Every year after the playoffs and World Series, two things happen: 

  • A team is crowned world champion.
  • One or more stars are asked why they had such a lousy post-season. 

This year was no different. 

It was refreshing to see a team not usually in the mix win it all. Hats off to the Giants. They played great and deserved the crown. 

Now for the questions; what happened to three of Major League Baseball’s four highest paid players?

Ryan Howard following another brilliant season, failed to drive in a run in 33 at bats. Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia returned to their pre-2009 post-season struggles. A-Rod went 7-32, hitting .219 with a .597 OPS versus his career average of .303 and .958 respectively. 

Over Sabathia’s very successful career, hitters have hit just .245 against him and he sports a 1.23 WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). This October, his average against was .333 with a 1.81 WHIP. In all fairness, it should be mentioned that he won two of his three post-season starts, but it took strong offensive outputs from the Yankee offense to get the W's. 

Yankee starter, Phil Hughes won 18 games during the regular season with a 4.18 ERA. Despite his solid season, he lost both post-season starts and had an ERA of 11.42. 

And Nick Swisher can’t feel happy about his performance. After hitting a solid .288 in the regular season and being a .252 hitter over his career, Swisher went 3 for 22 in the Division Series. He is now hitting .162 in four post-season appearances. 

These types of October performances are not uncommon. Look at the post-season stats for Barry Bonds, A-Rod, and the Cleveland Indians pitching staff in the 2008 playoffs. Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano can be lumped in as well. 

Pressure? Absolutely. But what affect does October pressure have on a player? What does pressure do to any athlete? To answer this question, one has to understand how the mind affects the body. Without that understanding, the answer will never be complete. 

To produce motion in the body, a signal about that motion enters the brain. If the signal goes right to the motor system, the motion will be fluid and powerful. But if the signal is intercepted by a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and is delayed in moving to the motor system, then the motion will be forced and not as effective. 

The prefrontal cortex is also known as the CEO of the brain. It oversees all processes in the brain. When someone is learning a motion, the PFC is engaged in learning that motion. But once a motion has been learned and practiced successfully many times, the PFC is no longer needed. 

The PFC is the intellect. When someone over-thinks, the PFC will be engaged. That is why no one who plays well in any sport walks off the field, court or course and says they were thinking a lot. 

Essentially, Howard, A-Rod, Sabathia, Hughes, and Swisher were over-thinking. They were just trying too hard to get the job done. 

There is a secret to playing well in any sport. The secret does not have to do with focus, concentration or the will to win. Do you really think any of these traits are lacking in any player or any team once they get to the playoffs? They play 162 games just to make it into the elite. Focus, concentration, and the will to win, are essential to playing one's best, but alone, will not get the job done. If it would, then no one player would ever experience what happened to the players mentioned above. 

There has to be another element that produces Series like Tim Lincecum had. There has to be an element that hides below the radar which allows someone to have a post-season like Cody Ross had. 

There is. 

Signals about motion simply do not get intercepted by the PFC. When this happens, pitchers have more command of their pitches, hitters have more time to adjust to pitches, and fielders have more time to execute plays. It really is that simple. Stellar performances in any sport can always be traced back to stellar performances that occur in the mind. After all, it is the mind that controls the body, and when signals go straight to the motor system for the majority of players on a World Series team, then cities like San Francisco have ticker tape parades.

Steven Yellin is the President/Co-Founder of PMPM Sports, as well as the Co-author of The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes.  He can be contacted at steven at zonetraining dot net. Buddy Biancalana, Co-Founder of PMPM Sports, was also a contributing author.