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MLB Playoffs 2019: Your handy old-school baseball cliché primer

October 01, 2019

Jayne Kamin-Oncea

Welcome to Major League Baseball in 2019 where the games take longer than ever and nearly every at bat results in a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. And then is usually followed by yet another pitching change as modern managers get more in-game exercise than shortstops. America's Pastime is finishing past your bed time more and more, but while this isn't your dad's MLB, much of your dad's lingo revolving around the sport still exists. And as this year's postseason gets underway, we're here to help with a handy old-school baseball cliché primer. So let's play two! Or, just go around the horn with what you need to know about these phrases you are about to get sick of hearing.

“You have to manufacture runs”: Old-school baseball people always say teams need to do this, but they shout it from the rooftops above Wrigley Field during the postseason. Well, not Wrigley Field this season since the Cubs collapsed worse than the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. But you get the point. The baseball dinosaurs dine on this saying while insisting teams “CAN’T RELY ON THE LONG BALL!” even though those same teams relied on the long ball all year. This would be like telling the Golden State Warriors they shouldn’t shoot as many three-pointers in the playoffs. Instead, teams should work a walk, sacrifice bunt, and scratch out an RBI single as if scoring a grittier run somehow counts for more. Ridiculous.

“Good pitching beats good hitting”: Psst! I’m going to let you in on a little secret here: All the teams in the playoffs have good pitching AND good hitting. That’s why they are in the playoffs! And that’s why they had the best run differentials throughout the season. Other than the Milwaukee Brewers, that is. How did they get in? Anyway, what constitutes good pitching? A strong staff all year or a bunch of journeymen throwing well at the right time? The Cardinals won the 2006 World Series after an 83-79 regular season and boasted a postseason starting rotation that included Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, and Anthony Reyes. If that’s good pitching, then the New York Knicks played good defense under Jeff Hornacek. But the Cardinals did have the scrappy David Eckstein and no one could manufacture a run like that guy.

“The Stopper”: This is the guy who you hand the ball to when you really need to STOP a losing streak. Or what you call the pitcher who helps STOP a losing streak. Either way, it’s dumb because it’s usually just another term for a team’s ACE. For years, Andy Pettitte was the Yankees’ STOPPER because of his glowing record following a New York loss. Meanwhile, he basically had the exact same winning percentage as when he pitched following a win. The guy was simply a good pitcher on a team that won a lot. That’s it. Which brings us to the next term. . .

“Clutch”: Make no mistake about it, baseball players can come up clutch by performing in high-leverage situations. But as Michael Lewis' brilliant 'Moneyball' and other writings have proved, that doesn’t make it an actual skill (That noise you just heard was Casey Stengel rolling over in his grave). Let’s use another Yankee, Derek Jeter, AKA MR. NOVEMBER, as an example. In his illustrious career, Jeter slashed .310/.377/.440 during the regular season. In his illustrious postseason career, Jeter, who played 158(!) postseason games or nearly a full season of playoff baseball, slashed .308/.374/.465. Pretty similar, huh? Amazing how that happens. . . (By the way, I'm saying that as a huge Yankees fan. I'm basically the Babe Ruth of unbiased journalism.) Bottom line, like a great pitcher being great whether he is pitching after a loss or a win, Derek Jeter was great whether he was playing in the postseason or regular season. And Clayton Kershaw is great, um, hmm. . . maybe there is such a thing as (un)clutch pitching. . .

“He’s a professional hitter”: This is the cousin of “He’s seeing the ball well.” Only dumber. No shit he’s a professional hitter. He’s in the majors.

“He chased a bad pitch”: Or maybe it was a filthy pitch that achieved exactly what it was intended to do? Maybe give the pitcher a little credit, you know?

“He’s bad at stranding runners”: Translation: He’s not that good of a pitcher to begin with!

“Pitch to the scoreboard”: The theory here is that pitchers staked to big leads will try to conserve their arms by throwing more strikes to allow the other team to put the ball in play more. In reality, this is an excuse to make for a starting pitcher who earns a win despite a bad pitching line. “That’s just good old fashioned pitching to the scoreboard, folks!” Yeah, sure thing, Joe Morgan. Pitching to the scoreboard is bullshit. A pitcher should try to keep the other team from scoring. Period.

“Sabermetrics”: This isn’t a cliché, but it’s a term you will hear often. And in varying tones. It will sound a lot different coming out of Tom Verducci’s mouth than John Smoltz’s since Verducci actually (smartly) believes in these modern metrics that have proved many old-school theories wrong. Sabermetrics often is interchangeable with “By the book,” unless you’re talking about an old-school manager’s book. Then “By the book” becomes “by the gut” of said old-school manager.

We could go on and on, but you get the point. Anyway, happy playoffs, everyone. And I think we can all agree that when it comes to the postseason, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” So Oct. 30. If there’s a World Series Game 7. Who are we kidding? There's no way a World Series Game 7 will finish before midnight. Make that Oct. 31.