Legend, or Myth? Seemingly every October, baseball fans all over America are reminded of Derek Jeter’s outstanding playoff performances and are privileged to witness further such performances. Jeter is, in short, Mr. October, “the face of playoff baseball”. Sort of. Thankfully, my blog isn’t linked and featured to a hotbed of Yankee fans the way some are, so I probably won’t have to fight off hordes of angry Yankee fans for pointing out an objective fact: Jeter’s October persona is more myth than legend. This isn’t to take away from Jeter’s October performances. He certainly has performed extremely well in October and has made many plays critical to Yankee postseason victories, but the notion that Jeter suddenly takes his game to another level in October is simply foolish. Compare Jeter’s career regular season numbers with his career postseason numbers.
|Games||Batting Average||On-base percentage||Slugging Percentage||Weighted On Base Average||Win Probability Added|
|Player X postseason||44||.289||.377||.524||.384||1.64|
The plain truth is this: Derek Jeter is Mr. October only insofar as he plays in October all the time. At 128 games, Jeter is approaching a full regular season’s worth of postseason games, and, not surprisingly, his averages are all extremely close to his career averages. Despite his reputation for being clutch in the playoffs, Jeter has a negative win probability in the postseason for his career. Yes, he certainly has had huge moments in the post season, but the truth is he has actually underperformed in terms of adding to his team’s chances to win as compared to his regular season performance (his regular season Win Probability coming out around 2.2 wins/year). We all have a litany of huge Derek Jeter October memories because we’ve seen him play almost an entire season of post season baseball. This is due more to the team he plays for than any “clutch” switch he flips come playoff time. Oh, that player X – the one who’s career postseason numbers are comparable to Jeter’s, the one who has a much higher win probability despite playing in 84 fewer games? That player is none other than Mr. Not-October, Alex Rodriguez.
Mr. Not-October: I don’t particularly like the guy, but there’s no denying that Rodriguez is having a monster post-season after fighting supposed playoff demons for years. For this post season, Rodriguez is batting .348/.407/.870 with 4 HR, 9 RBI, 3 BB and 3 K. Three of those home runs have been of the game tying variety – game two against the Twins in the ninth, game three against the Twins in the seventh, and game two against the Angels in the 11th. No matter what you think of Rodriguez, he’s putting together a memorable post-season.
Baserunning blunders: The Yankees almost went up 3-0 on the Angels yesterday thanks to another baserunning blunder by an opponent, with Bobby Abreu overrunning second base on an eighth inning double and getting thrown out trying to get back. (Must be time to send Abreu to the minors and trade Brian Fuentes!) With that blunder, the Yankees have now benefitted from no fewer than three catastrophic baserunning mistakes by their opponents in the post season (Carlos Gomez and Nick Punto being the first two benefactors). Add that to the Mauer “foul”, the Aybar/Figgins dropped pop, and the Aybar “neighborhood” play, and in sum it’s been a lucky run for the evil empire so far. I don’t mean to say they’d be eliminated if they hadn’t been so lucky. They most likely would have still beaten the Twins, and they certainly can beat the Angels without any luck. Still, it would be nice to see an opponent (and the umpires) keep their wits about them and actually force a great team to play to its maximum potential. Sloppy playoff baseball is no fun for anybody. At least the Angels recovered yesterday and could still make this a dynamic series.
The NL’s Mr. October: Speaking of post-season performance, the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies are getting a pretty monumental performance from their cleanup hitter. Ryan Howard is punishing the baseball at a pretty extraordinary rate, posting a line of .379/.457/.793 with 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 5 BB and 7 K. A World Series pitting the defending champs against the perpetual champs would feature two of the premier hitters in the game peaking in the playoffs and squaring off against each other on baseball’s biggest stage. Despite the fact that I’m rooting for the Angels, I wouldn’t mind seeing that matchup.