History tells us that first-time postseason performers are as likely to excel as the old hands. Why should St. Louis Cardinals fans not be worried about a lack of experience?
The majority of current St. Louis Cardinals have never appeared in a playoff game before. Is that a big deal? Should fans be concerned?
No, and no.
“Playoff experience … (is) absolutely necessary in the postseason,” wrote Danny Vietti of cbssports.com on Aug. 30, a prevalent point of view that is pure poppycock. Multiple studies have shown no evidence that past postseason exposure predicts future playoff success.
“The idea that postseason experience confers some sort of advantage on a player or team is not supported by the data,” countered Russell A. Carleton of baseballprospectus.com in 2013. Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider reached the same conclusion in 2011. Ben Lindbergh of grantland.com referenced both writers and their findings in a 2014 piece titled, “MLB Playoff Myths: Beware the Misleading Narratives!”
Nonetheless, you’ll likely read or hear of the certain benefits bestowed by the 10 Redbirds with postseason experience, a group headed by Yadier Molina (89 postseason games), Dexter Fowler (30 games), Adam Wainwright (24 games, 12 starts) and Andrew Miller (22 games).
If you subscribe to the value of playoff experience, you might believe in Miller, the 2016 ALCS MVP with the Indians who has a 1.09 postseason ERA. But the lefty’s October dominance occurred from 2014 to 2017 when he had regular-seasons ERAs of 2.02, 2.04, 1.45 and 1.44. This year, at 34, Miller’s ERA is 4.50. He’s not the same pitcher.
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Cardinals fans, in particular, should know how first-time playoff performers can dominate October/November baseball. Back in 2006, a 24-year-old Wainwright filled in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen and pitched 9⅔ scoreless postseason innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks en route to a World Series Championship. For the rookie Waino, no experience = no problem.
David Freese, 28, had completed just his second full regular season before going off on the Brewers (.545 average, 1.691 OPS) in the NLCS and the Rangers (.348 average, 1.160 OPS) in the 2011 World Series. Freese didn’t exactly freeze in his first playoff foray.
Michael Wacha, a 21-year-old rookie, had pitched just 64⅔ innings in the regular season before beating Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers twice in the 2013 NLCS. The MVP Wacha threw 13⅔ scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks.
Truth is, the postseason is a crapshoot. For most players, past success or failure follows no particular pattern.
Take catcher Gene Tenace of the 1970s Oakland A’s. The future Cardinal bench player (1981-82) went 0 for 3 vs. the Orioles in the 1971 ALCS and 1 for 17 against the O’s in the 1972 ALCS. He had an .050 postseason batting average before erupting for four homers and nine RBIs in the A’s seven-game 1972 World Series Championship over the Reds. Tenace drove in 56 percent of the A’s runs, a World Series record — no other Oakland player had more than one RBI!
You can imagine post-1972 broadcasters saying, “Look out for Tenace, he’s a postseason terror!” But while the A’s won two more World Series Championships in 1973 and ’74, Tenace hit just .179 with 0 home runs and three RBIs in 12 ALCS and World Series games.
So don’t count on former playoff heroes Wainwright, Wacha, and Miller to carry the Cardinals in this postseason, and don’t be surprised if one of the first-time playoff performers — Jack Flaherty? Paul DeJong? Tommy Edman? — is the most clutch Redbird of them all.