No matter what happens in the next seven games, we’ll be motivated to learn a grander lesson from it. Not many picked this World Series matchup anyway, so we’ll search ourselves for a takeaway. Why did we look the wrong way?
The problem with going too far down this rabbit hole, other than not finding very much, is that these teams couldn’t be any more different. Name a facet of the game and the Mets and the Royals are on opposite sides of the leaderboard. You have to squint to get them in the same neighborhood anywhere really.
The Mets are a decent team when it comes to the “three true outcomes” — they walk, they strike out, they homer. The Royals don’t really do any of that.
The Mets have added some personnel over the course of the year, and they’ve only exacerbated this difference. If you look over the last month, their TTO% is fourth-best in the big leagues. They walk, they strikeout, they homer. The Royals put the ball in play.
It’s that part of the process that we might hear the most about. Contact plays well in the postseason, even if there’s no real evidence it does, and contact plays well against high-velocity pitchers, except maybe this is the one place where the Mets aren’t that different from the Royals. Look at three important plate discipline stats for these two teams. Yes, when it comes to patience they are different. But when it comes to contact…
|Mets last 30||5th||6th||7th|
Yes, the Royals are more free-swinging contact guys than the Mets. But look at what happened once the Mets got *this* particular roster together. They started making more contact. Without giving up much discipline. We’re probably going to hear too much about the Royals’ penchant for contact, given that these two teams are closer together on contact rates than they are on almost any other stat.
Look at the defense. The narrative is closer to right here. The Royals are athletic and rangy and the Mets are playing a second baseman at short and a left fielder in center. On defensive value for the season, the Royals are number one and the Mets are 17th. Defensive Runs Saved has the Royals second and the Mets 21st.
But the difference is even more stark once you separate plays into easy and hard bins. Easy plays, sure, the Mets can get the ball to the base or squeeze the glove like the rest of them. They’re 16th on plays that are made 60-100% of the time by Inside Edge, and the Royals are 12th. If you hit it right at them, there’s not that much of a difference here.
If you hit it a little further away, though, the Royals’ defense really separates itself. They can pick it.
Now the Royals are second and the Mets are 25th. Once again, these teams are fundamentally different.
The starting staff is sort of obviously different, and we’re going to hear all about the velocity coming from the Mets starters. But it’s not just velocity. In fact, velocity is the way that these two staffs are most similar. That three true outcome thing that’s so different for the Royals hitters bleeds right over into the pitching philosophies, it looks like. That’s where they are most different.
|K-BB%||ERA||SIERA||Fastball Velocity||Slider Velocity|
The Royals’ starting staff, thanks to Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy mostly, had the sixth-best fastball velocity in the bigs this year. They averaged 0.2 mph slower than the Mets. Maybe velocity isn’t the biggest difference here. (Slider velocity is posted just because the Mets are throwing the Warthen Slider, an organizationally taught pitch that’s faster than most sliders. By itself, it’s not a great barometer for success.)
Maybe it’s philosophy. Look at how the Mets work. They want strikeouts, they want to limit the walks. Most ERA estimators start there, and strikeouts minus walks is one of the best in-season ERA estimators, so that’s no surprise.
If you’d like to give the Royals credit for weak contact, you have to stretch the definition a bit. It’s not grounders, because the Mets’ starting staff was 11th in ground-ball rate and the Royals were 26th. And it’s not limiting Hard contact, the Mets were 4th in that, and the Royals were 26th. The Mets starters forced teams to go to the opposite field more and elicited more soft contact.
As much as the Mets’ starting rotation is better than the Royals’, the Royals’ pen is supposed to outpace the Mets’ pen in a meaningful way. Of all the general truthisms about the two teams, this may be the least true. Yes, the Mets’ starting pitching is great and the Royals’ isn’t. Yes, the Royals are rangier and more athletic, and yes the Mets strike out more and have more power. But the pens? They aren’t that far apart, particularly once the Mets set their pen for the final run.
|Royals RP last 30||24th||15th||25th||4th|
|Mets RP last 30||5th||20th||5th||19th|
The Royals pen throws harder. That much is true. But when it comes to results, these bullpens are not far apart. You could make an argument that the Royals, after losing Greg Holland and the Mets, after gaining Tyler Clippard and shuffling the roster some, were almost equals in this facet of the game.
Even if you want to argue that the shortening of the postseason roster favors the Royals — they can give almost all of their innings to Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, and Wade Davis after all — the postseason is kind to the Mets’ bullpen as well. Jeurys Familia is averaging four outs per appearance, and the combination of Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, and Bartolo Colon has pitched 13.1 innings with 10 strikeouts against one walk and an ERA just over four. The two pens have pitched equally well this postseason, too (3.16 ERA for the Mets, 2.85 for the Royals) though the Royal have struck out many more batters (12.9 K/9 to the Mets’ 7.9) and are the superior collection of arms. On the other hand, the Mets bullpen can also include Noah Syndergaard throwing 100s this series.
The point here is that the bullpens are closer together in quality than almost any other major facet of these two teams. But if the Royals win, we’ll hear about bullpens again, along with the importance of athletic defenders who can make contact. If the Mets win, we’ll hear about the importance of young starting pitchers and how many defense isn’t that important, and bullpens can be cobbled together on the run.
And that’s maybe the silliest part. These two teams that are so different, that have vastly different approaches to winning — they’ve already had successful seasons. They both represent ways to win in baseball. The next seven games are almost irrelevant when it comes to providing a road map for other teams or legislating the value of each approach. As much as we’ll hear about the lessons we are learning, those lessons should already have been learned.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.