The Mets are going to the World Series, and second baseman Daniel Murphy has almost single-handedly propelled them there. Murphy alone has scored more than 25 percent of New York’s runs so far this postseason. His seven playoff dingers, accumulated in only nine games, are tied for second all-time in a single postseason — and that’s with the World Series still to come.
The man has been playing out of his mind, saving the performance of his life for exactly the right time. Although Murphy’s hot streak has been awe-inspiring, it shouldn’t have taken us completely by surprise. Historically speaking, we should expect some hitter to have a similarly spectacular run every couple of years.
Of course, if Murphy’s postseason heroics seem particularly improbable, it’s because he’s never been an exceptional hitter before. In his best season, Murphy’s on-base plus slugging (OPS) was 30 percent better than the league average — good, not great. And that was seven years ago; over the last five seasons, Murphy’s OPS has been just 9 percent above average. In contrast, Murphy’s OPS this October is 1.462, a ludicrous rate on par with Barry Bonds’s best season. The difference between Murphy’s regular season and postseason has been a staggering 692 points of OPS!
So if you bet that Murphy was pretty unlikely to have a hot streak like this, you’d be right. Randomly pick any nine games from Murphy’s 2015 season, and the odds that you’d grab a stretch containing an OPS as high as 1.462 are incredibly small: only about four in 10,000. On first glance, it looks like Murphy’s hot streak is nearly inconceivable.
But that’s a little bit deceptive, because Murphy isn’t the only hitter who could have had a hot streak in the playoffs. This postseason has featured 35 batters with 25 or more plate appearances apiece, each of whom could potentially have gone off on a stretch as torrid as Murphy’s. If you sample games from all of those players’ seasons (instead of focusing only on Murphy), there was roughly a 50 percent chance that at least one of them would elevate his OPS by 692 points.1
In terms of OPS, Murphy’s postseason isn’t even the most impressive this year. That honor belongs to the Cubs’ Jorge Soler, whose 1.705 mark is now the 10th-best single-postseason OPS ever.2 Not only was Soler’s OPS superior to Murphy’s, it was also a bigger upgrade from the regular season: Soler managed only a measly .723 OPS this year, so he boosted his OPS by 982 points in October.
Soler’s hot streak is in the realm of the truly absurd. A player adding almost a thousand points of OPS to his regular season average should happen only about twice every 100 postseasons, even when you try drawing from the full complement of 35 players. But even then, we have reason to believe that Soler’s regular season performance was uncharacteristic, since it was marred by injuries. Last year, Soler put up a .903 OPS, which makes this playoff performance much less unexpected.3 But with the Cubs’ embarrassing sweep, Soler also doesn’t benefit from much of a narrative — all of that overachieving was for naught.
On the other hand, Murphy’s 2015 postseason has pushed the Mets to the brink of a championship, even if his performance wasn’t especially unlikely. About once every two postseasons, we should expect to see a player go on a tear like Murphy’s. But don’t let that knowledge diminish the joy of Murphy’s magical pennant run, or the World Series win that may soon follow.