(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstriped Bible)
Home runs are fine and dandy during the regular season. However, in October, small ball reigns supreme because of the elite-level starting pitching that offenses face on a daily basis. That pearl of baseball wisdom has become accepted as fact throughout the game, but is true? Ironically, you can probably count Justin Verlander among the skeptics. In four outings, the reigning A.L. Cy Young winner has allowed four homers that have not only accounted for five of the seven runs he has surrendered this postseason, but also added to his career total of 11 long balls allowed in just over 70 October innings.
There is usually an exception to every rule, so Verlander’s generosity with regard to allowing homeruns doesn’t mean power trumps small ball in the postseason. However, the aggregate data during the LDS era suggests the growing conventional emphasis on manufacturing runs in October is greatly exaggerated. Since 1995, 35.5% of runs during the regular season have come via the long ball, compared to 39.1% in the postseason. On a per season basis during that time frame, all but four years have featured a higher rate of runs scoring on a homer in October, including several approaching and surpassing double-digit percentages increases. In other words, home runs have proven to be an even more important weapon during the postseason.
Although home runs have historically been more prominent in the postseason, this year has been an exception. The nearly five percentage point decrease in runs scored via the home run in October represents the second largest decline since 1995. Also worth noting is the two teams that advanced to the World Series recorded HR run scoring rates below the overall average. Meanwhile, the three teams with the highest rates (Nationals, Yankees and Braves) managed only five combined victories in the postseason. So, for this season at least, employing small has proven more beneficial than waiting for the long ball.
Even though the longer-term data contradicts the claim (see here and here for further analysis on the topic), many Yankee fans will undoubtedly regard the team’s struggles this postseason as confirmation that too many home runs are a bad thing for a team with designs on winning a championship. However, it wasn’t too much power that led to the Bronx Bombers’ demise. Rather, the team’s inability to put men on base before the long ball was their biggest problem. Whereas each Yankee homer produced on average 1.6 runs in the regular season (58% solo), the team’s seven long balls in October (77% solo) yielded only 1.3.
Considering the Yankees played three very close games in the ALCS, an extra runner or two very well could have made the difference. So, as the team rebuilds for another run at its 28th World Series, the emphasis should remain on players who get on base and hit the long ball. An offense that can get ‘em over sounds nice in theory, but, regardless of whether its April or October, what gets ‘em in most is still the homer.