Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pattern perception

After the 2000 World Series, when the Yankees had won three in a row (and four of five), Joe Torre was universally hailed as an October genius. His astute management of the pitching staff, both starters and bullpen, was praised. His brilliant pinch hitting wisdom, so often forcing disadvantageous bullpen calls by the opposition, was marvelled at. Above all others, Torre was seen to be the consummate manager for the short series.

Even the best team in baseball can be upset over 5 or 7 games- but with Joe Torre at the helm, it's wildly unlikely. So went the prevailing wisdom.

Seven seasons (and no World Series wins) later, the standard analysis looks a little different. The papers tell us that the postseason is a crapshoot, a lottery, a free for all. How can poor Joe Torre, whose smarts have guided the Yankees to the playoffs in twelve straight years, be expected to consistently navigate such treacherous October waters? Wang's floating sinker, A-Rod's untimely slumps, Jeter's ugly hitting with runners on base- these are to blame. The players play the games.

So which is it? Is Joe Torre a fine manager with a fine ballclub whose luck was better than expected for a few years, then about right after that? Remember, if you're one chance in eight to win it all, a seven year losing streak is hardly out of the ordinary. Or is Joe Torre a former genius who is now no longer worthy of his job?

If it was me, I'd look at blind luck, and the player acquisition side. It was hardly Torre's fault that he was left with a badly broken Kevin Brown to pitch ALCS game 7 in 2004. But neither was it his brilliance that caused Jason Giambi to screw up on the bases in ALDS game 3 in 2000 and let the Yankees stay alive when the A's should have buried them.

Overrated then, underrated now. That's my guess.

In any case, I'm enjoying the ride. If the Yankees and Giants don't win the World Series, it's been a good year for me.

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