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These 8 MLB postseason outs were home runs in the regular season and it’s weird

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After a historic year for home runs in Major League Baseball, the postseason has been another story.

2019 was the year of the home run in major league baseball, with several long ball records obliterated during the power-happy regular season. But so far this postseason the home runs have been less frequent.

Through the first 50 games this October, we’ve seen 1.20 homers per team game, down from a record 1.39 during the regular season. With pitching staffs consolidated and better pitchers pitching a larger quantity of innings, reduced performance from hitters is understandable. But the ball seems de-juiced, too, lacking the potency of the regular season.

Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus found that air resistance on fly balls has shot up during the postseson, suggesting the ball was significantly different than during the regular season.

“MLB may have been afraid of the juiced ball deciding a playoff series when what would have been a weak flyout went over the fence,” Arthur posited, “but instead they’ve ended up with the opposite: hits we thought were certain dingers dying at the track instead.”

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt revealed during the NLCS that the St. Louis analytical department said the ball this postseason is traveling four and a half feet less than in the regular season.

Speculation ran so rampant that commissioner Rob Manfred felt the need to respond, claiming no shenanigans with the ball.

Whatever the reason, anecdotally there have been several balls in play this October that seemed like home runs, only they weren’t. Since we already talked home runs during the regular season that sure didn’t look like it off the bat, it’s only fair to pitchers that we turn the tables in the postseason and rank the would-be homers that ended up not.

1) Carlos Correa, ALCS Game 2

Correa would later end this game with a walk-off home run in the 11th inning, but five innings earlier he batted with the same tie score, and unloaded on a pitch from Tommy Kahnle, who screamed an expletive once he saw it off the bat.

Tommy Kahnle’s reaction says it all here, even though he got an out in this case.

Correa hit the ball harder and longer than his walk-off home run, and had the same launch angle. This ball had an expected batting average of .900 per Statcast, but it was hit where fly balls go to die in dead center field in Houston, unlike his game-winner to right field.

A tale of two Correa fly balls

Inning Opposing pitcher Location Exit velo (mph) Launch angle Distance (ft.) xBA Result
Inning Opposing pitcher Location Exit velo (mph) Launch angle Distance (ft.) xBA Result
6th Tommy Kahnle Center field 103.8 27° 396 0.900 Fly out
11th J.A. Happ Right field 102.6 27° 394 0.850 Walk-off HR
ALCS Game 2 Source: Statcast

In the regular season, there were 15 balls hit at least 103 miles per hour with a launch angle of 27 degrees or higher to center field at Minute Maid Park. 11 were home runs, and four were outs.

2) Will Smith, NLDS Game 5

The Dodgers catcher had a chance to end the NLDS with this ninth-inning shot against Daniel Hudson. But his 100.3-mph hit to right field, with a .640 expected batting average per Statcast, instead fell harmlessly into the glove of Adam Eaton at the wall, keeping the game tied.

“I thought Will Smith just ended it there,” television analyst Jeff Franceour said during the TBS broadcast.

While the 106-win Dodgers saw their season end far earlier than expected, in this moment all the hope in the world was evident in the eyes of Smith.

Maybe next time, rookie.

3) Howie Kendrick, NLDS Game 5

But for all the Dodgers fans who are angry that Smith’s potential series-winner didn’t leave the park, the de-juiced ball cuts both ways. In the fourth inning of the same game, Howie Kendrick hit a fly ball to center field, a ball hit harder (100.9 mph) and longer (393 feet) than Smith’s ball, and had a higher expected batting average (.700). But it was caught, too, by a leaping Cody Bellinger at the wall.

It was a harbinger of Kendrick’s series-winning grand slam six innings later.

4) Didi Gregorius, ALCS Game 3

Down two runs with the tying runs on base, the Yankees shortstop (and nearly everyone else in Yankee Stadium) thought this ball was headed for the moon. But instead Josh Reddick was ready and waiting at the wall in right field for the final out of the inning. Baseball, you magnificent tease.

5) (tie) Ronald Acuña Jr., NLDS Game 3 & Max Muncy NLDS Game 4

On first glance, Muncy’s ball, a 107-mph drive at 32 degrees to center field in Washington D.C., was the clear robbery here, though perhaps more so by the wind and rain than by the ball itself. The expected batting average on Muncy’s ball was .910, but it simply died at the wall and into the arms of Michael A. Taylor. It was enough to make pitcher Sean Doolittle smile like he just got away with something.

This gets lumped in with Ronald Acuña Jr. in Game 3 in St. Louis. Though this one seemed more like a routine fly ball, Acuña hit the ball 106.9 mph with at 36 degrees, with a .740 expected batting average. When the ball isn’t traveling all that well, these outs will happen.

But these two are almost unicorns in a way, given their locations. Only one such ball was hit to center field in St. Louis during the regular season, and only three were hit in Washington. But just to give you an idea of how potent a 106-mph, 30-degree drive was during the regular season, 118 of 155 (76.1 percent) such balls league-wide went for home runs.

7) Adam Eaton, NLDS Game 2 (twice!)

Eaton hit a big looping curveball from Clayton Kershaw 99.8 mph off the bat, hit 391 feet to center field, but it was caught just in front of the 395 sign on the wall. There were 47 balls hit at least 99 mph with a launch angle of 26 degrees or higher to center field at Dodger Stadium during the regular season, and 39 (83 percent) were home runs. Kershaw was right to look worried off the bat.

In the ninth inning, Eaton hit another fly ball to center field. This one was shorter (368 feet) but was hit harder (100.8 mph) with a higher launch angle (31 degrees) than his previous drive. This was also an out. Balls with similar trajectories at Dodger Stadium in 2019 went for home runs 13 of 16 times.

8) Will Smith, NLDS Game 1

The Dodgers teed off on reliever Hunter Strickland in the eighth inning of a series-opening win, with two home runs and two near homers in a five-batter stretch. One of the would-be home runs that was an out was Smith’s drive to right center field. It had a .590 expected batting average thanks to a 99.9-mph exit velocity and 25-degree launch angle. There were 152 balls with those latter two traits hit at Dodger Stadium during the regular season, and 136 of them (89.4 percent) were home runs.

This one, however, was an out, thanks to a sprawling grab by Adam Eaton on the warning track.

There have been a few others this postseason that seemed like home runs off the bat, only to die harmlessly in the waiting arms of an outfielder. Despite crushing the ball — like Yuli Gurriel in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays, or Giancarlo Stanton in Game 2 against the Twins — these were essentially 50-50 balls, with roughly equal chances of being a home run or an out during the regular season, though the outs seem to be coming more routinely during October.

That’s a big change from the regular season.