Following up on an earlier column touting the MVP-esque accomplishments of Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski takes on “The Myth of Pressure,” in this instance defined as downplaying the otherwise impressive numbers of a player whose club does not play many meaningful games by mid-season, if not sooner. (Remember last autumn’s Cy Young debate over whether pitching in Seattle for a last-place team was easier than taking the mound in the Bronx?)
Poz challenges the notion “that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure”:
If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all.
Ultimately, he believes that there is more stress, not less, when playing on a losing team:
. . . Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams. . . .
. . . The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.
Read the rest of his column here.