As we gear up for the postseason, it’s a good time to evaluate what each team headed to the playoffs did in the regular season, to figure out what to expect of them moving forward.
One way to get a sense of each team is to assess the facts that defined them throughout the season. There’s no one stat that encapsulates each team, given all of the elements that comprise a postseason-ready squad, but there are certainly trends and notable players worth pointing out.
Here’s one amazing stat for each playoff team.
Houston is a juggernaut and one of their important hitters is Yordan Alvarez. Alvarez swings a powerful bat and one we can quantify with Statcast. This season, 23.9% of Alvarez’s swings produced hard contact, the highest rate of any hitter with at least 250 batted balls. For comparison, Aaron Judge is seveth on the list at 19.9%, and we know powerful he is. Why do we care about this hard contact? Because it produces favorable results. This season, batters hit .488 and slugged .953 when they made hard contact -- an exit velocity of 95+ mph. And lest we forget, this is the same Alvarez who was ALCS MVP last year for the Astros, slugging a casual .870 and hitting .522.
Much of the story of the final month of the Yankees’ season centered on home runs -- specifically those hit by Aaron Judge, who set an AL record with his 62nd of the year on Tuesday night. But it isn’t just Judge: The Yanks led MLB with 254 homers, 11 more than any other team (the Braves). They scored an MLB-high 50.8% of their runs via home runs, the highest such rate in the Majors. That bodes well heading into postseason baseball. Last year, teams went 25-2 in games in which they out-homered their opponents. Overall, teams scored 49.8% of their runs via the home run, the third-highest rate in a single postseason since the playoffs expanded in 1969, behind only 2020 (51.3%) and ‘17 (50.9%).
Youth is the name of the game in Cleveland. The Guardians were this season’s youngest team in baseball, weighted by plate appearances and batters faced. They are just the eighth team to make the postseason as MLB’s youngest team, joining 1986 Mets, 1970 Reds, 1950 Phillies, 1949 Dodgers, 1947 Dodgers, 1944 Cardinals and 1943 Cardinals, per Elias Sports Bureau research. The ‘86 Mets and ‘44 Cardinals went on to win the World Series, and the ‘70 Reds, the only team other than the Mets to do this since the playoffs expanded in 1969, also reached the World Series. How young are we talking? The only non-catcher for the Guardians to have any plate appearances over the age of 30 this year was José Ramírez, and we’re only counting the 85 he had since his Sept. 17 birthday.
(4) Blue Jays
It seems inevitable that the proverbial Game 1 of the postseason for Toronto will have Alek Manoah’s name all over it for the foreseeable future. The second-year starter had a breakout season that included his first All-Star selection. In 196 2/3 innings, he had a 2.24 ERA. That is the second-lowest ERA in a qualified season in Blue Jays franchise history, trailing only Roger Clemens’ 2.05 in 1997, when he won his fourth Cy Young Award. Now, Manoah will do something Clemens never got to do in a Toronto uniform: pitch in the postseason, where the stakes are highest.
Julio Rodríguez has been a key figure for the Mariners all season as they head to the postseason for the first time since 2001. Earlier in the season, the 21-year-old became the fastest player by games to 15 homers and 20 stolen bases, getting there in his first 81. He’s one of just three rookies in baseball history to rack up at least 25 homers and 25 stolen bases, along with Mike Trout in 2012 and Chris Young in ‘07. But Trout and Young were not in their first season in the bigs, like Rodríguez is. That makes him the first player to do this in his first season. And if he manages to homer and steal a base in a postseason game? He could be the second-youngest player in postseason history to do so. Currently, the only player to do that in the playoffs before turning 22 was Juan Soto in 2019 World Series Game 1, at 20 years and 362 days old.
When looking for postseason X-factors, speed and defense can often make a huge difference. One player with the ability to impact both of those on Tampa Bay is Jose Siri. The outfielder was in the 100th percentile in sprint speed, 99th percentile in Outs Above Average and 95th percentile in outfielder Jump. Siri’s average sprint speed this season is 30.4 ft/sec. For context, 27 ft/sec is league average and 30+ is elite. That’s right, his average is elite. That speed is part of what helped him make five five-star catches this season, second-most in MLB to only Daulton Varsho (six). Who knows what kind of critical plays Siri may be involved in this postseason?
For the fifth straight season, the Dodgers led the NL in runs scored (most) and runs allowed (fewest). This five-season streak passed the 1936-39 Yankees for the most consecutive seasons by a team leading its league in both categories. But the Dodgers didn't just lead in NL both categories -- they led MLB. They are just the seventh team since 1900 to lead MLB in both, joining the 2001 Mariners, 1944 Cardinals, 1939 Yankees, 1927 Yankees, 1906 Cubs and 1902 Pirates.
We haven't seen a team repeat as World Series champs since the 1998-2000 Yankees. Could the Braves snap that drought? They won 101 games, tied with the 1971 Orioles for the fifth most by a defending World Series champion in the Divisional Era (since 1969). The only teams with more wins are the 2021 Dodgers (106), 2018 Astros (103), 1990 A’s (103) and 1976 Reds (102). Those Reds, of course, repeated as champs, while the A’s made it back to the Fall Classic, but did not win.
Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina have had a storybook final season as a St. Louis trio. Let’s focus in on Wainwright and Molina, who set the record this season for most common regular-season starting battery since 1900, according to Elias. They’re up to 328 starts together. Now, they’ll get some chances to add to their postseason battery total. They’ve made 15 postseason starts together, tied with Mike Mussina and Jorge Posada for fifth most all-time. The only duos with more postseason starts together: Andy Pettitte and Posada (24), Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez (19), Chris Carpenter and Molina (18) and Roger Clemens and Posada (16).
All season, the Mets have been able to rely on Edwin Díaz in the ninth inning, and sometimes even in the eighth instead. He struck out 50.2% of batters he’s faced this year -- that’s 118 of 235. He’s one of just three pitchers to finish a season striking out more than half the batters he faced, minimum 40 innings pitched. He joins 2014 Aroldis Chapman (52.5%) and 2012 Craig Kimbrel (50.2%). The Mets were an MLB-best 89-0 when leading entering the ninth inning this season, the best such record in a single year in franchise history.
Yu Darvish seems to have been gearing up for the postseason in September as the Padres worked toward a playoff spot. If that was the trial run, the playoffs will be quite something to behold. In six September starts, Darvish allowed just a .168 opponent batting average, 0.79 WHIP and a 1.85 ERA. Each of those is his second-lowest in a calendar month of his career (minimum four starts). The batting average and WHIP trail only September 2012 when he allowed a .160 opponent’s average and a 0.74 WHIP to wrap up the first season of his MLB career. And the ERA trails only August 2020 when he had a 1.09 ERA.
In his first season with the Phillies, Kyle Schwarber hit 46 home runs. But let’s focus on 38 of those. Why 38? Because he hit 38 of his 46 homers out of the leadoff spot. That’s tied with 2002 Alfonso Soriano for the third most home runs out of the leadoff spot in a season, trailing only 2019 George Springer and 2006 Soriano, with 39 each. Part of how he got there was his seven multi-HR games from the top of the batting order, which set a record for such games in a single season, passing 2019 Joc Pederson and 2018 Francisco Lindor. Looking ahead, the record for most home runs out of the leadoff spot in a single postseason is six, by 2017 George Springer and 1993 Lenny Dykstra, for the Phillies.