In a World Series chock-full of narratives — curses, droughts and a possible comeback from a 3-1 series deficit — a refrain said often about the 2016 Orioles is being ascribed to the Chicago Cubs.
You'll often hear as you watch the games that there's too much swing-and-miss in the Cubs lineup, and that their all-or-nothing approach at the plate isn't translating to October.
Given how offense is well down in the postseason, it's worth looking into the idea that the Orioles — who were between the league champion Cubs and Cleveland Indians in the major league offensive standings — would have experienced a similar regression had they advanced this far.
Plenty of caveats are required to do something like this, namely the difference in competition that the Orioles would have faced compared with the Cubs and Indians and the game conditions. Either way, this will be a crude exercise. We'll see what it yields.
In a piece on The Ringer about the strikeout-heavy, incredibly long playoff games, Ben Lindbergh had a couple of nuggets that could help this purpose. Namely, the strikeout rate in the playoffs has jumped from 21.1 percent in the regular season to 24.8, with the wOBA (weighted on-base average) falling from .326 to .286.
There's a useful chart here focused on time of game, but it indicates that both the jump in strikeout rate and the falling wOBA are both starker between the regular season and playoffs than years past.
On the strikeout front, the Orioles fanned 21.7 percent of the time this year, right near the league average. We'll compare them with the Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays, the former because they've had the same charges leveled against them as the Orioles did and the Blue Jays because they faced the teams the Orioles would have. Toronto had a 21.9 percent strikeout rate, and the Cubs 21.1 during the season.
Toronto saw its playoff strikeout rate climb to 23.8 percent (79 in 332 plate appearances), while the Cubs, through Game 5, watched theirs jump to 25.3 percent. Even the Indians, who had a below-average strikeout rate of 20.2 in the regular season, have struck out 26.4 percent of the time in the playoffs.
The rest of the teams saw increases of varying levels — no team struck out less often in the postseason than the regular season, but if you give the Orioles the average spike, we're talking a team that strikes out a quarter of the time. That's right around what the two World Series teams are doing, but the Orioles' volatility could make it harder to overcome.
Likewise, the Orioles' team wOBA (which weights plate appearances by the actual value of each outcome to produce a comprehensive offensive value) was .326, right in line with the league average. So it's fair to assume that spike in strikeouts would correspond with a drop in productivity as illustrated by their wOBA, and the results would be shaky.
Consider this Cubs statistic, if you want to know what it looks like when a team almost exclusively swings for the fences in the playoffs. Including Tuesday's monster day at the plate, the Cubs have scored five or more runs in nine of 16 games, and a combined six runs in the other seven games.
Could a similar boom-or-bust output from the Orioles have carried them this far through October and into November? And is it enough for the Cubs, a team now wearing the same criticism levied at the Orioles, to win a World Series?