The matchup is set for the 2015 World Series as the Kansas City Royals will host Game 1 against the New York Mets on Tuesday night. These two teams are very different, so it should make for an exciting World Series. The Royals are in the World Series for the second straight season after not making the playoffs since they won the Fall Classic in 1985. The Mets are back in the World Series for the first time since the 2000 “Subway Series” against the New York Yankees. The Mets are vying for their first championship since 1986.
The Royals have strung together consecutive postseason runs on the strength of a contact-based offense, team speed, and great relief pitching. They’ve truly been a survivor in the postseason, with several memorable comebacks, including one in Game 4 of the American League Division Series this season. The Royals trailed by four runs and were facing elimination with six outs to go when they rallied, forced Game 5, and won in convincing fashion to advance to play the Toronto Blue Jays. Kansas City took a 2-0 series lead, including a memorable comeback off of David Price in the seventh inning of Game 2, and finished off the Blue Jays in six games.
The Mets have certainly earned the right to be here. Both series-clinching games have been on the road, including a Game 5 win over Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. In that series, the Mets faced Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on two different occasions and still managed to advance. It was significantly easier for the Mets in the National League Championship Series with a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs. On the strength of the most dynamic young pitching staff baseball fans have seen in quite some time, the Mets certainly have a good chance in this series.
Here are the game dates and the expected pitching probables:
Game 1 @ KC: Tuesday October 27: Matt Harvey vs. Edinson Volquez
Game 2 @ KC: Wednesday October 28: Jacob deGrom vs. Johnny Cueto
Game 3 @ NYM: Friday October 30: Yordano Ventura vs. Noah Syndergaard
Game 4 @ NYM: Saturday October 31: Chris Young vs. Steven Matz
Game 5 @ NYM: Sunday November 1: Edinson Volquez vs. Matt Harvey*
Game 6 @ KC: Tuesday November 3: Johnny Cueto vs. Jacob deGrom*
Game 7 @ KC: Wednesday November 4: Yordano Ventura vs. Noah Syndergaard*
* - if necessary
The Mets are a small favorite for the World Series in the -115 range across the betting market.
The Mets offense improved drastically in the second half of the season, due in large part to trade deadline acquisitions, minor league call-ups, and better health all around. Yoenis Cespedes had, arguably, the most impact of any trade deadline acquisition, and certainly the biggest impact of any position player addition. Not only did Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs, but he was also a quality defender and has played center field in the postseason. Michael Conforto was called up and his .270/.335/.506 in the second half. Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright had tangible impacts for the offense as well. D’Arnaud batted .256/.340/.464 with a 127 wRC+, which is great production from the catcher spot. David Wright hit .277/.381/.437 in 139 plate appearances.
Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda got things going with 28 home runs and well above average walk rates. Wilmer Flores was an above average hitter and even Michael Cuddyer got in on the fun with a .351 wOBA. This offensive turnaround was the biggest in Major League Baseball.
In the first half, the Mets posted a .289 wOBA and an 85 wRC+. Their team batting average was .233. That .289 wOBA tied for the second-lowest mark in all of baseball, tied with dregs like San Diego and Philadelphia. Those individual performances in the second half amounted to 102 home runs, an 8.7 percent walk rate, and a .332 wOBA.
Then, there’s the postseason. Daniel Murphy has homered in six straight games and has hit seven home runs overall. The Mets have much lower numbers across the board than the Royals, with a .235/.300/.433 slash, but they also have one less hitter in the lineup and had to face Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester. Those four are arguably better than any one starting pitcher that Kansas City faced, depending on how you feel about Dallas Keuchel and David Price.
As for the Royals, they don’t walk and they don’t hit a lot of home runs. What they do extremely well is put balls in play. The Royals only struck out in 15.9 percent of their plate appearances this season, which ranked seventh since 2010. They only walked 6.3 percent of the time, which causes sabermetric stats and those that subscribe to advanced metrics to scoff at what the Royals have accomplished. They posted a 99 wRC+, which is technically below league average.
The Royals finished third in batting average. A lot of batted ball luck goes in to batting average, but the Royals also have the largest sample size of balls in play of any team. Major League teams are always looking for the next big inefficiency to exploit and it seems like Kansas City has found one by taking advantage of the terrible defense of the teams in its defense and some of the shoddy defense played league-wide. The Royals were also fifth in stolen bases with 104. They may not have walked, but they were above average in slugging percentage at .412, which ranked 11th in baseball.
Ned Yost has made some questionable managerial decisions that have worked out. Alcides Escobar had a 67 wRC+ during the regular season, but he batted well enough to win the ALCS MVP award while batting leadoff. Alex Gordon, arguably Kansas City’s most complete offensive player, has been hitting at the bottom of the order. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas had career years during the regular season and Kendrys Morales drove in over 100 runs and hit 22 home runs as one of the top free agent signings in the league.
The big matchup in this series is the Kansas City offense against the New York Mets rotation. The Mets have guys that throw extremely hard and miss a lot of bats. The Royals batted .284 as a team on pitches thrown at 95 miles per hour or higher. That led the league. Even though it pains me to say this as a student of sabermetrics, there’s not much of an edge offensively for either side.
The New York Mets rotation deserves every ounce of praise that it gets. Jacob deGrom is one of the game’s elites in just his second season in The Show. Noah Syndergaard’s stuff is rated NC-17. Matt Harvey struggled out of the gate in his return from Tommy John surgery and then downright dominated during the last 3.5 months of the season. Steven Matz has a ton of upside as well.
It should as no surprise that the Mets rotation is 6-2 in nine games with a 2.65 ERA and 69 strikeouts against 18 walks in 54.1 innings of work. The Cubs led the league in strikeout percentage and the Dodgers were also prone to swinging and missing. deGrom, Harvey, and Syndergaard combined for 12.7 wins above replacement player per Fangraphs. deGrom had a 2.54 ERA, a 2.70 FIP, and a 2.92 xFIP. Harvey had a 2.71 ERA, a 3.05 FIP, a 3.24 xFIP, and Syndergaard had a 3.24 ERA, a 3.25 FIP, and a 2.91 xFIP. To give some idea of how impressive this is, league average for National League starting pitchers in 2015 was a 4.05 ERA, a 3.97 FIP, and a 3.90 xFIP. Those three starters are extremely above average and Matz provides a different look from the left side. Spoiler alert, but the Mets have an edge in the starting pitching category.
The Royals have been tough to figure out from a starting pitching standpoint this season. Major trade deadline addition Johnny Cueto was supposed to be the separator and he posted a 4.76 ERA with a 4.06 FIP and a 4.13 xFIP in 13 starts with the Royals during the regular season. He’s made two bad starts and one good start in the postseason so far. Yordano Ventura had some major sequencing issues in the first half that led to a 4.08 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and a 3.60 xFIP during the season. He stranded a very low number of runners early in the year, but turned it all around in the second half. Edinson Volquez used Kansas City’s excellent defense to post a 3.55 ERA, despite a 3.82 FIP and a 4.26 xFIP.
With the help of a major velocity increase from Volquez and some above average work from Ventura, the Royals have 55 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched, but they had a team ERA of 5.56 in the 11 games pitched. The MLB playoffs have a lot of small sample size variance and a couple bad starts will blow up a team’s ERA. Needless to say, the Royals rotation is the biggest question mark entering this series. They’ve faced two very aggressive lineups – one that hits home runs and strikes out a ton and one that hits home runs and doesn’t strike out a whole lot. The Mets lineup is closer to Toronto than it is to Houston.
The bullpen has been a weapon for both teams. Could usage be the determining factor in the World Series? Because the Mets have gotten length from their starters, and have played two fewer games, the Mets pen has worked 25.2 innings compared to 41 innings for the Royals. Jeurys Familia has built off of a phenomenal regular season and has racked up five saves so far. He has worked 9.2 of the 25.2 innings that the Mets bullpen has been asked to work, so that is something to keep an eye on.
Tyler Clippard has allowed three runs on six hits in his five appearances. Bartolo Colon has also worked 5.1 innings with two runs allowed on three hits. It will be interesting to see how Terry Collins handles some high-leverage spots if a starter doesn’t make it through six or seven innings. That’s something that we still need to figure out and it’s a big question entering this series. However, if the Mets starters are commanding the ball well, the Royals do not run up pitch counts, so the Big Three could work deep into every game.
The Royals bullpen has been very effective this postseason. They are a perfect 5-0 with a 2.85 ERA, three saves, and 59 strikeouts in 41 innings. Wade Davis is an elite relief ace Davis and Kelvin Herrera have combined for 15.1 innings in this postseason with 26 strikeouts. Herrera has been dominant this postseason and both of those guys had big regular seasons for the Royals. Davis was the league’s most valuable relief pitcher with a 0.94 ERA and strong peripherals.
Danny Duffy, Ryan Madson, and Luke Hochevar have worked in middle relief in the postseason. Madson, who was second in appearances on the team during the season, has struggled from a sequencing and command standpoint. He has allowed five runs on 10 hits in 5.1 innings, but has also struck out 10. Hochevar has 5.2 shutout innings this postseason. The Royals are a great team with a lead, but one has to wonder if their bullpen has enough left in the tank after a second straight deep playoff run.
Regardless, the Royals still have a bullpen edge in this series.
Whatever Ned Yost’s philosophy is, it works. Nobody seems to know why, but it does. Terry Collins has done an excellent job of managing his team throughout the season. There’s not much of an edge in this area, though some will point to Yost’s experience, which means absolutely nothing. It’s about execution.
The Royals had more than double the amount of stolen bases that the Mets had during the season. The Royals swiped 104 bases and the Mets took 51 bases. Expect the Royals to continue to be aggressive, especially because they’re facing some really great starting pitchers.
This will be the first series for each team where there is a significant home field advantage. The Royals could really miss Kendrys Morales or will have to downgrade defensively at Citi Field. Morales is a better option than any DH the Mets could put in the lineup. Ultimately, the advantage with the Mets at home is bigger than the advantage for the Royals at home.
It’s hard to tell whether or not the extended layoff for the Mets will help or hurt them. It could be tougher to flip the switch when Game 1 starts, but the Royals will also be off for three whole days. This should provide no advantage to either team.
World Series Pick: Mets in 7
This should be an outstanding World Series, but I’m a big believer in starting pitching and the Mets have a huge edge here. Kansas City does a lot of things really well, but they don’t face pitching like this on a regular basis. The closest comp might be the Indians and the Royals hit .240/.292/.383 against the Indians in 682 plate appearances this season. That was a pretty big drop off from the .269/.322/.412 that they hit as a team. Take Morales out for three games and/or downgrade the defense and it’s those little things that could be the key in this series.