JABO: The Two-Strike Trend That Helped Decide the Series

There were two big storylines leading up to the World Series: the unrivaled ability of the Kansas City Royals to make contact on offense, and the ability of the Mets’ young power arms. The main battle of the Fall Classic, it seemed, would be between those two opposing forces, and whichever won out over the other very well might meaningfully shift the series. Now, looking back on the five games of the Royals’ 2015 Championship, something is apparent in the outcome of that much-storied battle: Mets pitchers struggled mightily to put Royals hitters away when they had two-strike counts.

We know the 2015 Royals didn’t strike out a lot: they had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors during the regular season by a wide margin (15.9%; the next-closest team was the Oakland A’s, at 18.1%). Knowing that fact, we could look at their trend of two-strike success in the World Series as a continuation of that regular-season ability. And, while we should give the Royals a lot of credit for the quality of their at-bats (we’ll see later how their ability to foul balls off contributed to what we’re discussing), Mets pitchers also showed a detrimental tendency when the count was in their favor: they threw too many pitches in the strike zone.

First, lets understand the specifics of this Royals’ plate approach. Not only did they make contact more than almost any other team in the major leagues – their 81.8% contact rate was second only to the A’s at 81.9% — but they swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than any other team. That’s the main reason they saw the lowest rate of pitches in the zone during 2015. The thought process is simple: if a team shows that it will chase pitches, why bother throwing them strikes?

Take a look at a quick summary of their major league ranks for overall contact, swings at pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%), and pitches in the strike zone (Zone%) for 2015:

League Average 2015 Royals MLB Rank
Contact % 78.8% 81.8% 2nd
O-Swing % 30.9% 32.6% 5th
Zone % 47.8% 46.3% 30th

This is who the 2015 Royals were: the free-swinging, contact-oriented team we’ve read about for the past month. Imagining yourself as an opposing pitcher, it might make sense to approach them with some of those traits in mind: perhaps you would throw more pitches out of the zone, get them to chase as much as possible, and hope that the majority of contact they generated would be weak because of the lack of quality pitches to hit.

However, Mets pitchers had a difficult time executing that game plan effectively during the World Series. Let’s take a look at a few heat maps from Baseball Savant to get an idea of some of the issues they faced putting Royals hitters away. We’re just going to focus on counts in which the pitcher was ahead with two strikes: 0-2 and 1-2 counts. First, here’s where Mets pitchers attacked their opponents during the NLDS & NLCS vs. the World Series in 0-2/1-2 counts:


There are obviously a different number of pitches between the two images, but we can see that the NLDS and NLCS image has far more pitches out of the zone, especially low and away to right-handed hitters. This makes sense: in 0-2 and 1-2 counts, a pitcher wants to throw pitches out of the zone. They want to get hitters to chase, and they can waste pitches trying to do that because the count is in their favor. The World Series image, however, has a lot of red (meaning a higher frequency of pitches in that location) on pitches up and over the heart of the plate. This, theoretically, is not want you want to be doing in 0-2 and 1-2 counts.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I wonder if the Mets having power pitchers contributed. After all, if you’re a guy who feels he has the ability to haul back and blow a strike by a guy in a tough situation maybe you’re just less likely to play around with trying to get a swinging strike on garbage.

8 years ago
Reply to  Blue

If it were an intentional desire to try and “blow away” a guy in the strike zone, as you suggest, wouldn’t we see the same trend in the NLCS and NLDS?

Seems more like they simply didn’t execute the strategy. Whether it be due to fatigue or just having a bad day against the Royals, it doesn’t seem like the intent was to put pitches in the zone when ahead.