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Play Off?
2003-10-01 19:10
by Mike Carminati

Well, day one of the 2003 postseason is in the books and so far we have had three low-scoring, tightly contested games, two of which were road wins by underdogs. The Yankees went up against Johan Santana and found out why he is one of the best young lefties in baseball (though apparently the Twins were among the last to discover this). He shut them down for four innings and then due to injury gave way to the very good Twins bullpen which would bend but not break for the final five frames. Next, Jason Schmidt shut out the possibly spent Marlins. And finally, the Wood giveth and the Wood taketh away: Kerry Wood shut down the powerful Atlanta offense and in the process collected as many hits and runs as he gave up (2 in both cases). (Oh, and in the process the execrable Steve Lyons and Thom Brenneman discovered Orval Overall. Gee, Steve, they did play baseball for decades before you started dropping your drawers on the basepaths. Oh, and is Jeannie Zelasko trying to replace Jennifer Anniston on Friends with her new hairstyle? And as my friend Murray points out, the game was played amid excessive use of the wifey cam.)

So basically two of the best pitchers in the National League and one of the best young pitchers in the Americanówith some sizeable help from his penójust happened to serve up the opening salvos for their teams. That's all. These teams scored just 12 runs among them or two runs per team per game and that's with the Yankee defense doing its best to pad the Twins' scoring totals. That's less than half the regular-season runs per game (4.73). However, The high-scoring Red Sox has yet to join the fray and besides at least the Braves and Yankees offenses should rebound quickly. Right?

Well, historically runs get harder to come by in the playoffs. In 80 out of 106 postseason seasons so far (including the Temple Cup interleague championships of the nineteenth century) or about three-quarters of all postseasons, scoring has been lower than during the regular season. The Angels high-scoring lunacy helped make last year that rare year in which there is more scoring after the regular season ends (5.15 R/G in the playoffs and 4.62 during the season in 2002).

However, on average a team will lose over half a run (.61) from the major-league regular-season average during the playoffs (historically, 4.46 in the regular season and 3.84 in the playoffs). Well, that's just clearing out the odd Devil Ray or Tiger pitching staff. Well, there's some truth to that.

But consider that we remove the Dodgers and Tigers batters from the equation as well. Playoff teams historically outscore the major-league average by about a half-run per game (0.56). This season the eight playoff teams scored about one-third run more per game than the average team (5.05 R/G vs. 4.73 for a .32 difference). There has never been a season in which the average playoff team was outscored by the league average in the regular season (and they say pitching wins games?). On average playoff teams score 1.17 runs fewer per game than they did during the season.

There have been only 11 years in which the playoff teams scored more runs on average in the playoffs than in the regular season. Last year was one of those rare occurrences, the average playoff game registered 0.19 runs per team per game than those teams scored on average during the regular season (5.15 vs. 4.96).

OK, so scoring does go down in the playoffs, but surely the pace yet far in the 2003 playoffs is unprecedented, right? Actually, no. In 1950, the Yankees swept the Phils in four close, low-scoring games and in the process scored almost three runs less per team per game than the major-league average (2.00 vs. 4.85 for a 2.85 difference). In 1930, the A's beat the Cards in six games in which the losing team never scored more than two runs. The postseason average was 2.80 runs fewer than the regular season (2.75 vs. 5.55).

Those two seasons also witnessed greater dropoffs in the teams' scoring in the postseason as opposed to the regular-season averages than 2003 so far. So did 1887 when the Detroit Wolverines (NL) bested the St. Louis Browns nee Cardinals (AA) managed by the Old Roman, Charlie Comiskey (ever hear of him, Steve Lyons?), in a fifteen game series. The playoff teams average 3.69 fewer runs in the postseason that year.

OK, so where are we? There have been only three games and there's a dropoff, but such large swings are harder to find now that there are added rounds in the playoffs. When the Yankees swept the Phils in 1950, there were only four playoff games played. Last year there were 34. The differences have lessened since divisional play started in 1969, but not really that much. Playoff teams have dropped off an of .44 runs per team per game from the major-league average since 1969 and .80 runs per team per game from their own regular-season averages. That is slightly lower than the (orval) overall average by .2 runs. And no season since 1969 has witnessed a greater dropoff in postseason scoring than a run and one-half (in 1983), half of the dropoff we saw yesterday.

So what's the frequency, Kenneth? The odds are that scoring will not remain as depressed as it was yesterday, but don't expect a glut of 10-run games either. In other words, yesterday may have been a tacit declaration that this will not be a repeat of last year's postseason. And if that means fewer Fox commercials, I'm all for it.

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