The World Series of Power Versus Finesse by Eno Sarris October 20, 2014 Only three teams threw the ball faster, on average, than the Royals this year. Not surprising when you’ve got youth like Yordano Ventura, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera throwing fire on the regular. Only one team threw the ball slower, on average, than the Giants this year. Not surprising when you have distinguished gentlemen like Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jake Peavy stepping on the rubber three out of every five games. This difference in velocities has ramifications for pitch mix, of course. The Royals threw fastballs more often than the Giants. The Giants threw breaking pitches more often than the Royals. In fact, the Giants threw more breaking pitches than anyone in baseball. Is one team better equipped to handle the strength of the opposing team? We have pitch type values on our leaderboards, and they provide a great way to look at this question. Though you can run into some strange places when you use the values to judge pitchers, some of those limitations go out the window when you use them to judge hitters. For example, R.A. Dickey has sometimes shown a plus fastball by pitch type values. Over his Mets career, it was regularly a top pitch, and in 2011, you could have used the number to say he had a top-15 fastball. That year, he got 2.9% whiffs on his fastball, so it probably wasn’t a top-15 pitch. He did get an above-average 45.6% ground balls on his fastball that year, and that points to another flaw with the pitch type values. They measure what happens on that particular pitch and can be subject to the luck of the bouncing ball. He had a .278 batting average on balls in play on the fastball in 2011, a year after that number was .405 on the same pitch. If you use these to judge a hitter, you do rid yourself of the first problem. Unless every pitcher is sequencing the slider in the same way to the hitter, you can probably get a good sense of a hitter’s ability to hit a particular pitch from his pitch type values. And if you take a bigger sample than one year, you might be able to mitigate the second flaw by gathering a large amount of balls in play. So let’s not point too heavily at this leaderboard that suggests that the Royals can’t hit curveballs, are below average against sliders, and that the Giants can handle fastballs. That might seem like a large sample until you realize it’s just a collection of small samples, made murkier by how the balls bounced for each player in particular. Let’s instead look at the respective lineups and see how they’ve fared against fastballs and breakers over the last three years. Now we’re increasing the balls in play sample and reducing the effect of sequencing. By using the ‘per 100’ values (/c), we’ll also reduce the effect of pitch and plate appearance volume on the outcome. Royals wFB/c wSL/c wCB/c Alcides Escobar 0.04 -1.88 0.38 Nori Aoki 0.45 1.61 1.89 Lorenzo Cain 0.40 -0.18 -0.83 Eric Hosmer 0.51 -1.14 0.00 Billy Butler 1.27 -0.96 -0.58 Alex Gordon 1.05 0.19 -0.70 Salvador Perez 0.25 0.01 -0.87 Omar Infante -1.04 0.50 -0.61 Mike Moustakas -0.53 -0.76 0.35 Average 0.27 -0.29 -0.11 As a team, the Royals like fastballs. That’s too bad, considering the Giants’ reluctance to throw fastballs. As a team, the Royals hitters have not faired well against breaking pitches over the last three years. Once again, not a great fit considering their opponent. Maybe we’ll see some hits from Nori Aoki, and Alex Gordon (sixth-spot hitter) could pair some ability with the slider with more power. But that’s two guys. The rest of the team is average or worse against breaking pitches. And, with a minimum of 1000 plate appearances, you’ll see that Cain, Perez, and Gordon are bottom-30 against the curveball. Escobar and Hosmer are bottom 20 against the slider over the past three years. They might have a tough time with guys like Madison Bumgarner (35% sliders), Tim Hudson (23% sliders), Ryan Vogelsong (19% curves), and Sergio Romo (52% sliders). The Giants’ hitters have done better in general, but *how* they’ve done so is also important. Giants wFB/c wSL/c wCB/c Gregor Blanco -0.05 1.31 -0.25 Joe Panik 0.36 0.58 1.75 Buster Posey 1.47 0.37 -0.03 Pablo Sandoval 0.56 -0.57 0.98 Hunter Pence 0.38 1.15 0.81 Brandon Belt 1.12 0.11 -0.21 Travis Ishikawa -0.16 -1.13 1.17 Brandon Crawford 0.46 -1.71 -0.27 Michael Morse 1.04 -0.79 0.04 Average 0.58 -0.08 0.44 There are some hitters here that are vulnerable to breaking pitches. Crawford has problems with sliders, apparently, as do Sandoval and Ishikawa. The Giants are great against curveballs as a group, and that’s semi-relevant given the fact that only six teams threw more curves than the Royals. Panik, Sandoval, and Pence are ready for the yakkers. But what the Royals do differently than anyone else is throw fastballs. And it does look like the Giants are well-suited to take that strength on. Posey was 19th-best against the fastball this year, even, and Crawford also found himself in the top 40 in the cumulative version of this statistic. There are some great fastball hitters on this list, and then there are some good ones. By the pitch type values, at least, it looks like the Giants’ hitters are equipped to handle the fastballs of the Royals’ staff. And the Royals’ hitters may have trouble with the Giants’ breaking balls. These are general statements, hopefully made more believable by focusing on a larger sample. How Posey will do with 98 mph cheese from Ventura in particular is why we watch.