Friday, September 17, 2010

Halftime Adjustments: Does October Baseball Favor Surprise or Experience?

Over the last few weeks, a minor debate has been ongoing about the wisdom of Joe Girardi not bringing in his most talented bullpen pitchers in to key games against the Tampa Bay Rays. When I first read the coverage, my response was to think that the reporters were missing a key element of play-off baseball. In a seven-game series against the Rays, Joe can't lean on the same talented pitchers seven times. He will have to go deeper into his bullpen than usual. What better way to prepare his less-talented and experienced pitchers for October pressure than to insert them into regular-season games against the Rays? This way he also knows which one of these pitchers he can rely on. So at first, I thought some bloggers might be giving Joe too little credit for managerial acumen. Also, I really like using the word acumen, it makes me sound edumacated.

However, there's a flaw in this theory. This assumes that players learn to play under pressure, rather than being born with the ability to remain calm. Is that truly the case? Isn't it quite clear rather early in life how a person reacts to stress?

Consider further that now, various members of the Rays have had experience against these lesser-known pitchers. Of course, there is plenty of film on each Yankees pitcher in action. However, there's a difference between trying to watch a pitcher on video and having actually seen his curve ball dip when you were in the batter's box. Might Manager Girardi's move rob his pitchers of the element of surprise against the Rays' hitters should the Yankees face the Rays in the playoffs?

I can't decide myself, so I leave the question open to you. Is using more pitchers than usual against the Rays in a regular-season game an excellent way to give those pitchers experience under pressure, or an unfortunate way of tipping the Rays off on how to best exploit those pitchers?

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