I don’t blame you if you’re getting tired of the the-Royals-make-a-lot-of-contact stuff. It’s the core of most of the analysis being done right now, but in fairness, it’s the core because the Royals make a lot of contact. It’s arguably their most outstanding skill, which is what makes them such an intriguing match-up for the Mets. And they were up to their usual business again Wednesday. You knew about it, because it was all over Twitter, and it was all over the broadcast, and also you have eyes. Jacob deGrom is the ace of the Mets, and in some other years he’d be the ace of the National League. He tends to be a strikeout machine, yet in Game 2 he assembled but two strikeouts before getting shut off. Mets relievers combined for one more. All the Mets, total, generated six swings and misses, and if you look just at deGrom, here’s his 2015 postseason swinging-strike log:
- October 9: 21 whiffs
- October 15: 14
- October 20: 18
- October 28: 3
You don’t need to conduct any deep level of analysis to know that last point stands out. Given just those bullet points, you’d figure something happened on October 28. With three swinging strikes, deGrom equaled his career low, and in no other starts did he finish with fewer than six. Based on the evidence, the Royals royaled. This is precisely why the Royals have been viewed as a legitimate threat. They could negate the Mets’ greatest strength.
So, as far as the contact, there was a question during and after the game — was it the pitchers, or was it the hitters? Were the Royals doing a particularly good job of taking the bat to the ball, or were the Mets doing something a little sloppy? Let me let you cheat: both. The answer is both. The answer is pretty much always both. But, for sure, the Mets weren’t executing. Beginning — but not ending — with deGrom, the Mets weren’t actually throwing the Royals swing-and-miss pitches.
Here’s a lesson in baseball fundamentals you don’t need. You can, without doubt, get hitters to swing and miss at strikes. Really overpowering pitchers will do that, just to show off. It’s a great skill to possess. But, for everyone, there are more swings and misses out of the zone. That’s the whole idea behind the zone. The zone is supposed to represent the hitting area. Hitters will do worse outside of the area designed for good hitting.
I plugged in the nine Royals regular hitters. This year, they made contact about 90% of the time they swung at a strike. They made contact about 70% of the time they swung at a ball. I checked out Jacob deGrom. He allowed contact a little more than 80% of the time he threw a strike. He allowed contact roughly 60% of the time he threw a ball.
That’s all fairly unremarkable stuff. deGrom usually gets swings and misses. The Royals usually avoid them. Now, this is a little more critical: through Game 1, deGrom saw 56% of swings attempted at pitches in the zone. That is, of all swings against deGrom, 56% were at strikes, and 44% were at balls (roughly). The regular Royals hitters were similar. Total, they attempted 55% of their swings at strikes, and 45% of their swings at balls. It’s not quite 50/50, but it’s in the neighborhood. It’s 50/50 adjacent.
I know that doesn’t make for great reading. Most people would probably prefer to read a story. But that background is crucial for understanding what happened on Wednesday. Because on Wednesday, this was the Royals’ hitting plot:
That’s an approximation of the strike zone; one size doesn’t fit all. The box is in there just as a reference. What you might see in the image is an awful lot of swings at pitches over the plate. And you’d be correct. The Royals swung at a little under half of the Mets’ pitches. Of the Royals’ swings, an amazing 75% of them were attempted at strikes.
Recall that, ordinarily, the Royals would be around 55%, and the same would go for deGrom. This was somehow even more extreme with two strikes. This year, the regular Royals hitters averaged 47% swings at strikes in two-strike counts. On Wednesday, they finished at 80%. In two-strike counts, 20 of the 25 Royals swings were at probable strikes. When you have a contact-oriented team going after that many pitches over the plate, you’re just not going to see whiffs. The whiffs exist elsewhere. They’re generally not going to be in the zone.
It’s not like the Royals were suddenly exercising discipline. That’s not their game — they want to swing first and think second (if necessary). If you let them, the Royals will more than happily be aggressive, but this was an issue of pitcher command, as the Mets would concede in the aftermath. Terry Collins noted in his presser that deGrom could’ve stood to throw fewer strikes. He wasn’t the only pitcher at fault, but he was the only one whose performance ultimately mattered. deGrom didn’t throw enough quality balls. When he went out of the zone, he sometimes went too far. And he simply caught too much of the plate, too often. He missed in areas that are easy to hit. So the Royals hit him. They didn’t clobber him by any stretch of the imagination, but they bunched enough good things together, which is something you’re more able to do when you don’t whiff. You get to keep the line moving, as they say.
In the critical bottom of the fifth, deGrom was hurt by a leadoff walk that sure came close to not being what it was:
It’s okay to gripe about that. Those are some good pitches. But then Alex Rios smacked an elevated fastball over the plate. Alcides Escobar drilled a two-strike hanging slider over the middle. Lorenzo Cain lined out on a two-strike fastball at the belt. Eric Hosmer singled on a slider over the middle with deGrom ahead. Kendrys Morales singled on a changeup at the thigh with deGrom ahead. Mike Moustakas singled on a hanging breaking ball. deGrom struggled to throw good pitches. When he threw one, he struggled to throw another. The Royals took advantage of enough of his mistakes, and then they later added on against mistakes from other guys. Too many strikes. The Royals hit strikes.
Also, Johnny Cueto threw a two-hitter.
So much talk has been about the Royals’ ability to make contact. So much talk has been about the Royals’ contact going up against the Mets’ power and strikeouts. In Game 2, the Mets didn’t even make it a challenge. Their pitches were asking for contact. The Royals were happy to oblige.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.