Postseason Baseball Heroes are not always the Stars
More often than one would think, non-star players become postseason baseball heroes of the playoffs and World Series.
I am using the word unknowns loosely here, as baseball people know major league players, as many of these players have been around for years. However, they are little, or unknown, by the casual baseball fan, who just tunes in for the big games of October. Regardless, it is common for non-star players to be post-season baseball heroes, dating back to the time, I grew up, when less known players as Denny Doyle, Gene Tenace, and Bucky Dent stole the show, and in the modern era guys like, David Eckstein, David Freeze, and Marco Scutaro had great post season performances.
Notice I only mentioned position players on my list and not pitchers. Dominant pitchers, known or unknown ones, can dominate other teams when they are at their peak, which often comes about in big games. The playoffs produce great adrenaline and focus, and along with great “stuff,” (for the casual baseball fans that is baseball lingo meaning dominant pitches), they often steal the show. Over the years, many well known pitchers have dominated the playoffs and World Series, because they are that good. This year’s early post-season baseball heroes, as Sonny Gray of the A’s and Michael Wacha of the Cards, have ridiculous stuff, and are on their way to stardom. However, these pitchers still fit into my hypothesis of why unknown players become post-season stars.
Postseason Baseball Heroes have it Easier
Simply put, the non-stars have it easier in the post season for many reasons:
Expectations on the stars are immense, especially during the playoffs. There is obvious pressure to play in big games for all players, but the stars have greater expectations on them to “carry’ their teams to victory. Unknown players have little of the enormous pressure the big stars have on them, so they can play more relaxed, making the game easier, especially in the biggest games. Additionally, the big stars expectations, from self and others builds as the series goes on, making it that much more difficult to play loose.
The playoffs are different from the long regular season, when more is on the line. During the regular season, coaches have pitchers challenge players more, but in the magnified playoffs, they have too much to lose by pitching to the stars. Most teams, smartly so, will not let the star players beat them, when at all possible. They may not intentionally walk them in key situations, but they will not give them hittable pitches, so their chance of coming through is limited. Because of that scenario, lesser-known players get more opportunities in clutch situations. After pitching around certain players, pitchers have a greater chance of making mistakes to the next batters, because they have to challenge them after walking the star. Pitchers may get a little careless to non-star players and combining that with less pressure on the non-star batter to come through, the odds of players coming through increase.
Maybe most important to playoff success is that their timing is perfect. Successful skill performance, as in all sports, is cyclical, as players alternate hot and cold streaks throughout the season. Some players just happen to be in the hot cycle at the right time and they play in the zone for the length of a playoff series. What separates the greats from the non-greats is that the greats stay in hot spells longer, but the cold spells are inevitable. People may call it choking, when star players have bad postseason games, but a cycle when their mechanics or timing is off just happens to come at the wrong time.
Luck is always a factor in sport. A successful player hits a shot right at a defender for an out and the unsuccessful one gets jammed on a pitch, but the ball “bloops” in for the game-winning hit. In a lucky way, the unsuccessful hitter becomes the hero and that is the nature of sport. Good luck wins and bad luck loses, in a twisted way.
Great Talent and Poise
Finally, big league players are there for a reason, they are very good, and they relish the biggest stage baseball has to offer.