Yes, October is Tough on Hitters

It is a logical assumption that it’s tougher to hit in the post-season than in the regular season, with back-of-the-rotation starting pitchers disappearing from view and the workloads of the very best pitchers being rationed less carefully.  No longer are the top arms being saved for more important occasions — those post-season games are the most important occasions.  The numbers back up the logical assumption, as you can see after the jump.

From 1903 through 1968, the post-season meant simply the World Series.  Over the 65 seasons through 1968 that culminated in a World Series, the average major league regular season produced an overall OPS of .702, while the average World Series produced an OPS, in total for all plate appearances in the Series,  of .641.   The on-base and slugging components of OPS were each similarly affected: the averages for a regular season over this period were .329 OBP/.372 SLG, while the average World Series through 1968 produced a .300 OBP/.342 SLG

From 1969 through 2011 (not including 1994, which did not include a post-season), the average regular season produced a major league OPS of .726 (comprised of a .328 OBP and a .398 SLG), while the average post-season produced an OPS of .701  (comprised of a .317 OBP and a .384 SLG).

Over the 65 World Series years from 1903 through 1968, there were only ten seasons in which the OPS produced during the World Series was higher than the OPS produced by the majors as a whole during the regular season that led up to it.  The biggest jump in OPS from the regular season to the World Series occurred in 1953, the year the Yankees completed their fifth world championship in a row and Billy Martin for once hit as hard as he partied (12 for 24 with two homers and two triples in the Series).  The Yanks and Dodgers combined in that World Series for an .844 OPS, compared to a .733 OPS produced by the majors as a whole during the 1953 regular season.   1930 and 1950 saw the biggest drops in OPS from the regular season to the World Series during the pre-1969 era.  The 1930 regular season generated the highest OPS and run scoring levels in modern baseball, exceeding even the biggest hitting seasons of the steroids era.  The 1930 regular season OPS for the majors as a whole was  .790 (higher even than the OPS in the year 2000).   But in World Series that year, the Athletics’ fireballing combination of Lefty Grove and right-handed George Earnshaw dominated the Cardinals and the teams combined for an OPS of just .601, including a .546 OPS for the Cardinals, who had put up a team OPS in the regular season of .843 .

Over the 43 years from 1969 on that have produced a post-season, there have been only ten seasons in which the OPS produced during the post-season was higher than the OPS produced across the majors during the regular season that led to it.  The largest drop over this period from regular season OPS to post-season OPS was 1983, when Baltimore’s pitching staff (the starters were Boddicker, Flanagan, McGregor and Storm Davis) held the White Sox and Phillies to only 11 runs scored over nine post-season games.  That contributed to an overall post-season OPS in 1983 of just .614, compared to a major league-wide .714 OPS during the 1983 regular season.

On the flip side,  the biggest jump in OPS from the regular season to the post-season in the division play era occurred in 1989, the year of the World Series earthquake that hit the territory that both competing teams, the Giants and A’s, called home.   Among the noteworthy hitting displays that post-season: in the NLCS, the opposing first basemen, Will Clark and Mark Grace (please do not refer to them as Will and Grace) each  posted batting averages over .600 with OPS numbers around 1.800.  And after the earthquake stopped the Series for ten days between Game 2 and Game 3, the pitching staffs never really got back in sync,  as Oakland won the last two games by the scores of 13 to 7 and 9 to 6 to complete their tragedy-haunted sweep.   All told, the overall OPS for that post-season was .773, compared to a regular season OPS for the majors as a whole that year of .695.  No, a jump like that in league-wide hitting from the regular season to the post-season is not quite as rare as a massive earthquake,  but it certainly isn’t common.

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Ed
Ed
8 years ago

Interesting post birtelcom! I still remember seeing that Grace/Clark battle in 1989. Truly something to behold. BTW, they were both in the ’98 playoffs (though not against each other) and went a combined 2-23 with each of them hitting one single.

kds
kds
8 years ago

You have shown strong evidence that teams hit worse in the post-season. However, you have not shown why this happens. Cool weather is a cause of lower offense. The weather is cooler in October. The problem is figuring out how much each cause contributes to the effect. (And being sure there are no other causes.)

Doug
Doug
8 years ago
Reply to  kds

kds, I think birtelcom has enunciated his hypothesis of why hitters swoon in October. He has then produced persuasive data supporting that hypothesis.

Sure, it’s not a proof, but it’s also not like he hasn’t explained his reasoning.

bstar
bstar
8 years ago
Reply to  kds

kds, do you not feel that birtelcom explained the reason why in his first two sentences? The top 3 starting pitchers are going to go every day, with maybe the 4th guy getting one or two starts per postseason at most. Long and middle relievers are going to be eschewed for better bullpen options unless a blowout is occurring. These are cards that every team’s pitching staff can play, but the offense has no such option. It’s not like you can only bat your 5 or 6 best bats in the playoffs. Everybody has to hit. Of course what I’m… Read more »

bstar
bstar
8 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Oops, sorry Doug. I was typing ^^above when your reply got posted. Didn’t mean to repeat what you said.

birtelcom
birtelcom
8 years ago
Reply to  kds

kds @ comment #2: That’s a very interesting counter-hypothesis as to why the hitting numbers go down in October: colder temperatures. One way to test how much the decline of hitting in October is the result of colder temperatures (as opposed to the effect of a higher percentage of innings being pitched by top pitchers) might be to look at April numbers over the years. Weatherbase.com has data showing that the average temperature in the U.S. is about two degrees cooler in April than in October. So to the extent the reason for the hitting decline in the post-season is… Read more »

Hartvig
Hartvig
8 years ago

Watching the earthquake happen in the 1989 series, like hearing about President Kennedy’s assassination, and watching the moon landing and the second plane hit the World Trade Center as they happened, is something I will have a clear memory of until my dying day.

Will & Grace

Made me laugh.

And I didn’t even watch that show.

MikeD
MikeD
8 years ago

A week or so late on this one.

So what you’re saying is overall offense decreases in the postseason because of overall superior pitching? Makes sense. More top pitchers and less leash when a pitcher is off. Offense dropped 61 OPS points in the World Series-only era, and 25 points in the multi-round post-season era.

Yet Derek Jeter in 15 years and 31 post seasons actually increased his OPS from the regular season.

Hmmmm. You missed the flash point! : -)