With the postseason comes extreme pressure, expectation, and stress. Several months of training and practice followed by six months of a grueling season come to a climax in October. Eight teams and two wild cards battle it out to find out who the best team is, earning bragging rights as well as the coveted World Series crown. None of this is new, though, as this is what the game of baseball is all about.
What’s not really known or understood is the effect that type of pressure has on the players’ performances. We see some of the most unbelievable plays and feats of athleticism in October, but it’s hard to quantify the direct cause-effect relationship between the stress of the postseason and a player’s effort, focus and overall performance.
With the types of pressure in the postseason, the body naturally responds, usually in the form of adrenaline. Even without adrenaline, the chase for the World Series brings best out of players, as this is the culmination of preparation that demands the highest levels of focus and motivation. Teams are tested in the postseason and often that brings the best out in a player.
As much as we hear about how October baseball means we’re going to see clutch hitting (despite not much evidence to back that claim up), the “October effect” on pitching is often overlooked. The most noticeable and admittedly exciting aspect of postseason pitching is the high velocities attained by pitchers, often much higher than their season average or even greater than the highest single-game average of the season. Pitchers (especially starters who know they have a deep and well-rested bullpen behind them) dig as deep as they possible can to get a little bit extra on each pitch to help lead their team to victory.
No one can forget Noah Syndergaard lighting up the radar gun through the 2015 postseason and World Series. Although the New York Mets didn’t win the series that year, it put Syndergaard on the map as the league’s hardest throwing starter and he has continued that trend, using the postseason as a springboard.
We’re seeing another young flamethrower following a similar path. New York Yankees starter Luis Severino has thrust himself into the elite velocity talk this season just as Syndergaard did in 2015. I believe Severino will also take it to the next level in the postseason, just as Syndergaard did previously.
We’ve already seen glimpses of that from Severino in the Wild Card game. Although he pitched terribly in terms of results, the velocity was certainly there. In the Wild Card game, he threw 16 four seamers and his average velocity was 98.6mph, according to Statcast, which is over one mile per hour higher than his season average and less than half a mile per hour lower than his highest single-game average he had this season. I think this will continue as the postseason progresses and if the Yankees advance.
Severino is just one example. This trend is occurring across the board, between both leagues, and with both fastballs and secondary pitches. Of the 22 different fastball pitch types thrown at least five times each by a total of 17 different pitchers, 12 of those 22 fastball types had an average velocity inside of the top 10 for that pitcher’s average per appearance, and eight of those 12 were in the top three. Of the 23 different off-speed and breaking pitches thrown at least five times by a total of 15 different pitchers, 14 of those 23 secondary pitches had an average velocity inside of the top 10 for that pitcher’s average per appearance and eight of those 14 were inside of the top three. The gallery below shows each pitch type from the Wild Card games that rank inside of the top 10 when compared to the same pitcher’s other appearances this season.
- Rockies - Scott Oberg - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Rockies - Carlos Estevez - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Rockies - Jon Gray - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Rockies - Jon Gray - Curve
- DBacks - Fernando Rodney - 2SFB Baseball Savant
- DBacks - Robbie Ray - Slider Baseball Savant
- DBacks - Andrew Chafin - Slider Baseball Savant
- DBacks - Zack Greinke - Slider Baseball Savant
- DBacks - Zack Greinke - Changeup
- Yankees - Aroldis Chapman - 4SFB
- Yankees - David Robertson - Knuckle Curve Baseball Savant
- Yankees - Luis Severino - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Yankees - Luis Severino - Slider Baseball Savant
- Yankees - Luis Severino - Changeup Baseball Savant
- Yankees - Chad Green - Slider Baseball Savant
- Yankees - Chad Green - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Ervin Santana - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Ervin Santana - 2SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Ervin Santana - Slider Baseball Savant
- Twins - Jose Berrios - 4SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Jose Berrios - 2SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Jose Berrios - Changeup Baseball Savant
- Twins - Jose Berrios - Curve Baseball Savant
- Twins - Trevor Hildenberger - 2SFB Baseball Savant
- Twins - Trevor Hildenberger - Slider Baseball Savant
- Twins - Trevor Hildenberger - Changeup Baseball Savant
Of course the Wild Card is a win-or-go-home game, so the pressure of that game is obviously different than the first of a division series, for example. Despite these being Wild Card games, they are terrific examples of how the stress and pressure of a do-or-die match propels pitchers to velocities they likely have never reached before. Furthermore there’s no doubt that as the teams get deeper in the postseason the pressures of winning and the desire to perform well will increase drastically and with it the velocities.
Although it’s unquantifiable at this point, we’re still able to visually observe some of the effects it has on players and pitchers at varying levels. As we await more advanced metrics that help us judge those levels and help us make sense of how the context of the postseason affects each player individually, velocity is as good of a measurement as any other in terms of gauging postseason pressure. With the Division series just getting under way, we’re only just beginning to see the uptick in velocity and pressure that is sure to accompany this postseason. Pitchers lighting up the radar gun like they never have before is just one more reason to be excited by the postseason.