The myth of pressure


I was reading an article from Joe Posnanski the other day involving his approach to the baseball most valuable player award in 2011 and what he referred to as the myth of pressure. The basic idea was that he didn’t think it held water for people to say that players from two different teams… one in the playoff race and one not… were different candidates for consideration.

I’m not being completely fair in my phrasing here, but I think you get the basic point. We always seem to see the most valuable player come from a team with a winning record, if not bordering on exclusively from a team playing in the postseason. The rules can be vague, voters have different interpretations, and occasionally chaos results. The thought of the playoff team being, he was valuable… in part… because of where the team ended up, since teams that finish poorly couldn’t have anyone contributing at a valuable level.

Sucky team equals no value in the contributions of any of the players.

I found myself fascinated by his argument, because in many ways I didn’t buy it.

Let’s consider Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods in their primes.

These weren’t just amazing professionals with arguments for consideration as the best to ever play their respective sports. These are competitors that crushed the will of those opposing them. Michael Jordan laid waste to the Utah Jazz in the finals. Tiger Woods often didn’t win championships so much as opponents wilted, faded and disappeared when paired with him on a Sunday round.

Now… in principle, I agree with where Posnanski is attempting to go. I don’t necessarily believe in crunch time definitions, where people use statistics for their own purposes and not for the big picture.

Wins can be earned in horrible outings from a starter. They are not, on their own, a good measuring stick of a good or bad pitcher.

Batting average is not the best way to judge a hitter.

Scoring average doesn’t always tell you the best basketball player.

That said… in words I’m stealing in thought from Robert Fulghum… it’s a good idea to have when placing your bets.

Tim Tebow was a brutally bad quarterback. In statistics you’ve probably heard: (1) His quarterback accomplishments from a statistic perspective make him one of the worst to wear a uniform in years. (2) Over two seasons, Denver had a winning record with him as a starter and an abysmally bad losing record with him on the bench.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall… are you believing your eyes or the stats?

If I’m drafting a team, I wouldn’t go near Tebow.

If I’m within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, as a fan I like what Tebow has done for me and expect a miracle is possible yet again.

And for that… Tim Tebow… damn the statistics… he rises to his greatest heights when under pressure.

Forget whether or not it’s true, or has any longevity for him. Does that make him the most valuable player?


It’s not that I can claim to completely agree or disagree with where Posnanski is coming from. Instead I just want to point out that there is much more to this whole story.

Generally speaking, most good, playoff bound teams have more than one good player. Heck, the 2011 Boston Red Sox in August had three players being batted around in name as candidates. They didn’t even make the playoffs, ultimately watched both the manager and the general manager get fired after suffering a no most valuable player in this locker room collapse (come on… we don’t need to debate whether they left on their own or were fired here).

I don’t really believe in the intangible concept. Players rarely get credit for intangibles. Tenacity doesn’t cut it. Naked pull ups or whiskey shots don’t cut it. Playing in pain or delivering in the first year of a contract as opposed to heading into free agency or any of dozens of other factors don’t cut it.

I’m not one to believe you can tell a Hall of Fame player with your eyes. But I do believe there are some that you can place into the debate or eliminate from it with the eye debate. And maybe the record will show a handful… a marginal, count on the fingers and never need your toes handful… will fall back or surge ahead when you dig beyond the eye test. That’s why we assign voters for the halls of fame.

That’s why we have voters for most valuable player.

Because they’re supposed to dig deeper and be more knowledgeable.

The problem is, many don’t act that way.

I do believe you can question how a player responds to pressure. And it may not be something you see in statistics… wins or losses… or playoff races.

Don’t use it as the final vote though. Just let it be a part of the conversation.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at