As Michael Lewis’s awesome book Moneyball made clear, baseball is usually a game of averages.
Over the course of a season, small changes in on-base-percentages, runners caught stealing, errors, balls put in play, and other often-overlooked statistics make a big difference in the number of games teams win. They don’t tell the whole story, though.
At one point in the book, after watching his Moneyball-driven Oakland A’s get blown out of the playoffs, a frustrated Oakland GM Billy Beane complains that the playoffs aren’t long enough for the law of averages to kick in. He’s right. And that’s where Moneyball ends, and something else kicks in.
The New York Yankees didn’t come from behind in the bottom of the 9th to win last night’s game against the Twins because Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have better Moneyball statistics than the folks who hit for the Twins (although they presumably do). The Yankees won because, as they have all year, they came through in the clutch.
This is exactly what the great Yankee teams of earlier in this decade did–produced miraculous home runs and hits in the late innings to come from behind to win crucial playoff and world series games. And it is exactly what the mediocre Yankee teams in the intervening years did NOT do (they played the same games for the same stakes, but they didn’t come through).
What finally clicked in Alex Rodriguez’s head that has allowed him to cream the ball so far in these playoffs after going 1-for-985 (or thereabouts) in all of his previous postseason appearances? Whatever it is, it’s not a statistic.
Moneyball, in other words, can only take you so far. At some point, you still have to step up to the plate with the game on the line and hit the ball out of the park.
* And, yes, lanother reason the Yankees won was because of an outrageously bad call on an extra-base Twins hit that hit Melky Cabrera’s glove, bounced a foot in fair territory, and then leaped into the stands–only to somehow be ruled a foul ball. How long the umpires union will be able to prevent accuracy in the interest of perpetuating its own antique way of doing business remains a mystery.
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