There’s a baseball axiom that says good pitching beats good hitting, and we often hear it applied especially to postseason games. I’ve always bought into it, at least as a general principle.
But after watching a few hitters dominate this postseason, I got to thinking. While great pitching almost always beats good hitting, and good pitching sometimes beats great hitting, good-to-mediocre pitching versus good-to-great hitting is a very different matter.
Re-read that sentence if you want to. I’ll wait….
Especially if the good pitchers in question are a little tired by the time the postseason rolls around.
And before anyone points to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Gary Sheffield or other examples of great hitters being shut down more often than not by good pitching in a lot of postseason games, let me get to the guys I was referring to, a quartet from this postseason.
Albert Pujols (granted, one of the greatest hitters that ever lived), Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera (done now, but sure helped take his team far) and Nelson Cruz.
We took one hitter from each of the last four teams in this 2011 postseason tourney. (And then we’ll compare them to a couple of notable Braves hitters in postseason play.)
What got me thinking (or re-thinking, as it were) of that axiom is the fact that these four guys have done it not just for one series or one postseason. Each has been in multiple postseasons, and each has raked in the vast majority of those games.
– Cabrera has a .282 average and .956 OPS in 28 career postseason games with Florida and Detroit, which was eliminated by Texas on Saturday. Toss out the first three games of his postseason career, and his numbers are even more impressive: .309 with eight homers, 22 RBIs, a .409 OBP and 1.037 OPS in 25 games, with a 14-11 record and a World Series ring.
– Cruz has had plenty of support, offensively and otherwise, but consider that the Rangers slugger has hit .289 with 12 homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.083 OPS in 26 postseason games, all in the past two years. The Rangers are 15-11 with a 3.86 ERA in postseason games during that span, and Cruz drove in 24 of their 126 runs in those games. (He had six homers and 13 RBIs in six games over the past eight days.)
– Pujols has hit .336 with 14 homers, 44 RBIs and a .438 OBP and 1.030 OPS in 66 career postseason games. Toss out his first postseason in 2001, and Albert has put up these absurdly strong postseason stats: .355 average with 31 extra-base hits (13 homers), 42 RBIs and a .456 OBP in 61 postseaon games.
In other words, he’s been even better against the presumably higher-level pitchers of postseaon play than he’s been in regular-season games during that decade-long period.
By the way, speaking of Albert and St. Louis, going into their game tonight (Sunday) against Milwaukee, the Cards are now 17-12 in 29 postseason games beginning in 2006.
That’s four more postseason wins for the Cardinals in 29 games over the past six years than the Braves have in their past 41 games going back to the 1999 NLCS vs. the Mets.
And the Rangers are 15-11 in the 2010-2011 postseasons, two more wins than the Braves have since … well, you get my point.
Atlanta won six consecutive postseason games in the 1999 division series vs. Houston and first three games of the NLCS vs. New York. Then they lost nine of their next 10 postseason games, beginning a stretch in which the Braves have gone 13-28 with a .230 batting average and 4.35 ERA in 41 postseason games, including 6-15 at home. Yikes.
Chipper Jones, the only Brave who’s been with the team for all those postseason games, hit .255 with six homers, 21 RBIs, a .393 OBP and .824 OPS in 37 games during that period (he missed the four last year vs. San Francisco recovering from knee surgery).
He was pitched around frequently in those games, in part because other Braves hitters rarely gave opposing teams reason not to. (See: Sheffield, et al.). For his career, Jones has a .288 average, .411 OBP and .870 OPS in 92 postseason games, with 13 homers and 47 RBIs.
Besides Chipper, Andruw Jones is the only other Brave to play in all of the games in that Atlanta playoff drought except, obviously, last year’s series vs. San Francisco.
In the other 37 of those 41 Braves games, Andruw hit a respectable .279 with a .365 OBP, but drove in only 17 runs and struck out 30 times (with 18 walks) in 136 at-bats. The Braves were 12-25 in the last 37 postseason games Andruw and Chipper played together.
OK, my original point is in there somewhere, and this NLCS game is about to start, so I’ll hurry and finish and get this posted.
The last guy of the four I mentioned from this postseason is Braun.
– Braun has a .407 average, .450 OBP and 1.035 OPS in 14 career postseason games, including nine extra-base hits (two homers) and 11 RBIs in his past 11 games.
Teammate Prince Fielder has played in the same 14 career postseason games as Braun, and Fielder has hit just .208 with a .339 OBP, albeit with four homers and eight RBIs. So yes, great hitters can be shut down by good/great pitching, as the axiom goes.
But as we illustrated, it’s hardly the rule, as we’ve seen again this postseason.
♣ Maybe the Braves will have a chance to test the theory again before long. And maybe they’ll have a great hitter or two to test the theory. This year, they did not, at least not a great hitter over the course of the entire season, due to slumps and/or injuries or whatever.
Speaking of the Braves’ disappointing hitting, we’re still getting no feel for when they’ll hire a new hitting coach to replace Larry Parrish, who was fired two days after the season ended and with one year left on his two-year contract.
After leading the NL with a .339 OBP and tying for fifth with a .740 OPS in Terry Pendleton’s final season as hitting coach in 2010, the Braves slipped to 14th in OBP (.308) and 11th in OPS (.695) in 2011.
As of Friday, general manager Frank Wren would say only that the Braves had already interviewed some candidates and had more interviews scheduled.
I know that one of the candidates interviewed was Greg Walker, who stepped down as White Sox hitting coach after the 2010 season (he came under some fire in Chicago for the team’s general lackluster performance past couple of seasons, and specifically for the horrid season by Adam Dunn this year and the lack of development by former top draft pick Gordon Beckham, the Atlanta native and former UGA standout).
One of the candidates is not Pendleton, at least not so far. And I’d assume if they had any intentions whatsoever of asking Pendleton, now first-base coach, to return to hitting coach, they’d have asked him right away to make an awkward situation less so.
Another presumed candidate is Jaime Dismuke, 41, the Braves’ popular Triple-A hitting coach. If anyone in the organization is going to get the job, everyone I’ve talked to believes it’ll be Dismuke, who is a good communicator and hands-on guy.
Dismuke was passed over for the job a year ago, when the Braves hired a guy (Parrish) with a lot of playing, coaching and managing experience, but no specific experience as a hitting coach for a minor league or major league team.
So will Wren go the safe route this time and get a proven major league hitting coach, someone like Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan, for instance? Magadan, 49, is in a bit of limbo in Boston, with a year left on his contract (plus an option), but uncertain of his status until they settle their GM and managerial situations.
Just an FYI, Wren has known “Mags” for a long time, and the latter played for the Marlins in 1993-94 when Wren was Florida’s assistant GM under Dave Dombrowski. I don’t know what Frank thinks of him or whether Magadan will be interviewed.
OK, let’s get this posted. We’ll not skip nearly as long between blogs the rest of the winter. It’s just that, as you know, there has been almost nothing to report on the Braves in the past week or two. It’s the deadest period of the year for teams that don’t make the postseason.
But it’ll end soon, and the rumors and speculation will start to fly, along with some actual news developments.
We’ll close with a terrific tune by ex-Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, “Ghost on the Canvas,” which you can hear by clicking here. And also check out the excellent cover by Glen Campbell, who used the song as the title cut on his strong 2011 album. Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has said it would be his last album. Click here for that version.
“GHOST ON THE CANVAS” by Paul Westerberg
I know a place between life and death for you and me
Best take hold on the threshold of eternity
And see the ghost on the canvas
most people don’t see there
Ghost on the canvas
most people don’t know
When they’re looking at soul
In between here and there, there is a place that we can grow
The spirits make love in the wheat field with crows
Like the ghost on the canvas
most people don’t see this
Ghost on the canvas
No, they never see a soul
Ring around the rosary
pocket full of prose you read
Ashes ashes we all fall in love
with the ghost on the canvas
We dream in color, others they color their dreams
It takes one to know one
The spirit always knows what it sees
Like the ghost on the canvas
never can have us
The ghost on the canvas,
it’s the soul, it makes them go
to the ghost on the canvas
I’m a ghost on the canvas
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog