're judging players by small sample sizes, Bay's .341/ .471 / .634 postseason line (41 AB) is especially tepid.

There's much more (Geovany Soto + Aramis Ramirez = unclutch?!), but I want to skip ahead to the "juicy" finale...

Of course, players can reverse their fortunes [in the playoffs]. Barry Bonds hit .196 in his first 97 postseason at-bats with one homer and six RBIs, before he exploded for eight homers and 16 RBIs in the 2002 playoffs, including a .471 average in the World Series with four homers and six RBIs.

Bonds' improvement was a real shot in the arm for the Giants. The team was really in the clear when they saw Bonds creaming the ball. I wonder what changed things around for him. I seem to recall some big news story about that, maybe hearings in Congress, possibly some report. Of course, I wouldn't expect a luminary like Cafardo to worry about such trifling facts.

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