Welcome back everyone. As you should and do know, tonight marks the beginning of the 111th World Series, between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets. Because the Royals had the better regular season records, they will host tonight’s Game 1 and have home field advantage in the series. Wait… What? That’s not why they have home field? Well, I’m sure there’s another totally logical explanation that definitely doesn’t involve exhibition baseball games. Regardless, what I do know is that I didn’t expect either of these teams to see the World Series in 2015. Not five years ago, not at the beginning of the season, not at the beginning of the playoffs, not even at the beginning of the championship series. But as they say, “you can’t predict baseball” (note: I’ll still try like hell) and here we are with a matchup between the Royals and the Mets.
I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly care for either of these teams. The Royals aren’t too exciting, unless you just love singles. Yordano Ventura is, uhm, a polarizing figure, to say the least. Johnny Cueto, the one guy on the team who might draw some interest from the casual baseball fan, has been the Royals’ worst starter in the postseason (save for eight magical innings on October 14). When your team’s identity is “they don’t give up, and they have a great bullpen” that doesn’t quite make fot interesting baseball. The Mets are just really not that talented on offense – behind Yoenis Cespedes, there’s really nobody that wows you. Obviously Daniel Murphy has been on fire, and some other guys have given decent contributions, but the Mets really have ridden their pitching to this World Series berth. Generally you’d prefer to see a more balanced team in the World Series, but I digress. Both of these teams have earned the right to play for the title, and play for it they shall.
New York Mets (90-72) vs. Kansas City Royals (95-67)
New York: Defeated Los Angeles 3-2 in NLDS, Defeated Chicago 4-0 in NLCS
Kansas City: Defeated Houston 3-2 in ALDS, Defeated Toronto 4-2 in ALCS
Game 1: Matt Harvey, (13-8, 2.71) vs. Edinson Volquez (13-9, 3.55)
Game 2: Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54) vs. Johnny Cueto (4-7, 4.76)
Game 3: Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) vs. Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08)
Game 4: Steven Matz (4-0. 2.27) vs. Chris Young (11-6, 3.06)
Offensive Comparison (including rank among MLB teams):
|New York||Kansas City|
|.244, T-28th||BA||.269, T-2nd|
|.712, 20th||OPS||.734, 10th|
|98, T-10th||OPS+||98, T-10th|
|1290, 20th||K||973, 1st|
|488, 11th||BB||383, 29th|
|177, 9th||HR||139, 24th|
|4.22, 17th||Runs/Game||4.47, 7th|
Defensive Comparison (including rank among MLB teams):
|New York||Kansas City|
|3.43, 4th||ERA||3.73, 10th|
|107, 9th||ERA+||111, 7th|
|3.53, 6th||FIP||4.04, 15th|
|1.179, 2nd||WHIP||1.282, 13th|
|1337, 10th||K||1160, 22nd|
|383, 2nd||BB||489, T-20th|
|152, 8th||HR||155, T-9th|
|88, T-10th||E||88, T-10th|
|.986, T-6th||FLD%||.985, T-11th|
|.697, 8th||Def. Efficiency||.701, T-3rd|
|3.78, 5th||Runs/Game||3.96, T-9th|
The Mets bats and the Royals’ starting pitching are basically wild cards in this series. Cueto, Ventura and Volquez are all volatile and inconsistent arms who may or may not show up on any night. Chris Young is pretty consistent but just not as talented as those three. The Mets have a group of hitters who need at least one guy to step up every night in order to get their arms enough run support. They simply arent talented enough, top-to-bottom, to string together hits and push across runs like the Royals can. However, it should be noted they will have the benefit of the DH in Games 1 and 2 and then again in 6 and 7 if needed. Ultimately, trying to make predictions about inconsistent performers or guys getting timely hits is not going to give the best idea of what this series is going to be like.
Instead, we’ll focus on the two stronger groups in this series. The Kansas City offense has proven now, twice, that wearing teams down (in games and over series) with lots of singles and timely hits is an effective way of going about winning ballgames. The Royals have neutralized two good pitching staffs in Houston and Toronto so far already in this postseason. Fortunately for the Mets, they have a few guys who not only throw the baseball well, but also really, really hard. And most of them do just that for more than an inning at a time – so they got that going for them, which is nice. Or is it? In this matchup, each team’s strength directly opposes the strength of the other team (Mets pitching vs. Royals hitting). This is sure to make the series interesting, looking at the matchups between the two sides and seeing who has the upper hand and who makes the necessary adjustments on a game-to-game basis. You would also think that the team who can take away the other team’s strength (thus succeeding with their own) would have the upper hand in the series. You’d probably be right.
So, let’s take a look at these two opposing groups. Traditionally we might look at the Mets’ starters statistics against the Royals or something like that. That doesn’t work for a couple reasons, namely the fact that young NL pitchers have never seen most of this Royals lineup. Also, it’s 2015, and we have better ways of looking at things. So instead I chose to investigate what the Royals hitters have done so far against pitchers – and pitches – like the ones the Mets have. Fortunately for me baseball writing is a pretty popular gig nowadays and there are some people out there with minds like mine. One of these people is Jeff Sullivan, and he published an article yesterday on FanGraphs that looked at the Royals’ success against different types of fastball this year. The Royals struck out less on each type of fastball than the rest of baseball this year, but that’s to be expected from a team that struck out the least in baseball period. So, moot point. However, Sullivan discovered that against hard and medium fastballs, the Royals hit for a better OPS than average. However, against slower fastballs, the Royals were below average in OPS. This would obviously indicate the the Royals are comfortable against hard throwers and good fastballs. Obviously, there is more to a fastball than velocity, but this gives us a good point in the right direction (well, at least a direction).
However, just as a fastball is more than its velocity, a pitcher is more than his fastball. Something 3 of the four main Mets fireballers (Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Familia) all also throw is a hard slider. Another favorite FanGraphs author of mine, August Fagerstrom, made a post yesterday trying to quantify the “nastiest pitches” of this year’s World Series. As you can see, Harvey, Familia, and deGrom all made the top-20 list, in 3rd, 4th, and 18th places respectively. All three pitchers average velocities in the high 80s and can touch 90 MPH with their sliders. How do the Royals fare against these power sliders that they will most likely see often? Well, instead of stealing someone else’s research this time, I elected to do some of my own. Using Baseball Savant’s PitchF/X search tool, I looked at how the Royals fared against right-handed sliders at 85 MPH or above this season and computed a rough OBP for each hitter and the team as a whole. The results were pretty interesting, and you can see them below:
The league average (which included the Royals) came out to 0.253, seven points below the Royals (I excluded anyone who wasn’t on the World Series roster). This is more good news for the Royals, who seemingly have a good handle on the two main weapons of the Mets’ staff as a whole. Of course, there are other things like Syndergaard’s curveball, deGrom’s changeup and Familia’s vexing “splitter” which will threaten the bats of the Royals, but that is to be expected.
Overall, I like the Royals’ chances. The offense hasn’t deviated from how it did things in the regular season, while the Mets have ridden the fiery-hot bat of Daniel Murphy to the World Series. It’s now been 6 days since the Mets last played, and I expect Murphy’s cooled down at least a few degrees. Additionally, I think the Royals are well equipped to combat the Mets’ excellent pitching staff, at least enough to get themselves some wins. Even if the Royals bats are stymied, the Mets can’t win without scoring runs. This gives the Royals the upper hand, because if their offense can succeed on offense it gives their pitching more wiggle room. The Mets pitching staff succeeding affords their bats no such wiggle room, as they’ll still have to put up runs to get wins. Of course, the number needed for a win would be lower, but I’d imagine it would still be at least three or four. I like the way Kansas City matches up here, and expect them to redeem 2014’s shortcoming and capture the 2015 World Series title.
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Royals in 6
That’s it! My official 2015 World Series preview and prediction. Hopefully I return to form here after predicting the Wild Cards and the first three Division Series correctly, before missing on the last NLDS and both LCS. Game 1 tonight is in Kansas City at 8PM ET, Matt Harvey vs. Edinson Volquez. Enjoy the game and keep in touch on Twitter @MRRblog and on Facebook!