In case you missed it, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, leaving us with nothing but the cold and the dark until March. Until then, much TV airtime will be devoted to analysts explaining what went right for them. The answer is: lots of things. You can’t win a combined 119 games by accident. Some of the topics will be legitimate, such as the all-around greatness of Mookie Betts or the shrewd acquisitions of J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce, and Nathan Eovaldi. Others...not so much.
One dubious topic we’ve already heard a lot about is the Red Sox wonderful two out hitting (see here, here, and here). One of the earliest contributions of the sabermetrics movement was to debunk the notion of “clutch.” You’ll still hear about it from certain true believers, but there’s just no data to support it.
Now, “clutch” hitting is not the same thing as two out hitting. Two out hitting, or lack thereof, is really just how hitters happen to perform with two outs. Batters shouldn’t be much better or worse than usual with two outs, but in a small five game series anything can happen. Could the Red Sox get excellent two out hitting in the World Series? Sure, why not? But did they? Let’s take a look.
As a team, the Red Sox batted 68 times with two outs in the World Series. They amassed eight singles, three doubles, four home runs, and six walks. That adds up to a .242/.309/.484 slash line. Not a very good on base percentage, but the slugging saves the day. That’s consistent with an inflated narrative; people remember extra base hits such as Mitch Moreland’s three-run homer off Ryan Madson in Game Four. No one will remember or care about his lazy fly out to end the first inning earlier that day.
Looking at some of the Statcast data, the Sox average exit velocity with two outs was 89.4 miles per hour. Coincidentally, that was exactly what World Series MVP Steve Pearce averaged in the regular season. He tied for 104th best in baseball out of 332 players with at least 150 batted balls. 40.4 percent of their two out balls in play qualified as hard hits (greater than 95 miles per hour). That matches Nolan Arenado’s season average, who placed 98th in baseball.
The Red Sox hit 44 batted balls tracked by Statcast with two outs (in addition to strikeouts and walks, there were a few soft ground balls that didn’t register). Based on exit velocity and launch angle, they calculated hit percentage for each of them. Six times, they hit the ball well enough to surpass 90 hit percentage. One of them was actually caught for an out— J.D. Martinez’ lineout to Manny Machado in the sixth inning of Game Four. Don’t feel too bad; Andrew Benintendi’s infield single to keep their furious Game Four ninth inning rally going had just eight hit percentage. If that had been the third out, as it should be 92 percent of the time, the Red Sox score only one run that inning instead of five. Then, maybe the Kiké Hernandez two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth wins the game for the Dodgers!
The average hit percentage with two outs for the Red Sox was 36.5 in the series. 32.6 percent of them were at least probable hits, with a hit percentage greater than 50. Neither of these stats are perfectly analogous with BABIP, (anyone up for xBABIP?) but league BABIP was .296 this year. The Red Sox themselves averaged .309 BABIP in the regular season. It appears that they did deserve a few more hits with two outs in this series than usual.
Back to the original question: did two out hitting win the World Series? Perhaps you could say they hit a little better than normal. It’s probably not enough to conclude definitively. Sure makes a good story though, doesn’t it? The bottom line is the Red Sox potent offense never quit, regardless of how many outs there were in an inning. It made it a challenge for Dodgers pitchers to get them one-two-three, and the results are another world championship for Boston.