Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/29/12
Sunday night, when last there was baseball, Miguel Cabrera stood in against Matt Cain in the bottom of the third with a runner on base. In a 1-and-1 count, Cabrera lifted an offspeed pitch into right field, and off the bat it looked like a fairly routine fly ball. But on this night in Detroit, no fly ball was a routine fly ball, and Cabrera’s just continued to carry and carry. It kept on carrying until finally it carried over the fence and gave the Tigers their first lead of the whole World Series. Gusts of wind turned a probable out into a two-run dinger. According to the Home Run Tracker, Cabrera’s fly lost seven feet of distance due to the low temperature, but it gained an incredible 44 feet of distance due to the wind. Under standard conditions, it’s calculated that the fly ball would have been a home run in zero ballparks. On a chilly night, Miguel Cabrera batted under hitter-friendly conditions, and he took advantage of them. It wouldn’t be enough for the Tigers, of course, and that isn’t what this is about. Rather, this is about the rarity of hitter-friendly conditions over the course of the 2012 playoffs. Or if you prefer, this is about the rarity of hitters taking advantage of what hitter-friendly conditions there might have been during October. This is basically just a follow-up post to something I wrote a week and a half ago. So if you weren’t interested in this post on October 17, you’re probably not going to be interested in it now, and you have my permission to go do something else. But I figured if I was going to check in on the numbers then, I should check back in when the playoffs are complete. The playoffs are complete! On October 17, as of that writing, the league had a combined postseason 3.05 ERA. Hitters had a combined .227 batting average, a combined .291 OBP, a combined .349 slugging percentage, and a combined .274 BABIP. Offense was down, somewhat historically so. Now that the playoffs are over, we can look at the final statistics. These numbers aren’t changing, barring some unusually unstable and over-active official scorers. And speaking of numbers not changing: the league finished with a combined postseason 3.05 ERA. Hitters had a combined .227 batting average, a combined .290 OBP, a combined .349 slugging percentage, and a combined .276 BABIP. The final approximate quarter of the playoffs changed the league on-base percentage by one point and the league batting average on balls in play by two points. So now this post is practically identical to the October 17 post. That 3.05 postseason ERA is officially the lowest league postseason ERA since 1990′s 2.84. Put another way, it’s the lowest postseason ERA in the wild-card era. Other years have come close, but just in case you’d forgotten, the combined postseason ERA in 2011 was 4.62. That was one year ago. One year ago, we saw that a team could win the World Series by slugging the crap out of the ball. This year, we saw that a team could win the World Series by not allowing runs ever. Of course, we knew that either could work. Turns out there are lots of ways to advance to and win the World Series. I really like to compare big samples to individual players, because I think it helps to make the numbers more relatable. Let’s take that combined .227/.290/.349 postseason batting line, and add the .276 BABIP. By using complicated sciencey standard deviations, the most similar individual hitter this year was Stephen Drew. Drew finished with a .223/.309/.348 line, with a .275 BABIP. He was 0.61 total standard deviations from the league mean. Jose Molina was 0.62 standard deviations away. Yorvit Torrealba was 0.63 standard deviations away, and Adam Rosales and Dustin Ackley were each 0.66 standard deviations away. Take your pick. In the playoffs, as a whole, teams hit like Drew, or Molina, or Torrealba, or Rosales, or Ackley. That is very bad hitting! And after the league posted a total .718 OPS over the regular season’s final month. If you’re curious, the least similar individual hitter this year was Joey Votto, who was 13.35 standard deviations away from the league mean. This is because Joey Votto was a really good hitter and the playoff teams, in the playoffs, were not. I’m afraid there’s probably not any greater significance to all of this. Offense was just down over 673.1 innings in the playoffs this year. Some of that, presumably, was due to colder weather. Some of that might’ve been due to pitcher-heavy roster construction. Some of that surely was due to random noise, as is the case with any extreme. Just as there wasn’t any meaning in last year’s high playoff ERA, I’m guessing there’s no meaning in this year’s low playoff ERA. Numbers get generated and then we write about them. But, if you’re the Yankees, at least you weren’t alone having struggled to score. If you’re the Tigers, the same thing applies. The Giants swept the World Series with a .289 team OBP. Throughout the playoffs, the Giants had a .298 team OBP, which was just three points higher than Detroit’s. This was just an October of run prevention, and of the most successful run prevention we’ve seen in a couple decades.
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