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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mike Schmidt: Where did the hitters go in October?

Big Funk City: Original old school breaks from Mike Schmidt.

I have the credentials to answer the question, maybe better credentials than anybody. I have two World Series trophies in my office - an MVP and a “Goat.” In 1980, I hit in every game and had seven RBIs as we won the championship. In 1983, I went 1 for 20 with no RBIs and got the “Goat” trophy as we lost in five to the Orioles. What was the difference?

The difference was not the high quality pitching, it was my ability to execute my game plan in a relaxed at-bat.

...Most hitters never experience the feel of total relaxation through the ball. They all do in batting practice, but as game adrenaline takes hold, the tendency is to add something on impact. They want to make the impact with the ball harder, to make it go farther, and the result is funk city. The playoffs are the breeding ground for this funk. The big stage, big time TV, the best pitchers, and 24/7 face time for the big hit.

Having your stroke ready and applying the ingredients needed to hit the best pitchers in the game on the national stage is the ultimate challenge in hitting. They say hitting a round ball with a round bat, squarely, is the single most difficult thing in sports. Add baseball’s postseason pressure and baseball’s best pitchers, and believe me, it’s true.

Watch the games. The hitters that smile at the plate are relaxed.

All three of them.

Repoz Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:56 AM | 31 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fantasy baseball, history, projections, sabermetrics

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   1. sunnyday2 Posted: October 21, 2010 at 11:31 AM (#3670987)
Where did the hitters go in October?


Seriously? Ya think some of them went to those 6-4 and 7-2 and 6-2 and 7-4 and 8-0 and 10-3 games? Gee that fella looks tight. Home run.
   2. S.F. Giangst Posted: October 21, 2010 at 12:02 PM (#3671000)
1-4 (2K)
0-3 (BB)
0-4 (2K)
4-5 (K, 2 2B, 2RBI)

Buster Posey disagrees.
   3. Dale Sams Posted: October 21, 2010 at 12:28 PM (#3671006)
Yankee batters never smile.
   4. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 21, 2010 at 12:45 PM (#3671014)
So far there have been 173 runs scored in 24 games. That's a rate of 7.2 runs per game, compared to a rate of 8.76 in the regular season. That's larger than the normal gap between regular season and postseason scoring, if I remember correctly.

Hard to say there's any meaningful difference going on here - it seems to me mostly that pitchers on the Giants and Phillies have been super awesome, and so has Cliff Lee, and those guys account for a large number of the games so far.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 01:06 PM (#3671023)
So far there have been 173 runs scored in 24 games. That's a rate of 7.2 runs per game, compared to a rate of 8.76 in the regular season. That's larger than the normal gap between regular season and postseason scoring, if I remember correctly.

I wouldn;t be surprised if the entire difference were based on 5th SPs a,d 5th-7th RPs basically never pitching in the playoffs.
   6. Cris E Posted: October 21, 2010 at 01:41 PM (#3671044)
I wouldn't be surprised if the entire difference were based on 5th SPs and 5th-7th RPs basically never pitching in the playoffs.

But that would just contribute to the general stress the batters are feeling. It's not just a bigger stage, but it's a tougher opponent and the comforting notion of "it's a long season so we just have to stay even-keeled and come back tomorrow" gets pushed aside by the cold hand of "win or golf".

Post-season baseball is different, and I think there's something to Schmidt's theory, which is another way of stating the old "they've been there before" trope. Teams need a little more red ass, a little more intensity, and by the way don't tighten up or you could screw up your swing or over-throw your pitches.
   7. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 01:49 PM (#3671049)
But that would just contribute to the general stress the batters are feeling. It's not just a bigger stage, but it's a tougher opponent and the comforting notion of "it's a long season so we just have to stay even-keeled and come back tomorrow" gets pushed aside by the cold hand of "win or golf".

Post-season baseball is different, and I think there's something to Schmidt's theory, which is another way of stating the old "they've been there before" trope. Teams need a little more red ass, a little more intensity, and by the way don't tighten up or you could screw up your swing or over-throw your pitches.


Why aren't the pitchers feeling equal stress?

IMHO Pitchers are much more prone to "choking" then hitters, given that their actions are deliberative rather than reactive.
   8. S.F. Giangst Posted: October 21, 2010 at 01:53 PM (#3671052)
IMHO Pitchers are much more prone to "choking" then hitters, given that their actions are deliberative rather than reactive.


Interesting point, but the hitter's essential dilemma is swing or no swing. A pitcher's going to pitch no matter what.
   9. SoSH U at work Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:14 PM (#3671071)
I wouldn;t be surprised if the entire difference were based on 5th SPs a,d 5th-7th RPs basically never pitching in the playoffs.


That would explain why scoring is lower in the playoffs. It wouldn't explain why the gap is lower this season than it is between most postseasons/regular seasons. I think that's mostly explained by the large number of starts given to really good pitchers this year compared to typical postseasons. Not terribly complicated, but when you've got No. 3 starters as good as Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Andy Pettitte, you really don't need to look far for explanations why the scoring is off.
   10. Dale Sams Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:15 PM (#3671073)
Why aren't the pitchers feeling equal stress?


Rangers BP certainly is
   11. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:20 PM (#3671077)
Interesting point, but the hitter's essential dilemma is swing or no swing. A pitcher's going to pitch no matter what.

Yes, but in the <0.5 seconds he has to react, a hitter doesn't have any time to think or worry. He's working on instict and muscle menory.

A pitcher has plenty of time to agonize over what pitch to throw, to not be committed to his decision, to over-throw, or grip the ball too tightly, or try to nibble too much.
   12. Ron Johnson Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:24 PM (#3671085)
There are a couple of other issues at play. We know there's a relationship between game time temperature and offense. October tends to be cold.

Then there's a potential issue with game time start. As far as I know, nobody's updated the James study from the early 80s that shows power pitchers doing better in night games.

I think it's mostly an issue of generally good (or better) pitchers pitching in conditions that tend to favor them.
   13. The District Attorney Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:49 PM (#3671108)
I think there's something to Schmidt's theory, which is another way of stating the old "they've been there before" trope.
I don't see how that can be his theory, when he's focusing on how he was worse in 1983 than he was in 1980...
   14. Dale H. Posted: October 21, 2010 at 02:49 PM (#3671109)
Watch the games. The hitters that smile at the plate are relaxed.
Why doesn't everyone try to trade for Andruw Jones at the end of August, then?
   15. Chicago Joe Posted: October 21, 2010 at 03:22 PM (#3671135)
Why doesn't everyone try to trade for Andruw Jones at the end of August, then?

Is that a smile or a grimace?
   16. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 21, 2010 at 03:33 PM (#3671146)
I don't think it's that contentious to say that human beings, in general, do better work under less pressure. To succeed in professional sports, it seems to me you have to either be something of an exception to that rule, or work hard to minimize its effects (and succeed), so that I doubt the effect is that pronounced in October baseball compared to June baseball, but I think there's probably something to it. There are other and better explanations for a decline in offense, but that doesn't mean greater scrutiny and a greater "loss aversion" impulse don't contribute, somehow.

Yeah, but what could a Hall of Fame player who's experienced that sort of pressure himself possibly know about the subject?

Not saying anybody is doing this, but it reminds me that it's often easier to dismiss something that can't be measured than it is to acknowledge it is or may be there but (or even if it) can't be measured.

This attitude (the one you're describing, not yours) is perhaps the most annoying part of many BTF threads. I'd call it the arrogance of mathematicians, except that I'd imagine that most good mathematicians know the limitations of their profession.
   17. Joe OBrien Posted: October 21, 2010 at 03:40 PM (#3671149)
I know, let's consult noted scholar and psychologist Rube Waddell. He had all the qualifications to answer this question, right?
   18. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 21, 2010 at 03:58 PM (#3671166)
I know, let's consult noted scholar and psychologist Rube Waddell. He had all the qualifications to answer this question, right?

Nah, I'd just call on a troika made up of you, Ray, and Dr. Laura. There's nothing that the three of you don't know about baseball.
   19. Gotham Dave Posted: October 21, 2010 at 04:14 PM (#3671177)
Whether Schmidt is right or not, Nick Swisher being 0-42 in his career with runners on in the playoffs is damn weird.
   20. Walt Davis Posted: October 21, 2010 at 07:14 PM (#3671351)
They want to make the impact with the ball harder, to make it go farther, and the result is funk city.

I've been trying to find Funk City all my life ... at last I have the key!

This attitude (the one you're describing, not yours) is perhaps the most annoying part of many BTF threads.

Oh piffle.

The arguments here are a few:

1. Umm, why aren't pitchers under just as much if not more stress than hitters? If they are, why would stress lead to worse hitting performance but better pitching performance?

2. How about we eliminate known, measurable factors (fewer back-end starters, fewer back-end relievers, greater use of "small ball") before we go attributing differences to unmeasurable "stress"?

3. Brian Doyle was the most relaxed guy on the field? So relaxed he outhit himself by about 200 points? Was he smoking the NY Times before every game?

4. Does stress cause poor performance or does poor performance cause stress or is it a vicious circle?

5. Even if Schmidt is correct, what do we do with this information? Can we predict which hitters will feel stress and which won't? Should the Phillies have benched Schmidt in 1983 secure in the knowledge he was going to stink? Should they have benched him after 1, 2, 3 games of stinking?

Those are all solid, scientific arguments and spot on. The easiest and possibly least useful thing in science is to whine "you haven't controlled for everything." The second easiest and possibly most distracting thing in science is to slap a name on the error term be it "stress" or "unobserved heterogeneity" or "steroids" or "God".

Schmidt, of course, offers no evidence other than his personal small-sample performances. That's not evidence of anything. Take it to an anthropology website. :-)

Me, I think that in 1980 he was hoping to be signed as an FA by the Royals and amped it up like he was dating a pretty woman while in 1983 he already had his massive long-term contract and mailed it in.
   21. Bhaakon Posted: October 21, 2010 at 09:32 PM (#3671495)
Not saying anybody is doing this, but it reminds me that it's often easier to dismiss something that can't be measured than it is to acknowledge it is or may be there but (or even if it) can't be measured.

This attitude (the one you're describing, not yours) is perhaps the most annoying part of many BTF threads. I'd call it the arrogance of mathematicians, except that I'd imagine that most good mathematicians know the limitations of their profession.


There are certainly a large number of factors that can't be adequately measured. However, most of them should at least be detectable, even if we can't precisely measure them.

Also, as has been pointed out above, the logical problem with most stress, pressure, and clutch arguments is that there are humans on both sides of the ball. Stress impacts pitchers, fielders, and batters, not just one of the three.
   22. Ray (CTL) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:01 PM (#3671506)
I wouldn;t be surprised if the entire difference were based on 5th SPs a,d 5th-7th RPs basically never pitching in the playoffs.


Right. I see it as:

1. A greater percentage of postseason innings are concentrated in the team's best starters and relievers;

2. Small ball;

3. Cold weather (as Ron mentions).

In other words, this is much ado about nothing.
   23. Ray (CTL) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:06 PM (#3671507)
That would explain why scoring is lower in the playoffs. It wouldn't explain why the gap is lower this season than it is between most postseasons/regular seasons.


First, we're still only partially through the postseason, so we should really wait until the number of games are comparable before drawing any conclusions. Second, we shouldn't expect the numbers to be the same every year, anyway.
   24. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:15 PM (#3671513)
This attitude (the one you're describing, not yours) is perhaps the most annoying part of many BTF threads.

Oh piffle.


Oh go loosen your bowtie, George.

The arguments here are a few:

1. Umm, why aren't pitchers under just as much if not more stress than hitters? If they are, why would stress lead to worse hitting performance but better pitching performance?


Schmidt wasn't a pitcher, and since his inconsistency was most pronounced as a hitter, it's obvious why he was speaking of the effect of pressure on the hitters.

2. How about we eliminate known, measurable factors (fewer back-end starters, fewer back-end relievers, greater use of "small ball") before we go attributing differences to unmeasurable "stress"?

Just why does one factor rule out others?

3. Brian Doyle was the most relaxed guy on the field? So relaxed he outhit himself by about 200 points? Was he smoking the NY Times before every game?

That would be relevant if we refused to acknowledge that other factors can also come into play, but who's doing that? Certainly not Schmidt, if you read the link and not just the Repoz highlights.

Yes, good pitching perpetuates this. The great ones, and there are several in play now, see this and know how to attack it. Basically, off-speed pitches, pitches that have late movement, in fastball counts do the job.


4. Does stress cause poor performance or does poor performance cause stress or is it a vicious circle?

It can certainly become a vicious circle, and it's not always knowable which starts it. But again, that doesn't negate what Schmidt's saying can be a factor in particular cases.

5. Even if Schmidt is correct, what do we do with this information? Can we predict which hitters will feel stress and which won't? Should the Phillies have benched Schmidt in 1983 secure in the knowledge he was going to stink? Should they have benched him after 1, 2, 3 games of stinking?

Of course it's not "predictive," but so what? Jesus Fucking Christ, does every insight or observation have to come with a mathematical appendix? Does it have to apply to all players in all situations for it to have validity or to be worthy of note?

This is exactly the sort of smarmy attitude I'm talking about. A Hall of Fame player makes a perfectly valid observation about how pressure can affect a hitter's performance, he gives examples from his own World Series experience, and your only reaction is to demand some goddam "predictive" mathematical formula that you can use in the future in your next fantasy league, or in your next managerial post.

Players who get to the level of "The Game's 750" have obviously learned how to deal with the problem of the yips on a day-to-day basis, but that doesn't always mean that they're equally successful in doing this, especially in key situations. And it doesn't mean that even the best players can't press, and have it affect their performance. Why is it so hard to understand this?
   25. Ray (CTL) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:20 PM (#3671516)
Yeah, but what could a Hall of Fame player who's experienced that sort of pressure himself possibly know about the subject?


Nothing of any use to us. He is one data point, and at that, he refutes his own argument: his 8 postseason series included 4 bad ones, 3 good ones and 1 mediocre one. His performances were all over the map. What happened, he didn't know how to relax in the 1980 NLCS, but suddenly learned how to relax a week later in the World Series, then retained that knowledge of how to relax in the 1981 ALDS and in the 1983 NLCS, but suddenly forgot how to relax a week later, in the 1983 World Series?

Or is it more likely that the postseason is a crapshoot because of the small number of PAs hitters get there.

You haven't dealt with any of the substance, Andy. You've just blown smoke.
   26. PreBeaneAsFan Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:25 PM (#3671520)
His performances were all over the map. What happened, he didn't know how to relax in the 1980 NLCS, but suddenly learned how to relax a week later in the World Series, then retained that knowledge of how to relax in the 1981 ALDS and in the 1983 NLCS, but suddenly forgot how to relax a week later, in the 1983 World Series?


One million times this. Psychologists know that in a wide variety of situations introspection is a very unreliable indicator of what is happening. Just because Mike Schmidt was a great baseball player doesn't mean he's a great baseball analyst or has any special insight into what is going on here.

I'm fine with people pointing out that just because we have trouble measuring something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. However, this is a case where not only can we not quantitatively measure the impact of "stress", it doesn't even offer a consistent or coherent qualitative explanation of what is happening.
   27. Ray (CTL) Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:26 PM (#3671521)
And it doesn't mean that even the best players can't press, and have it affect their performance. Why is it so hard to understand this?


Because there's no evidence that it's true for major league players. The ARod idiocy should have told you this. Once he got enough reps in the playoffs as a Yankee, the range of possible outcomes of his performance became visible to even the biggest idiot amongst the ARod Chokes band of morons. (His fantastic performance as a Yankee in the 2004 postseason should have already told them this, but an idiot is an idiot.)

Of course, the morons will say he "learned" how to handle the pressure in the postseason, which is an argument that refutes itself because he's sucked again this postseason.
   28. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:31 PM (#3671525)
You haven't dealt with any of the substance, Andy. You've just blown smoke.

What "substance"? All you and Walt are saying is that what Schmidt's saying isn't predictive, and anyone would know that, including Schmidt himself. He's merely mentioning a particular factor (among others) that has affected his play at various times, and the play of others. He's not claiming that you can pre-determine how it's going to affect this player or that player, only that when it does come into play, the effects can be devastating. We're all sorry that you can't take this simple truth and plug it into your computer, but life is tough.
   29. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:36 PM (#3671529)
And it doesn't mean that even the best players can't press, and have it affect their performance. Why is it so hard to understand this?

Because there's no evidence that it's true for major league players. The ARod idiocy should have told you this. Once he got enough reps in the playoffs as a Yankee, the range of possible outcomes of his performance became visible to even the biggest idiot amongst the ARod Chokes band of morons.

Of course, the morons will say he "learned" how to handle the pressure in the postseason, which is an argument that refutes itself because he's sucked again this postseason.


Of course the morons will say such things, but Schmidt isn't among them:

In 1980, I got hits early and relaxed, a la Cody Ross. In 1983, I lined out against the right-center field wall with men on base the first two at-bats and started to press.

There's a big difference in "feel" and "confidence" when you hit in a big series early. It makes you relax, it gives you a sense that there's nothing to prove, that you've shown the opponent, your team and fans that you do hit under pressure.


Again, since this is of "no use" to you in terms of "predictive value," you will simply dismiss it, as you dismiss everything without a mathematical component. I guess all I can say is YMMV and leave it at that.
   30. Don Malcolm Posted: October 21, 2010 at 10:40 PM (#3671530)
Keep it up, Andy. At least you're keeping Ray from grinding away on bunting in the third inning... :-)

Walt, I have had the key to Funk City for years. But it's now available to everyone, thanks to Numero Uno. (And, no, Repoz, I not be talkin' about no pizza, neither.)

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