The World Series of Power Versus Finesse

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.

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.

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7 years ago

nice article. The other thing that the Giants have is a handedness match. 3 out of 4 starters, and all the core relievers of the Royals, are righties. The G have a heavily left-handed line-up (6 out of 9, with S being classified according to split). The Royals have 3 out of 9 lefties.

The only thing I don’t like is Petit not starting and MadBum starting a game at home. His large reverse H/R splits are real. I would have preferred Petit starting Games 1 and 4, and MadBum Games 2 and 5.

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

Interesting. And you’d do that even at the further exclusion of Madison pitching in a potential game 7? Not saying you’re wrong, just wondering if that went in to your preferences at all.

7 years ago
Reply to  Nate

I think that Bochy goes with four pitchers. Not sure of Madison’s effectiveness on three days of rest after a 250IP season. Right now Game 7 belongs to the all too hittable Hudson.

Giants Fan
7 years ago
Reply to  glib

I’ve thought about this too (the strategy of pitching Bumgarner 1-5 vs. 2-6), but my guess is having Bumgarner as a relief option in Game 7 if he pitches 1-5 is probably more significant (especially since he’s left-handed and the Royals lineup has a lot of lefties).

I don’t necessarily believe Bumgarner is better away than he is at home (small sample size this year, he was better at home last year, and for his career, it’s very close), but there’s potentially an argument to be made that he doesn’t really benefit from AT&T as much as other pitchers do. He pitches primarily to his glove side (as the Fox announcers keep reminding us), and AT&T’s large right-center isn’t much of an advantage for him (in essence, it’s a comparative disadvantage).

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

Petit over Bumgarner to start game 1? Wow. I can’t even… Wow.

Thanks for your suggestion, Glib. Think I’ll stick w/Bochy on this one.

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

Game five is still a home game, and none of the Giant starters will be throwing on three days rest.

Giants Fan
7 years ago
Reply to  Justin

I’m pretty sure Glib meant 1 and 5 vs. 2 and 6.

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

“The only thing I don’t like …”

That’s actually two things — unless we’re using Michael Palin’s Spanish Inquisition Count System. But, of course, then we’d have to add AN ALMOST FANATICAL DEVOTION to keeping tiny Tim on the roster for no clearly articulated or plainly apparent rationale … or superstition, or sentiment, or maybe he thinks the Royals might possibly go into meltdown out of FEAR, or astonishment (or paroxysms of laughter — that’s 4 things just in the subset), BUT ANYWAY …


1. Only Bumgarner will start on his normal rest of 4* days, presumably twice, and he’s a horse: more durable than any other starter actual or potential on either team.
2. Against the Nats, Vogelsang got into the mid-90s on extended rest, and has 9* days before his only start in Game 4.
3. Also against the Nats, Hudson was as effective against at any time all season on extended rest, and he too has 9* days before his (first, and possibly only) start in Game 3.
4. Even Peavy gets 9* days before his first start in Game 2, and 5* days between that and his second if he gets one — and if there’s a Game 6 and someone other than these 4 starts it, then 6 days between his first and second starts.

The only question is about 1 game, if it happens, being Game 6 (or quite a bit less likely, Game 7). If Petit isn’t needed in any of Games 1-5, it’ll only be because the Giants have already wrapped up the Series win before Game 6. If Petit is used in one of Games 1-5, it’ll likely be a long relief outing – which makes a start for him in Game 6 or Game 7 highly unlikely. Same result if Petit is used more than once in shorter relief.

So it comes down to this: if the Series rolls out to 7 games, will Bochy see Peavy on 5* days rest and Hudson on 4*, as preferable to Lincecum (yes, Lincecum) in Game 6 and Peavy on 6* days rest in Game 7?

[*The Giants have been in 3 World Series’ since the earthquake in the one against Oakland. And AFAIK they still play their home games in SF. I’m just sayin’: from Game 1 on, all calculations of rest before next starts are necessarily tentative.]

Consider that, historically, Bochy’s decision-making has been tinged with a certain amount of hunch-ridden sentiment. Not entirely, of course: for example, he hasn’t called on Lincecum since the last series of the regular season — in late relief in a pretty-much nothing game against the Padres where there was neither big risk and down side.

However both Bochy’s sentiment and his huncheology lies heaviest with 2 pitchers: Peavy and Lincecum.

We don’t know the answer, and may never know. But … if Hudson gets hit hard in Game 3, and there’s a Game 6, there’s a non-trivial chance of Lincecum starting it.

Indeed, given the probabilities, including that the scenario of getting to Game 6 without Petit being called on is so unlikely, it’s more probable that Lincecum starts Game 6 than Petit, and also more probable though somewhat less so than Peavy (though I grant that Lincecum starting Game 6 remains less probable than the combined chances of it being one or the other of Peavy or Petit).

That’s at least 3 things not to like, in the sense of keeping one’s evening meal from repeating while watching.

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

Last year Bumgarner had better splits at home than on the road and in 2012 they were MUCH better. It’s more likely his home struggles this season are a result of sample size. Advanced stats and splits are wonderful, but don’t overthink the obvious. Going with Petit in Game 1 over Bumgarner is overthinking the obvious.

7 years ago
Reply to  glib

That was the Orioles problem, they had mostly RHB’ers and the only LHB’er with any power was off the roster. I think the Giants will fare much better and expect the Royals bats to go back to where it usually is, which is not very good. They will still play great defense and run, but it probably won’t be enough. Gianst have been there before and the Royals have not, and that’s a big advantage as first timers tend to try and do too much