Thursday, June 29, 2006

 
June 29th, 1954


Rick Honeycutt Born


Coming on the heels of Alex Rodriguez' walk-off home run yesterday afternoon in the Bronx, which should put to bed, at least for a few days, the cries of his inability to hit in big situations, I was thinking about pressure situations and players' ability to perform in them generally. I've always been slightly dubious of the idea of all players being "clutch" and others not; it seems hopelessly subjective. While there are some players who I'm willing to concede are shaky in big moments (Armando Benitez springs to mind) those players are few and far between, the exception as opposed to the rule.

But what does any of this have to do with Rick Honeycutt? Honeycutt has pitched--exclusively as a reliever--in eleven post season series. Although he has a 3-0 record, Honeycutt has a fairly awful 6.93 ERA in his almost twenty-five post season innings, suggesting that the pressure of the big stage gets to him, especially when compared with his lifetime 3.72 ERA.

It isn't, of course, that simple. In fact, it's not that simple on a variety of different levels. In his first two post season appearances (for the Dodgers in 1983 and 1985 NLCS) Honeycutt gave up six runs in three innings, for an ERA of 18 even. In 1988 however, now pitching for the A's against his former team in the World Series and the Red Sox in the ALCS Honeycutt threw five and a third scoreless innings, having apparently learned how to handle the pressure and winning two games.

Unfortunately for Honeycutt, he evidently forgot how to handle the pressure in the ALCS the next year giving up six runs (and five walks) in under two innings, while giving up another two in the World Series for good measure. Happily, he rediscovered how to handle pressure in the 1990 playoffs, once again going without being scored upon in the both the ALCS and World Series. He continued that in the 1992 playoffs, giving up no runs in the A's six game loss to the Blue Jays. Reunited with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis in 1996 however, Honeycutt had lost the post season touch, and posted a 6.75 ERA.

Ok, so that's just silly. Maybe Honeycutt was feeling the pressure in his first two playoff appearances but he clearly got the hang of it by 1988, and the capacity to withstand pressure doesn't come-and-go for no reason. In fact, there's no way to slice-and-dice Honeycutt's numbers to draw meaning from them. The only consistent factor was that he performed far better in the World Series (2.35 ERA in seven and two-thirds) than the LCS (10.05 in fourteen and a third), but that doesn't show us anything since one assumes there's more pressure in the World Series than the LCS.

So what does all of this show us? There really isn't anything to it. There might be a handful of players who crumble under pressure but they're a rarity. Most of what we view as clutch performance, or huge failure is just the usual player performance, blown up on a big stage when players only have a chance or two to fail or succeed. Rick Honeycutt failed sometimes and he succeeded others, just like nearly all players. Everything else is noise.



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