MLB Playoffs Revisited: Burn all the regular season stats to smouldering hell

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
November 12, 2017

Before game 5 of the World Series, the Dodgers were 100-1 when they handed Clayton Kershaw 4 or more runs, including 19-0 this year.

And in game 5, the Dodgers did just that. Twice.

But once the dust cleared some 5 hours and 17 minutes later, which featured some of the craziest, zaniest, most insane baseball in World Series history, the Astros came out victorious.

How can this be? The regular season stats told me this was a Dodgers win. So what in holy hell happened?

Well, the playoffs happened.

Anyone who’s ever watched 1 second of playoff baseball can see that it’s a whole different animal.

The atmosphere. The pressure. The high stakes. The way the games are managed. Nothing during the 162-game season can replicate postseason baseball. Nothing.

Once the calendar flips to October, regular season stats do not count for shit.

Playoffs turn perennial .300 hitters into .100 hitters. Cause RBI machines to break down. And send surefire aces to the showers after only 1 inning.

The reverse is also true. Playoffs turn slap hitters into homerun kings. Convert fringe starters into Cy Youngs. And even transform journeymen bench players into golden gods.

It’s a time when anything can happen. And it always does.

Yet for reasons that I’ll never understand, many of the top analysts and writers in baseball still use regular season numbers to analyze and predict playoff outcomes.

And they continue to do so even after years and years of seeing how things actually play out.

Newsflash: Once the regular season is over, it's over. Done. Finito.

I mean, there’s a reason they call it the “postseason” and not “the season continued.” All stats go back to zero. Clean slate. It's a brand new season. A brand new ballgame.

Head-to-head season stats are no longer relevant. Regular season win-loss records don’t mean jack shit. Road-home splits are meaningless.

Lead the league in homeruns? Who cares. Compiled 200 hits? Good for you. Best ERA in the league? Doesn’t matter one bit.

104 wins don’t matter.

22-game winning streaks don’t matter.

100+ RBIs don’t matter.

.900+ OPS does not friggin’ matter.

Why do I care that the Red Sox beat the Astros in a series in June? Or that Robbie Ray struck out 10 Dodgers in August?

Why do I care that Dallas Keuchel had an exceptional home ERA? Or that the Indians had one of the top pitching staffs in the league?

You can show me all the regular season game footage and head-to-head stats that you want. You can shove as many numbers down our throats during the broadcast as you please.

They’re all meaningless once October comes around.

If the regular season actually did have any bearing on the postseason, then the Indians would’ve played the Dodgers in the World Series. And LA would’ve hosted a parade, not Houston.

By referencing regular season stats to determine postseason success, you’re saying that a meaningless series in April is on par with a playoff series in October. Like they're the same exact thing.

That’s beyond insane.

Lose game 52 of the season, whoop-de-doo. There’s still another 110 games left to go. But lose 1 playoff game and it will majorly alter a series or even send a team fishing.

There’s just no comparison. It's apples to fucking cauliflower.

You don’t believe me? History is riddled with unexpected postseason performances – good and bad.

In 2005, light hitting Scott Podsednik of the Chicago White Sox had exactly 0 homers all season. But he then launched 2 dingers in the playoffs, including one in the World Series.

In 2014, the Giants picked up fringe player Takashi Ishikawa who’d been DFA’d by the Pirates. He appeared in just 47 games for the Giants, racking up 2 homers. That didn’t stop him from launching a walk-off 3 run bomb to send the Giants to the World Series.

Want more evidence?

Just take a look at examples from this year's playoffs. And there were plenty to choose from.

Exhibit A: Luis Severino, who was dominant all season long and finished with a 2.98 ERA, got exactly 1 out in the Wild Card game before the Twins knocked him out. It’s no coincidence that he had the worst game of his life on the biggest stage – a do or die game.

Exhibit B: Paul Goldschmidt entered the Wild Card game with 0 career hits off of Jon Gray. But instead of getting blanked by Gray, he launched a big 3 run bomb.

Exhibit C: Zack Greinke, one of MLB’s most terrorizing pitchers for the past 5+ years, suffered the shortest outing of his career in the Wild Card game, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits in just 3.2 innings.

Exhibit D: Entering the Wild Card game, relief pitcher Archie Bradley had a 0.98 career batting average. So there’s no chance in burning hell that he’s getting a hit, right? He banged a 2 out, 2 run triple in the 7th – his first career extra base hit ever.

Exhibit E: The Indians, who had an historical 22 game winning streak and an AL best 102 wins, won just 2 playoff games and were ousted by the Yankees in the ALDS.

Exhibit F: In game 2 of the ALDS, Cy Young favourite Corey Klubber gave up 6 runs vs. the Yankees – the same number of runs he gave up all of September.

Exhibit G: Super reliever Andrew Miller had given up just 1 homer to a lefty all season long before giving up a crucial homer to lefty Greg Bird in game 3 of the ALDS.

Exhibit H: In game 1 of the ALDS, perennial Cy Young contender Chris Sale took the loss vs. the Astros after giving up 7 runs on 9 hits in just 5+ innings, including 3 dagger dingers.

Exhibit I: All the talk going into the Diamondbacks-Dodgers ALDS series was how the D-Backs had the Dodgers’ number since they won the season series, including winning the last 6 matchups. But the D-Backs got swept – never really putting up much of a fight.

Exhibit J: Closer Wade Davis didn’t give up a single homerun all year. That is until he gave up a grand slam to Michael Taylor in game 4 of the NLDS.

Exhibit K: Ben Zobrist's career numbers vs. Max Scherzer were pretty shit. Just above .200, in fact. Yet in game 5 of the NLDS, he got a big pinch hit off Scherzer. How can this be?

Exhibit L: In 4 regular season starts vs. the Astros, Masahiro Tanaka has a .325 OPP. AVG and a 10.38 ERA. Yet in 3 postseason starts vs. Astros, he has a .169 OPP. AVG and a 2.00 ERA. Imagine that.

Exhibit M: In August and September, Joc Pederson had 6 hits and 0 dingers in 71 plate appearances. But through just 10 World Series plate appearances, he collected 2 bombs and a double.

Exhibit N: The Dodgers were undefeated all season long when leading after 8 innings. In game 2 of the World Series, they were ahead after 8. So why even bother watching, right? The Astros came back to win.

Exhibit O: In game 3 of the World Series, Yu Darvish had the shortest outing of his career, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits in just 1.2 innings. A performance he basically repeated in game 7.

So why the disparity?

There are many reasons why regular season numbers should be discarded once the postseason begins.

1. Pressure

The pressure to succeed in the playoffs is perhaps the biggest factor of all. There’s just so much more at stake.

Every game. Every play. Every pitch. Every swing. Every groin scratch. Everything’s under a huge microscope. A single missed location by a pitcher can alter a series. A single error can end one.

Some players can handle the pressure and keep their nerves in check. Others clearly cannot.

During the season, you can go 0-20 or have 2 or 3 bad starts. And no one will notice or care. Do that in the playoffs and fans and critics will be calling for your head. Hell. Going 0-4 will get you major scrutiny.

2. Strategy

How you manage each game is completely different from the 162 game marathon, especially in a 1 game Wild Card or a 5 game series. There's just no breathing room. Every pitch is crucial. Every game is magnified and of the upmost importance.

During a 162 game season, the goal is to make the playoffs. If you drop a game, there’s always tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. But that’s not true in the postseason.

Sometimes there is no tomorrow. So you have to strategize accordingly just to stay alive.

How many times during the regular season do you see 8th inning relievers enter in the 3rd? Or closers going for 2 inning saves? How many times do you witness starters being pulled after 3 or 4 innings? Or Cy Young winning starters entering form the bullpen?

The answer is, you don’t. Ever.

David Robertson did something in the Wild Card game he’s never done in his life as a reliever. He entered in the 3rd and threw 52 pitches over 3.1 innings.

In game 5 of the NLDS, closer Wade Davis entered with 2 outs in the 7th for a 7 out save. He hadn't pitched before the 8th inning since 2014. He also had 79 career saves entering the game – none of them over 1 inning.

When the Astros brought in Justin Verlander from the bullpen in game 4 of the ALDS, it was his first relief appearance ever. Like ever since he picked up a baseball, ever.

3. Team makeup

The team that’s playing in October isn’t necessarily the same team that played during the year. Whether it’s injuries, trades, demotions, call-ups or DFA’s, teams change drastically throughout the year.

So by the time the playoffs roll around, you could be looking at a completely different team. The Yankees, for example, completely revamped their bullpen mid-season. And the Diamondbacks managed to turn their offence around just by adding J.D. Martinez.

4. Format

The format for each playoff series is radically different the regular season:

Wild Card: 1 game, winner take all
Division Series: 2 games, travel day, 2 games, travel day, 1 game
Conference Series & World Series: 2 games, travel day, 3 games, travel day, 2 games

5. Exposure

In the postseason, you can play the same team as many as 7 games in a row. In that time, a team can see the same starter 3 times and the same reliever 5-6 times. (Unless you’re Brandon Morrow.) That doesn’t happen during the season.

So the longer the series goes, the more a pitcher can be exposed. Same goes for hitters.

6. Preparation

In the playoffs, you’re not dealing with the rigours of the regular season. You’re not play this team one day and another team the next. You can really zero in one specific opponent – formulate strategies and conduct advanced scouting.

7. Level of competition

In the postseason, you’re facing the best players on the best teams. You’re not facing the bench players or the 4th or 5th starters…at least to start the game.

8. Time of matchup

Another danger of pulling head-to-head stats from the regular season is that when a team plays can have a huge impact on how well they play. It could be during a huge rash of injuries, before a big trade, the final series of long road trip or maybe horrible weather conditions.

9. Energy level

Coming into a new season, players are obviously in better health and have a ton of energy. But as the season wears on, they get worn down. So by the time the playoffs roll around, they’re much more tired and banged up than they were in May or June.

10. Weather conditions

Once October hits, the weather starts taking a turn for the worse, especially in cold weather cities like New York, Cleveland, Washington and Chicago. Colder weather can affect performance, especially since the conditions are so drastically different from the warmer regular season conditions.

So…

I’m here to say that enough is enough. Stop showing me head-to-head stats from a meaningless series in May.

Once the postseason begins, throw all the fucking regular season numbers out the window. Take a flamethrower and burn all the stats to smouldering hell.

Trust me. They’ll do you no good.

But if you don’t trust me, trust your own goddamn eyes.