If you’re on Baseball Twitter, you probably have seen some of Sarah Langs’ tweets over the postseason, detailing how critical home runs are for postseason success. The Guillen Number, or percentage of total runs that come from homers, goes up about 15% in the playoffs. Atlanta just hit 11 dingers to Houston’s 2 in the World Series, despite only having three more overall hits in the six games.
More than looking only at home runs, though, I was curious about the impact of overall three true outcome ball in October, since the folks charged with presenting the game to us talk so much about how strikeouts hurt you more in the postseason, you’ve gotta make more contact, etc etc.
And we did see at least one team that values contact, those Astros, get pretty deep in the playoffs — but their game changed pretty dramatically, with their strikeout rate jumping from 19.40% to 23.13%. In the postseason, you face better pitchers, and so everyone’s strikeout rate climbs, that three and a half-ish point increase being right around the average of the postseason teams.
And we can see that most teams see an increase in the three true outcomes overall once October rolls around. Overall batting didn’t decline as much as you might think — the ten playoff teams combined for a .248 batting average in the regular season, but the big change comes in walk rate, where teams walked about a quarter less often than in the regular season.
So teams get slightly fewer hits, and walk less, and strike out more, all of which puts greater onus on the home run. It’s just harder to get rallies going in the playoffs; you’re not going to have innings where four or five guys reach base, so if one does, you need to get them in as efficiently as possible, hitting a home run.
And I think it’s fair to discuss the aesthetics of these games. For me, this was one of the more miserable Octobers I can remember — not only were the Yankees eliminated early, in embarrassing fashion, but the remainder of the series just weren’t that compelling to me. Sure, maybe the increase in TTO ball had an effect on that, but 36% of the ten playoff team’s PAs ended in a walk, strikeout or home run in the regular season. Come postseason, that number went all the way up to 37.4%. I’m just not sure that fans notice a one-and-a-half point change.
More than small changes in TTO baseball, I think there were just a lack of interesting stories in this postseason. Having the two best teams in baseball face off in the NLDS felt like the league blew its top a little early. The games were longggg, even though the actual amount of balls in play really wasn’t that different from the games we see in the regular season.
So where do we go from here? The most contact-oriented offense in baseball did make it to the World Series, but their inability to put the ball over the fence may have cost them a championship. Then again, the Rays, a strikeout and homer team, were dropped in four games. I don’t know what a team’s optimal offense looks like, aside from one that scores a lot of runs, but if you’re like me and you were let down by the postseason, I really don’t think it was because of the three true outcomes.