Devoted reader and relative master of all things grilling Big C has re-assumed his role as TGWNA contrarian, posting a couple of challenges to The Baseball Preachings of Diesel. I feel compelled to defend/clarify some of my positions, as it's apparent that not all of my parishioners are as comfortable falling into step as others.
In re: Luck and the Playoffs
When I, or any other gambler, uses the term "roll of the dice" (or "crapshoot") it's not meant to imply a 50/50 proposition. There's a reason the house owns the seven roll in craps once a point has been established; it's the most common outcome when rolling two six-sided die. However, there's a wide gulf between saying a certain outcome is the odds-on favorite and saying that outcome is preordained; if the two terms were the same, craps would be a boring (and much more costly) game. Instead, despite knowing that seven is the most common roll, it can still be profitable (in the short term) to bet that another roll will come before a seven does, which is the essence of a craps "Pass" bet (or a "Come," which is just an offset "Pass" bet ... but I digress).
When I use the term "rolling the dice" w/r/t seven-game serieseses, what I mean is that the difference between the "favorite" (let's say they're the seven) and the "underdog" (a "Pass" bet on six) is not great enough for anyone to say what's going to happen on the next roll with any great amount of confidence. Yes, betting on rolling a six makes you a 6-to-5 underdog against a seven, but all that means is that for every five rolls of six, you should roll a seven six times. That still means you roll the six five times, though. This is the essence of a gamble, and provided you're paid according to the true odds you're facing — that is, on a $5 bet, you're paid $6 for rolling a six — you should break even.
The playoffs, ostensibly, are contended between the four best teams in each league. We know that's not always the case, as not all pennant winners are created equally, but for the sake of argument we'll leave it at that. By that definition, the gap between any two combatants in a playoff series isn't that wide; in this offseason's biggest mismatch so far, the D'Backs and the Rockies, the underdog (Arizona) was no worse than a 6.5-5 underdog in any game.
As someone who has spent way too many hours at the craps table in his life, I can attest to the fact that you can go through 30 minutes worth of rolls without ever seeing a seven-out; crazy shit happens when you roll dice. You can also go 30 minutes without ever seeing a "Pass" bet pay off. Neither happens all that often, but those things do happen.
The sweeps we've seen so far in the playoffs are indicative of nothing more magical than the fact that, in short series, it's entirely possible for a team to get on a hot roll and defy odds. And while I think all the series so far have held to form — all the "favorites" have won — the fact that the Sox, D'Backs and Rockies (twice) swept is not an accurate representation of the qualities of the teams involved. If the Rockies and the D'Backs played 100 times, it's probably safe to say the Rockies would have won somewhere between 55 and 60 of those games. However, within those 55 to 60 wins, there would likely be multiple streaks of losses that, if broken down into seven-game segments, would lead one to conclude the D'Backs were the better team if that's the only data allowed through the filter.
Furthermore, "momentum" is great until it's gone. I'm not stubborn enough to think that hot streaks can't build up an individual's confidence, but not enough for it to be a proper predictive force. The Rockies' run in the playoffs is a testament to the fact that crazy shit happens every so often, nothing more. It's also a testament to the fact that baseball officiating has absolutely tanked this season, but that's a rant better delivered by others.
One final point: The Cardinals were, without question, the worst team in the eight-team playoff field last season. They limped into the playoffs, almost blowing a prohibitive division lead down the stretch. Everything that you've mentioned as factors in favor of the Rockies was working against the Birds. And they went ahead and won the World Series anyway. Crazy shit just happens in short serieseses, man.
In re: "Clutch"
About the only argument more exasperating to me than the "clutch hitting" one is the existence of god, and for the same reason. Thirty different people will give you 30 different definitions of god, based on the differences found in various religions and personal credos. This makes it difficult to be an efficient atheist; you often feel like you're shadowboxing, since you're never quite sure what kind of being it is you're arguing against. To top it off, in the midst of an argument, the believer can change his/her belief structure to conveniently invalidate whatever it is you're arguing. This can be enraging.
It's the same with clutch hitting: Ask 30 people what defines a clutch situation, and you're likely to get 30 different sets of conditions. It creates a situation in which a non-believer (me) has difficulty disproving anything, ultimately leading to me resorting to snarky comments about unicorns. It's not really good for anyone.
About the only area in which I'll budge is the idea of a "choke," because it makes enough sense; some players might see a consistent drop in performance in high-pressure situations due to various reasons. I will also say that I think this is a much rarer situation that most make it out to be, if it exists at all. I really can't imagine that scores of major league baseball players have gotten this far without a supreme amount of confidence in their ability, if not an out-and-out desire to take at-bats in those pressure situations. There are so many prospective major league baseball players out there that I can't imagine that personality trait isn't almost completely selected out of the pool. And, I fucking promise, A-Rod is not a choke. He is the best player in baseball who has happened to go through less than a handful of short-term slumps when there was 100+ credentialed media members in attendance.
A strong belief in "clutch hitting," however, sounds a lot to me like believing in an intercessionary deity. People will always remember the dude who prayed for five days straight and woke up cured of cancer, but conveniently forget about the dozens of New Orleans residents who drowned in their attics, praying their doomed asses off. All evidence of clutch hitting is anecdotal, and never put into context. Yes, David Ortiz has hit many game-winning hits, but he's also struck out in those situations plenty of times. In fact, he probably does both at almost exactly the same rates as he does in "non-clutch" situations, whatever the fuck those might be. Isn't it enough to say David Ortiz is awesome all of the time? Do you really need the "clutch" qualifier to buttress his greatness? I think not.