Brett Gardner put Game 5 of the ALDS away on Wednesday night, cracking a single to right field on the 12th pitch of a plate appearance against Indians closer Cody Allen. One run scored on the hit, and another came around when Jay Bruce’s throw back to the infield got away from everyone. It was a huge hit, a moment that allowed the Yankees to breathe more easily, but the beauty in it was the at-bat that Gardner put together.

The first four pitches from Allen went curveball, fastball, fastball, curveball, and Gardner didn’t take the bat off his shoulder. (Well, he did once, but he checked the swing.) The first and third offerings were called strikes, so that put Gardner in a 2-2 count. In the next seven pitches, he fouled off six (mostly fastballs away) and took another ball. It seemed like he was sitting on a fastball over the inner half, and just kept wasting pitches when Allen kept working the outer portion. When he finally got his pitch, he hit it hard.

Speaking of hitting pitches hard, did you know that Kyle Schwarber hit a foul ball 114.8 miles per hour in Game 3 of the Cubs’ series against the Nationals? And if that captures your interest, here’s a second helping: Adam Lind hit a foul ball down the left-field line at over 110 mph late in Game 4. Those numbers were reported by Daren Willman on Twitter; Statcast still mostly discards foul ball data.

Maybe, however, that needs to change soon. Here’s why:

Foul Balls as a Percentage of Swings in Postseason, 2008-2017


Foul % (Reg. Season %)

Foul % w/ 2 Strikes (Reg. Season %)


36.1 (37.3)

36.6 (38.0)


36.4 (37.2)

37.9 (37.9)


37.5 (36.9)

38.9 (37.7)


37.6 (37.1)

38.6 (37.9)


38.4 (36.8)

38.8 (37.4)


37.2 (37.0)

36.6 (37.9)


36.5 (37.1)

36.4 (37.9)


37.7 (37.1)

38.7 (37.7)


35.9 (37.5)

35.5 (38.3)


40.1 (37.6)

43.8 (38.2)

Strikeouts have been a major story in baseball for years now. In the playoffs, the ability to strike opponents out (and to avoid being struck out at the plate) has become an unusually strong predictor of team success. This year, however, it’s not as simple as having pitchers who can strike opponents out, because striking opponents out isn’t simple. Putting hitters away once the count is in the pitcher’s favor is harder this fall than it has been at any point in the last decade, in the regular season or in the playoffs.

It’s really hard to figure out what this means, exactly. Foul balls made up a higher percentage of all swings in 2017 than ever, even in the regular season. In two-strike counts, the regular season saw no real change in the global foul rate from last year, but the playoffs mark an absolute outlier. Batters are digging in furiously and fighting off anything near the strike zone.

In this environment, being able to avoid those long plate appearances and get whiffs even with two strikes takes on extra value. This season, the six pitching staffs with the highest whiff rates on two-strike swings were the Astros, Yankees, Indians, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Cubs. That skill allowed the Yankees to push past the Twins and Indians; they’ve gotten even more whiffs in two-strike counts (29.5 percent of all swings, up from 28.9 percent) than they did in the regular season, because their pitchers get their whiffs with sheer power.

The Dodgers got whiffs from the Diamondbacks on 31.3 percent of all two-strike swings, which prevented Arizona from putting together enough rallies to win even a single NLDS game. The Nationals are, perhaps, the most fun: they got whiffs on 24.4 percent of two-strike swings during the regular season, but that number is over 29 percent in the first four NLDS games against the Cubs. (The Cubs have also fouled off 46.2 percent of the two-strike pitches at which they’ve swung, so they’re battling when they get into deep counts, but they’re not able to put the ball in play.)

On the flip side, the Twins, Cubs, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks just haven’t been able to put away opposing hitters, with the Cubs (at 21.0 percent) having the highest two-strike whiff rate. For three of those teams, that failure has already been fatal. It especially hurts because, for myriad reasons, batted balls have been worse news this postseason than in previous ones.

League wOBA on All Batted Balls, Postseason, 2013-2017


Batted Ball wOBA











If you can’t avoid contact, eventually, contact is going to hurt you. The Cubs are a notable case. Despite some notable exceptions, they’ve played their customarily strong defense during the NLDS. The Nationals have scored 12 runs all series, and while two of those came in the wake of crucial errors, the other 10—all of the other 10—have come on home runs. That’s the danger.

When today’s batters make contact, they hit homers. If you can’t strike them out, they’ll make hard enough contact to hurt you. It seems like the latest adjustment being made by some hitters is to look to waste enough tough pitches to eventually get something they can ambush, even in a deep count. The teams that advance will be the ones that can consistently cycle through pitchers whose overpowering stuff foils that approach.

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