Situational hitting has made big difference in World Series

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Major League Baseball has famously become a “three true outcomes” game in recent years. For the uninitiated, the “three true outcomes” are the results of plate appearances which don’t put a ball into the field of play: a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. In theory, it makes sense: fielders turn balls in play into outs. If you hit the ball over the fence, there’s nothing the defenders can do. And the numbers show that a home run is, by far, the most productive thing a hitter can do.

The 2018 season was the first in baseball history in which hitters in aggregate struck out more often than they registered hits, 41,207 to 41,019. The last three seasons have seen at least 5,585 home runs hit. Along with 2000, they make up the four most homer-happy seasons in baseball history.

Yet situational hitting — not “three true outcomes” baseball — has made all the difference in the World Series. In Game 1, the Dodgers had nine plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Only two of those batters reached base (a single and a walk); seven made outs. The Red Sox had 15 plate appearances with runners in scoring position; only eight made outs while seven reached base (three walks, three singles, and a three-run home run).

In Game 2, the Dodgers were an improved 1-for-3 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox went a comparable 2-for-6. One of the Dodgers’ runs was brought home with two outs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox scored all four of their runs with two outs. Note that the Red Sox have only hit one home run. Of their 12 total runs scored in two World Series games, only three were by way of the dinger.

This is not just a World Series trend for both teams. Between the NLDS and NLCS, the Dodger offense put together a .190/.330/.333 triple-slash line in 104 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox, in the ALDS and ALCS, hit .370/.495/.658 in 97 trips to the dish. If we add a “two outs” qualifier to that, the Dodgers had a .705 OPS while the Red Sox had a 1.375 OPS. The two teams’ execution with RISP was also disparate during the regular season. The Red Sox led all 30 teams with an .872 OPS in those situations; the Dodgers’ .760 OPS with RISP ranked 14th.

The Red Sox have shown themselves all year long to be a team that is better able to execute when opportunities present themselves. They won 16 more regular season games than the Dodgers did and they appear to clearly be the better team in the World Series, too.