Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 Atlanta Braves Myths: Part IX

For a few weeks, I thought I was finished with investigating myths that serve as potential pitfalls to the Atlanta Braves celebrating this season with a parade down Peach Street.  But one narrative continues to survive, spoken by commentators around the media landscape.  Some Braves fans follow blindly, believing the logic is so sound, it must be true.  Let’s find out.

9. The Atlanta Braves Won’t Win It All Because Their Staff Lacks Postseason Experience

When Tim Hudson went down, the Braves didn't just lose a clubhouse leader and a good guy at the bottom-of-the-rotation.  They lost their only player with a notable amount of postseason experience.  While a member of the A’s, Tim Hudson appeared in seven games with six starts as Oakland failed to get out of the ALDS.  Since becoming a Brave, he has made three starts, including one in 2010 where he tossed seven scoreless innings for a no-decision.  All told, he has logged 54.2 innings in the postseason.
Once you remove Hudson, the only other pitcher with a postseason start on the roster is Kris Medlen, who was handed the ball in the memorable Wild Card Game last season. 

The rationale follows as such: The postseason is a different animal.  Pitchers are relied upon with such a higher degree that not having experience in how to deal with those expectations can wreck pitchers the first few times they go through it.  The only cure to this is experience.  Relying on a rotation with youth will destroy Atlanta in the postseason.

Like any hypothesis, this theory must be tested.  I went back to 1991 just to make this tidy, but I’m sure you can go back a lot longer.  Remember, before 1969, only two teams made it to the playoffs.  You have to accept a lot of teams that earned the right to play in the World Series for the first time in ten or so years had little postseason experience in their starting staff. 

In this sample, I found five World Series Champions who meet the criteria.  All have occurred since 2002 and some sported staffs that lacked postseason experience across the board.  

2002 – Anaheim Angels…Though they finished as the Wild Card behind Hudson’s Athletics, the Angels defeated the Yankees and Twins with little trouble before beating the Giants in seven games to win the Series.  Of their top four starters, only Kevin Appier had any postseason starts.  One start, to be more exact and just two games overall.  The other three – Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn, and fresh-faced rookie John Lackey – had no postseason experience.

2003 – Florida Marlins…Another Wild Card entry, the Marlins reached the playoffs largely from their young, high-performing players.  Their staff was all under 30 and none of the five starters had a single game of postseason experience.  The unorthodox Jack McKeon would use all five to start at least one game in the playoffs and in 17 games, they won more than they lost and took home their second World Series Title in franchise history.  The playoff scene did little to take Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, and others off their game.

2005 – Chicago White Sox…The ChiSox of ’05 had more experience than the previous two, but two of the starters they relied on (Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland) had one game out of the bullpen in the postseason between them.  Jose Contreras had postseason experience during his time with the Yankees, but never started a game.  Didn't stop their title hopes.

2008 – Philadelphia Phillies…Though they had the geriatric Jamie Moyer and his five postseason starts, the Phillies didn't have much starting experience in the playoffs outside of him.  Cole Hamels had one start and Brett Myers and Joe Blanton were used as relievers in their only postseason nods.  Yet, they rolled through the postseason with relative ease, winning 11-of-13.

2010 – San Francisco Giants…The final entrant resembles the 2003 Marlins.  While they had veteran Barry Zito on the staff, his ineffective play dropped him from the postseason roster.  Instead, the Giants relied on four postseason rookies and were matched up with the Phillies in the NLCS.  Philly was no longer the postseason newbie they were in ’08, having won the previous two NL pennants.   Nevertheless, the Giants took that crown away in six before breezing by the Rangers in five for the World Championship.

Postseason experience is nice.  But it’s not a necessity.  Even in 1991, the Braves and Twins matched up with one starter on each side who actually had a decent amount of postseason experience (Jack Morris and Charlie Leibrandt).  The rest of the starters, and there were some tremendous ones on both sides, were new to the postseason scene.  We still got one of the greatest World Series in history. 

Experience doesn't beat talent and execution.  I will grant you that postseason experience does nothing but help players, but its actual impact seems very low.  And though he’s hurt, Huddy is around to provide advice to the young guns on the staff.  Either way, if the Braves fail in the playoffs – and hopefully, they don’t – the reason for that failure will not because the other team was more seasoned than the Braves.  

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