Once upon a time, this was a post about how the Cubs lineup was a good matchup for the Mets pitchers. It’s what I’d planned to write if/when the Mets knocked out the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS, but then Corey Seager forgot to cover third base and Andre Ethier caught a foul ball so that became a thing instead.
Now, here we are. The Mets-Cubs series was billed as a battle between New York’s young pitching and Chicago’s young hitting. There were a couple things in the numbers that initially led me to believe the Cubs might have a neutralizer but, so far, it’s been all Mets.
That neutralizer was fastballs. The Mets pitchers, see, throw a lot of fastballs. Correction: the Mets pitchers don’t throw an unusually high number of fastballs; the fastballs they do throw, though, you notice. Think Jacob deGrom, and you think fastball. Think Noah Syndergaard, think fastball. Matt Harvey pops into your head, you probably think “pitch count” or some similarly annoying storyline, but after that, you think fastball. That’s not to say the Mets’ fantastic young rotation doesn’t have other good pitches, too, but, if you’re like me, it’s the fastballs that stand out.
They all throw them hard, and they all throw them well. Theoretically, a team that stands the best chance against the trio of deGrom, Syndergaard and Harvey is one that can hit the hard fastball. Harvey and deGrom throw 95. Syndergaard throws 97. The Cubs, this year, had the second-best slugging percentage in the league against fastballs 96+. An arbitrary cutoff, sure, but the point is: high heat hasn’t crippled the Cubs. Guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber — can’t just blow it by them. There’s got to be other ways to get them out.
Let’s now turn our attention to Schwarber in particular. Until Daniel Murphy started happening, maybe no other player did more in the postseason to make a name for himself than Schwarber. When he’s hit the ball, mostly, it’s gone a long way. He hit one into a river, and rivers don’t happen inside baseball stadiums. He hit one onto a roof, and that roof now has a shrine on it. Anyone who didn’t know about Kyle Schwarber before, knows about him now.
Same goes for pitchers. You hear about the league adjusting to young players who come up and experience immediate success. The book getting out. Weaknesses in a hitter can reveal themselves by the way the league begins pitching to them.
And now, Kyle Schwarber’s rate of pitch types seen, by month, since entering the league:
Each month, fewer fastballs, reaching a new low in October. Each month, more breaking pitches, reaching a new high in September and remaining there for the playoffs. The numbers, they aren’t staggering. Schwarber, he’s slugged .563 against fastballs. Against non-fastballs, it’s .483. Schwarber can do damage, it seems, against any pitch, but pitchers can see more than just numbers, and what the pitchers see directly influences what the pitchers do. What the pitchers have done is stop throwing Kyle Schwarber fastballs, and the Mets have taken that approach to a new extreme.
They saw what Schwarber did to the Pirates, and they saw what he did to the Cardinals. They saw him get the best of Harvey, too, with a meaningless eighth-inning home run in Game 1, but, beyond that, Schwarber’s been held in check by New York pitching. Last night, he struck out thrice, and the dinger is his only hit of the series. I should note: this certainly isn’t being written because Schwarber is struggling, it’s being written because Schwarber’s been arguably the best hitter in the postseason thus far, and so each Schwarber at-bat carries a greater sense of magnitude. Drawing a conclusion from the results of eight at-bats is silly, of course, but the process can always be worth looking into.
Harvey’s first sequence to Schwarber lays the groundwork for the Mets’ gameplan against him, so far. He starts Schwarber out with a well-located curveball, comes back with a changeup, speeds Schwarber up with a fastball and gets him to chase a curve for strike three. Everything is low. Fastball count: 1.
Gameday went ahead and broke itself for an inning in Game 1, so there’s no footage of the at-bat, but you’ll have to take my word for it that the sequence went: first-pitch curveball, followed by changeup, sped up with a fastball. Same as the first. This time, Schwarber roped the fastball up the middle, but into the glove of Wilmer Flores. Fastball count: 1.
After two first-pitch curveballs, Harvey this time goes first-pitch changeup and gets Schwarber to chase and whiff. He comes back with a curveball way up in the zone, and curveballs up in the zone usually indicate a miss, but high curveballs can have their purpose and sometimes they’re intentional. Regardless of intent, this one did its job, as Schwarber weakly tapped it back to the pitcher. Fastball count: 0.
For the fourth time in as many at-bats, Schwarber is started off with a non-fastball. Then, Harvey comes back with a well-located heater, up-and-away, and Schwarber hits it a mile. He saw three fastballs all night, swung at two of them, and crushed them both. Against the rest of the pitches: zilch. Fastball count: 1.
We’ve now moved onto Game 2, where Syndergaard hits Schwarber with a particularly filthy sequence, spotting a first-pitch curveball for strike one before getting Schwarber to chase two perfect changeups low-and-away for a whiff. Everything is low. Fastball count: 0.
The first pitch is, gasp!, a curveball. Then another, followed by a harmless sinker way out of the zone and a perfectly spotted fastball at 96 on the black for the strikeout. Schwarber finally saw more than one fastball in an at-bat, but only once Syndergaard was comfortably ahead in the count, and the locations of the fastballs put Schwarber in a position where he’d be hard-pressed to do anything with them. Fastball count: 2.
Finally, a first-pitch fastball! Just, one that had no chance of being hit. Schwarber gets a couple more heaters, but ends up fanning on a well-located changeup. Everything is low. Fastball count: 3!
We’re now passed Syndergaard and onto Tyler Clippard, who gives Schwarber a first-pitch changeup, and a second-pitch changeup, and a third-pitch changeup and a fifth-pitch changeup, resulting in a flyout. Fastball count: 1.
In eight at-bats, Schwarber has seen 29 pitches thrown by Mets hurlers. Of those 29 pitches, 20 of them have been breaking or offspeed pitches. The couple fastballs he’s seen that were hittable have been hit, and hit hard, reinforcing the idea behind New York’s approach against the monstrous slugger.
As Kyle Schwarber’s season went on, the league adjusted. As the season went on, he saw fewer and fewer fastballs, and it’s led to this. By the end of the regular season, he was getting a fastball just a hair over half the time, in a league where the game’s best fastball hitters check in with fastball rates of around 48%. In this Mets series, Schwarber’s fastball rate has been 31%. Just eyeballing this chart, it’s the lowest rate of fastballs Schwarber’s seen in consecutive games. Schwarber’s shown he’s not helpless against non-fastballs, but the Mets have made the first move. Now, it’s up to Schwarber to counter.
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.