Answer Man

Playoff homers get up, get up, get up, baby

New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphywatches his two-run home run in the first inning Game 2 of the National League Championship Series playoff Sunday at Citi Field in New York.
New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphywatches his two-run home run in the first inning Game 2 of the National League Championship Series playoff Sunday at Citi Field in New York. Chicago Tribune

Q: It seems like there’s a tsunami of home runs being hit in postseason baseball games this year. Is that just because the excitement level is higher and there’s more attention paid to them or are there really more round-trippers percentagewise compared with the regular season?

S.M., of Millstadt

A: From the way balls were flying out of the park on Columbus Day, you might think the answer is obvious at first glance.

During four games on Oct. 12, 20 batters on eight teams launched 21 pitches into the stands. The Cardinals’ Jason Heyward and Stephen Piscotty joined in the offensive onslaught, and Houston’s Carlos Correa crushed two for good measure. That averaged out to be more than five home runs per game. It obliterated the previous one-day postseason mark of 15 on Oct. 3, 1995, and the 61 total runs left the old 2002 record of 48 in the dust.

Yet if you look at the previous five postseasons, I would argue that you’ll find that the recent dinger derby was a fluke rather than the rule. With one notable exception, teams averaged either more than or just about the same number of home runs per game in the regular season as they did in the postseason from 2010 to 2014. Here are the numbers I hope will prove my point:

Last year, for example, 1,320 different batters came to the plate in 2,430 Major League games and combined for 4,186 home runs – or about 1.72 home runs a game. That’s fewer – but only slightly – than the 1.78 postseason average in 2014 (57 in 32 games — led by the St. Louis Cardinals with 15.)

In three other recent years, however, postseason home run averages fell from the regular-season marks. In 2013, teams hammered an average of 1.92 per game from April to September but fell back to 1.45 in the postseason (55 in 38 games). In 2012, fans enjoyed more than two home runs a game during the regular season (2.04 to be exact) but just 1.65 in the postseason (61 in 37 games). And, in 2010, the 1.9 regular-season average edged out the 1.81 in postseason play (58 in 32 games).

The one exception to this pattern came in 2011, the year before they added the wild card games to kick off the postseason. This was the year the Redbirds’ David Freese went crazy, hammering five of St. Louis’ 18 home runs en route to its 11th World Series title. Yet you might remember that the Cards didn’t even top the home run list that year. Texas had 22 and Detroit clobbered 19 (in just 11 games!) while Milwaukee and Arizona also ended up in double digits with 13 and 10, respectively. In all, the eight qualifiers racked up 99 homers in 38 games for a 2.52 per-game average, nearly 35 percent higher than the 1.87 mark notched during the regular season.

Even so, the 2.52 mark barely outdistances several of the best regular-season marks in baseball history — although many of these came during the infamous performance-enhancing drug era. The best (or worst, depending on your perspective) came in 2000 when players hit 5,693 homers for an average of 2.34 per game. That was followed by 2.28 both in 2001 and 2004 and 2.22 in 2006 to round out the top five. Since 2006, the average has dropped to about 2 or a fraction fewer. For the record, this postseason may be another 2011 aberration thanks to the explosion last week. During the regular season, players smacked 2.02 homers per game while (not counting Tuesday’s games) playoff teams are on a pace to hit 2.62 homers per game in the postseason (68 in just 26 games so far, an even heavier barrage than 2011).

Naturally, I’ve also thought of a few reasons why it might make sense that more balls would be sailing into the stands during October. See if you agree:

Strength of competition: It’s generally only logical that your best power-hitting clubs are going to qualify for the playoffs, so you’d expect them to slam more home runs than, say, a Miami or Atlanta. This year, for example, seven of the 10 teams to make the playoffs were among the top 12 leading home run producers during the season, including league-leading Toronto with 232 followed by Houston, second (230), the Yankees, fourth (212), the Dodgers, sixth (187), and the Mets, ninth (177). According to ESPN, after July 31, the Mets averaged 1.5 home runs a game while the Cubs came in with 1.3.

Of course, there were notable exceptions with Pittsburgh (140), Kansas City (139) and St. Louis (137) ranking 23rd through 25th.

Tired arms: Fans might counter that the best hitters would have to face the best pitchers, too, but you only have to look at the St. Louis Cardinals to see how some of those hurlers might be tiring a bit by the end of the year. The Cubs’ Jake Arietta, for example, hasn’t been quite as invincible in October as he was much of the season.

Occasional friendly parks: Wrigley Field. Oct. 12. Wind blowing out. Six Cubbie home runs and two by the Birds. ’Nuff said.

Surprise guns: Just as Freese exploded in the 2011 playoffs to win both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards, the Mets’ Daniel Murphy and the Astros’ Colby Rasmus have feasted on postseason pitching this fall.

Yet no matter what the final total of homers will be this year, it will be hands down far more exciting than the dead-ball era of baseball. Think about this: In 1909, you might have had to sit through five games to see a single home run. The average was two-tenths of a homer per game through 1910, and it wasn’t much better through the following decade.

MASHup

Even after all these years, I apparently still need computer practice after somehow managing to erase five critical words from my recent column on TV stars who left their series early. All “M*A*S*H” fans know the series left the air in 1983, so my sentence should have read “including the finale, which had the highest rating ever until Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.”

The column, however, did spur one reader to remember the departure of Pernell Roberts from “Bonanza.” It also later reminded me how depressed I was when Diana Rigg left “The Avengers.” Fortunately, I have since seen her three times on stage in London.

Today’s trivia

How did the New York City borough known as the Bronx derive its name?

Answer to Monday’s trivia: An ananym is a word that is formed by spelling another word backwards, making it a special form of an anagram. Perhaps the most well-known ananym is Harpo Productions, the media company (and ananym) of Oprah (Winfrey).

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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