Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Should Not Be a Sports Cliché

Several days ago, I was reading Phil Rogers's winter forecast for the Chicago Cubs at (I know, I know; a bad call on my part) when, only three paragraphs into the piece, I stumbled upon this gem:

"The Cubs have built one of the strongest teams in their history, with no glaring voids, but have gone all Alex Rodriguez in the playoffs."

Now before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I have no intention of making NL Central Stage simply a platform for critiquing bad sports journalism. The fine folks at Fire Joe Morgan have that well in hand already [EDIT: Until November 13th, that is; FJM, you will be missed]. I am not trying to be the next Coach Ken Tredakniorbles, and neither is Caleb (as far as I know).

That said, I am not going to stand idly by while paid journalists spew such wrongheaded clichés, particularly when the cliché in question is based on a false assumption (A-Rod chokes in the playoffs).

First thing's first: in 39 career games, Alex Rodriguez's postseason batting line is .279/.361/.467 with 7 HR and 41 hits (16 for extra bases). That's pretty damned good. A-Rod's career batting line is .306/.389/.578, so his performance in the playoffs is worse than his regular season performance, but then again, he's played in 2042 regular season games and only 39 postseason games. 39 games is a statistically insignificant sample size, and A-Rod is still pretty good within that sample.

To put things in perspective, Derek Jeter, the face of the Yankees, has played in 123 postseason games—three times Rodriguez's total. In those 123 games, his batting line is .309/.377/.469 with 17 HR and 153 hits (42 XBH). His numbers are slightly better than A-Rod's, but even assuming that A-Rod were to maintain his "Choke-Rod" numbers until he played in roughly as many postseason games as Jeter (117, for ease of calculation), he would have 21 HR, 123 H, and 48 XBH, putting him right up there with Jeter.

Of course, no Yankee (and perhaps no player at all) casts a longer shadow over postseason performance evaluation than Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. So how did Reggie do in the postseason? In 77 postseason games, Jackson hit .278/.358/.527 with 18 HR and 78 H (33 XBH). For the sake of argument (and I'm well aware that my mathmatical methods for extrapolating Jackson's and Rodriguez's statistics are shaky at best, but bear with me on this one), let's multiply Jackson's numbers by 1.5 to bring him roughly in line with Jeter and 117-game "Choke-Rod." Maintaining his career postseason production, 114-game Jackson would collect 27 HR, 117 H, and 49 XBH.

The similarities are telling. Sure, A-Rod's line is probably the worst of the three, but he's also played in far fewer postseason series than either Jeter or Mr. October. A-Rod gets a bad rap for 2005 and 2006 postseasons in which he went .133/.381/.200 and .071/.071/.071, respectively, but where's the love for his other postseason accomplishments with the Yankees (.267/.353/.467 just last year, not to mention .258/.378/.516 in the 2004 ALCS and an absolutely monstrous line of .421/.476/.737 in the ALDS that same year)?

In five postseason series in pinstripes, A-Rod has put up solid-to-excellent numbers three times. Admittedly, in his two worst series (the '05 and '06 ALDS's), Rodriguez has been significantly outperformed by Jeter (.133/.381/.200 vs. .333/.364/.619 in 2005; .071/.071/.071 vs. .500/.529/.938 in 2006). Those are some fantastic numbers from Mr. Jeter. But where's the vitriol for Jeter's awful 2007 NLDS (.176/.176/.176 vs. Choke-Rod's .267/.353/.467) and subpar 2004 ALCS (.200/.333/.233 vs. Rodriguez's .258/.378/.516)? Add the only other postseason series A-Rod and Jeter have played in together (the 2004 ALDS) to the equation, and A-Rod has actually outperformed Jeter in three of his five postseason series as a Yankee: Jeter put up an excellent line of .316/.350/.526, but A-Rod's .421/.476/.737 was otherworldly.

Getting back to Mr. Roger's piece, going "all Alex Rodriguez in the playoffs" appears, in light of the numbers, to mean "slightly underperforming based on career regular season numbers and/or unrealistic fan/media expectations, largely due to inconsistency that is not offset by sufficient sample size." Obviously, that's not what Rogers was going for. I'm sure what he meant to write was that the Cubs went "all Alex Rodriguez in the 2006 ALDS," or "all Derek Jeter in the 2007 ALDS," or "home after getting the everlasting shit kicked out of them by the Dodgers."


  1. Wasn't Ken Tredakniorbles the coach of the Greek swim team? The Greek God of the Backstroke is what they called him.

  2. p.s. Assuming that's true then yes I am trying to be him.

  3. Naturally.

    Also, in hindsight I should have gone with "Coach Ken Dakniorbles." But I got greedy.