Listen to much of the recent conversation around the playoffs and you'll find yourself slipping into a mindset that assumes October success is completely random. A total crapshoot. However, when we think about player performance, is there really much of a difference between playing a regular season game on October 2 and a postseason game four days later on October 6?
We tend to think of the postseason being an entirely new "chapter" of the season, where certain players come alive (e.g. David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling) and others shrivel up and die (e.g. A-Rod, Clayton Kershaw). These storylines make for fun banter and debate during the playoffs (can player X get the monkey off his back and finally deliver when it counts?), but do they really make sense? What makes certain players perform well and others perform poorly in the postseason? Well, at the risk of sounding too simplistic, I believe the best predictor of an individual's postseason performance is... wait for it... his recent performance. In other words, if a player is hitting well in September chances are he'll hit pretty well in October.
Let's take a quick look at the top offensive performers from the 2015 playoffs.
2015 Playoffs Top 10 OPS
|Player||Postseason OPS||September OPS||2015 OPS|
As you can see from the data, every player had an above average September (.721). And in five of the ten cases, the individual had a September that was over 100 points better than his regular season OPS. Although the postseason is a small sample and results don't always seem "fair", players that are hot in September will likely stay hot in October. With this in mind, who are guys that stand poised to play well in October this year?
2016 September Top 10 OPS (playoff teams)
|Player||2016 Sept. OPS||2016 OPS|
This list includes some very intriguing players. Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who struggled mightily last year, is having an incredible last month to 2016. Although the deadline acquisitions of Lucroy and Beltran drew the headlines, Astros castoff Carlos Gomez has been the biggest addition for the Rangers. Adrian Beltre finds himself on the list again (maybe hitting your stride in September is a skill?). Mets veterans Asdrubal Cabrera and Curtis Granderson have provided big time production down the stretch, making up for Jay Bruce's subpar performance and a slew of pitching injuries. And last but not least, Daniel Murphy made the cut again while he and the Nationals limp into the playoffs.
Call me crazy, but I'm willing to bet that several 2016 October heroes are reflected on this list. Don't get me wrong. The playoffs are different. And I'm certainly not saying that a player can't turn around his fortune if he comes into the playoffs struggling (see Piscotty and Schwarber in 2015). But generally speaking, players that hit really well in September have a good chance at hitting well in the playoffs.