2012 Postseason: Officially Where Offense Went to Die

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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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

31 Responses to “2012 Postseason: Officially Where Offense Went to Die”

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  1. brendan says:

    love your articles jeff, thanks; and you post almost every day! life is good.

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    • wiggly says:

      With baseball done for the year, I can’t bring myself to agree that life is good: however, thanks to Jeff, it’s better than it would otherwise be, at last.

      Sigh. (and thanks!)

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  2. JS7 says:

    Ironic that the Giants won yesterday in Football & Baseball and Romo was the clincher in both games.

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    • Guest says:

      Only in the spirit of getting it right do I point out that this is coincidence, not irony. It would be irony, if for example, Tony and Sergio were brothers and their father had vowed “Never will the Giants win in October” and then “Romo was the clincher in both games”….

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  3. Shrewd Cat says:

    Somewhere out there Miguel Cabrera is still looking at that thrid called strike.

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  4. Julian says:

    Nice comparison to Stephen Drew. Left me wondering, though, who was the most similar individual pitcher?

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  5. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Just a few thoughts:

    Pitchers on average are getting progressively bigger, stronger, have higher velocities and have better pitches at their disposal such as the cutter. That’s part of run prevention.

    Do you think some teams are getting more savvy at analyzing defensive metrics and figuring out how to suppress BABIP with them? I know the Giants have installed a defensive data collection system in their stadium. Wonder what they are doing with that info? Across the bay, Billy Beane is most likely busy acquiring elite defensive OF’s for a reason.

    Then we have the weather conditions in the fall. Last night’s game conditions bordered on the ridiculous. Yes, it favored flyballs hit to RF but had to suppress just about every other form of offense.

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    • Guest says:

      Perhaps the weather is the reason Selig insists on having the World Series run to, and sometimes through, Halloween.

      Rather than play in actual baseball weather, he’s a fan of these weird run-suppressing near-Arctic conditions.

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    • Kevin says:

      No clue if they did anything with it or not, but they played incredible defense. They always seemed to be exactly where they needed to be.

      Or maybe I’m just biased. As a Tigers fan, it’s been awhile since I’ve known what good defense is, but man was I blown away by it

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  6. JS7 says:

    Rename Hurricane Sandy to “A-Rod” and then it won’t hit anything.

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  7. Lukehart80 says:

    The 6 runs Detroit scored in the World Series were the fewest by any team in 46 years.

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  8. PackBob says:

    It’s not like the Giants slaughtered the Tigers, even if 4-0 is as one-sided as you can get in terms of results. In the last three games, a little different result in play here and there could have had the Tigers up 3-1. These games played well to the Giant’s strengths, but play the series over again and they might not. They just happened to do so over these four games.

    There is always a lot of results-based analysis that goes on after a short series, which I think explains something other than what it purports to do. The Giants didn’t win the World Series because of their depth, they were a good team and got to the World Series because of their depth, just as the Tigers got to the Series because of their starting pitching and their 3-4 mashers. Once there, anything can happen and usually does.

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  9. Eugene Jacket says:

    Baseball Between the Numbers had a piece by Nate Silver and Dayn Perry about the correlations between pitching, defense, opponents’ BA, and championships. Among other things it discussed the nonlinear nature of offense and the ability of good pitching and defense to stop rallies and stunt even a robust offense. While the study seems eerily relevant to this particular year, this might be the first Fall Classic in a while to actually be a good example of this. Thoughts?

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    • GMH says:

      The 2011 Cardinals and 2009 Yankees scoff at your short memory. A team with good pitching and defense is still at the mercy of a lineup stacked with big S.O.B.s who hit the hell out of the ball.

      A six-month grind of a season is decided by a few best-of-five and best-of-seven series. Invitations to these series are determined primarly by geography and the unfair silliness of unbalanced schedules and divisional play. To make things more like a soccer-league-for-five-year-olds, everybody wins – hence the expansion of the wildcard.

      The result of the MLB postseason is a bunch of good but not great teams enter the pot, and so a good but not great team might get hot at the right moment and prevail. Twenty-five years from now I suspect people who aren’t Giants fans will look back at the 2010 and 2012 champions and wonder what the fuck went wrong with baseball during those years.

      The 2012 version of the Giants was a team that did a helluva job scoring runs in spite of playing their home games in a bastard of a park. Their pitching and defense was above average, but nothing spectacular. They were a team with a good balance, which is probably the mark of all championship teams. But the narrative that the 2012 Giants were a weak hitting but pitching-and-defense juggernaut is simply false. Their ace was pretty pedestrian in the postseason, their second-best pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner was exiled to the bullpen, and their most effective starters were a 35-year-old career minor leaguer and a 34-year-old dude from Vegas who should be imprisoned for grand theft. And defensively, the Giants were nothing spectacular. Brandon Crawford looks great when his peers are Jhonny Peralta and Pete Kozma, but Ozzie Smith he is not.

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      • Jones says:

        Sounds like you just didn’t like the outcome of the world series. How can you possibly discredit the Giants pitching? Both the starting pitching and the bullpen were lights out. It’s hard enough to sweep a 3 game series in the regular season against a good team let alone win 3 straight against the Cardinals, then follow it up with a 4 game sweep against the AL champs. 4 of those 7 games were shutouts handed to teams that simply don’t get shutout very often at all. You should actually watch a few Giants games both in the postseason and regular season to see how good this staff is.

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      • ElJimador says:

        The 2010 and 2012 Giants not only won their division but finished with the 2nd and 3rd best records in the NL respectively. Since you’d have to go back to the 1968 to find the last year that neither would be a playoff team (because there were only 10 teams in each league so the only postseason was the World Series), then what exactly makes them less deserving than most other championship teams over that time, and what is the point of bringing up the wild card at all? Not every champion can be the ’98 Yankees but I don’t see why the absense of a dominant team like that should make us think that there’s anything wrong with baseball so far this decade.

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      • Eugene Jacket says:

        Yeah so, my point was that this was the most obvious example in a while of Silver and Perry’s conclusions on pitching/defense in the postseason, in spite of years like 2011 and 2009 (as well as the two years prior). As in, it hasn’t happened in a while

        There are a lot of trite generalities in what you just said, and not a lot of actual substance, but ultimately it’s clear that you don’t really care for the Giants or the way in which they won. Which is fine. But any rate, aside from a few platitudes and quips about beating the bag out of the ball, what exactly do you have to support what you just said? Because it seems to me that the Giants’ feat does nothing but speak to quite the opposite, notwithstanding Zito’s contract and origins.

        The last series of the year may not have had the fireworks you wanted it to, and you wouldn’t be alone in that sentiment. This year’s Series ratings were worse than pedestrian; they were the lowest ever. But that doesn’t mean the 2012 version of the game is broken. Instead, it highlights a phenomenon that two of the more brilliant minds in game analysis pointed out years ago.

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  10. Gerry says:

    I think this is just a factor of small sample size and the inherent luck aspect of the postseason. There are the equivalent of 5 days’ worth of regular season games played in the postseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 5 day stretches in the regular season where the league-wide ERA was both under 3 and over 5. The playoffs aren’t an ideal way to decide the best team in baseball, for that exact reason. The WC format makes the playoffs far more exciting, but also opens the door for teams like the 2011 cards and 2012 Giants to get hot at the right time and win it all.

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    • Baltar says:

      The playoffs are definitely not any way, let alone the best, to determine who is the best team in baseball. Most seasons, there really isn’t a best team, just a bunch of very good ones. (1908 Cubs, with the best winning percentage ever and the World Series winner to boot, were a rare exception.)
      The playoffs determine the Champion, not the best team, just as in any other sport at any level. The Champion is often very clearly not the best team, including this season in the MLB.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        This. The best team in baseball is, with rare exceptions, the team that wins the most games (this year, that would be the Nats).

        I do wish baseball did a better job of REWARDING the best teams, though (I’d like to see the official “league championship” go to the team in each league with the best record, with the World Series playoffs being just that– as an added bonus, baseball might finally figure out that a salary cap is a good idea when the Yankees win seven straight league titles…).

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      • rorschach says:

        @Paul Thomas; would that system work in a league with uneven scheduling? If the Tigers next year spend all year beating up on the Central and win say 97 games, are they better than a team that wins 95 in a division like the AL East? No they’re not, so why not have those two teams face each other to determine which team is the better team?

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    • Giants Fan says:

      I agree. Just remember, it could be worse. In hockey, my team is the Canucks, who have won the best record in the league two years in a row. They failed to win the Stanley Cup, which sucks, but with 16 teams and 4 rounds of 7 game series it mostly comes down to who is least injured (especially in a contact sport like hockey), and who is running a hot goalie and scoring.

      As a Giants fan I am not at all insulted to say we won the Championship – that is, the tournament at the end of the year. Any of the five NL teams were good enough to win. I am just glad my team is constructed well enough to be in the horse race. With good pitching they can win a game with walks, in field hits, and bunts.

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      • Gerry says:

        Baseball’s championship might actually be one of the more reflective of true talent compared to other sports where half or most of the teams make the playoffs, but is obviously still poor. As a purist, one would have to harken back to the pre-WC system where you actually had to be really good to win your division. It may have been bad for TV ratings, but the team that won the world series had a far more legitimate claim to being the world champions.

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    • ElJimador says:

      1) How did the wild card format open the door for the Giants this year when they won their division?

      2) Who says the playoffs are supposed to decide “the best team in baseball” as opposed to the team that wins the championship? Every major team sport has some kind of playoffs to determine its champion and in every one of them the team without the best record has often won. To most people this is a feature of the playoffs, not a bug.

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  11. Will says:

    Era is not really a good stat for this postseason, as it felt like there were a lot of unearned runs (didn’t the giants score like 12?) what was the RA of the postseason?

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  12. Nick C says:

    Yeah the playoffs are just an interesting beast. I often wonder what would happen if the worst team in the league was allowed in the playoffs how often they might knock off a team or two. The Astros were able to take of 2 of three from the Reds in September and quash any hope the Brewers had to catch up with St Louis.

    So yes it was a down year, but it’s hard to make anything of the playoffs.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Well, a good AAA team would win about 30% of its games in MLB, so (omitting the probability calculations) stick the AAA champs in the MLB playoffs and I’d expect them to pick off a team in a first round best-of-five about 17% of the time.

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