The New York Mets meet the Kansas City Royals in a match-up of teams who last tasted World Series glory in the mid-80s. Which long-suffering franchise has the advantage? We’ll break it down for you.
On Tuesday, the New York Mets travel to Kaufmann stadium to face off against the repeating AL Champions, the Kansas City Royals. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but they’re constructed in very different ways. We’re going to break down the series and see just how the two teams’ strengths and weaknesses compare.
Every matchup is scored on a scale from 0-2, with 0 = dead even, 1 = a solid edge, and 2 = overwhelming edge (i.e., big strength v. big weakness).
Mets Starters v. Royals Lineup
Areas of strength for both teams, the matchup in this case is very interesting.
An often repeated axiom is that the playoffs are about power pitching, and hoy-howdy to the Mets have power pitching starters. Their front three, Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard (in whatever order you feel like shuffling them) were all in the top 20 in MLB in K% (of pitchers with 150+ innings pitched) and they do it with control as well, ranking 7th, 8th, and 11th in MLB in K-BB%Strikeout Percentage – Walk Percentage. Probably the best measure of both a pitcher’s strikeout skill and their control (and ability to prevent walks). When comparing pitchers with significantly different walk rates, it better reveals a pitchers power/control combination than K:BB ratio does (since that can be skewed by particularly good control, even with middling strikeout numbers).. Because of that mixture, the three all rank in the top 21 in MLB for FIP-Adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching. A measure of the events “under the pitcher’s control” (HR, BB, Ks, HBP) that attempts to remove the influence of team defense – whether good or bad – on the pitcher’s stats. It is then adjusted for park effects and related to league average FIP. 100 is league average and every 1 point deviation from 100 is a percentage point better or worse than league average. E.g., an FIP- of 90 means the pitcher’s FIP was 10% better than league average, and an FIP- of 110 means it was 10% worse. (as well as long, flowing locks).
The rotation beyond those three young arms is either age and logic-defying (he throws nothing but 91mph fastballs!) Bartolo Colon or Steven “his next start will be the ninth in his entire career” Matz on the bump.
It’s almost certain to be Matz, the Mets went with him in game 4 of both the NLDS and the NLCS and he was more than servicable both times. In his very young career, Matz has looked promising, with a good curve and an above average sinker. He’s also a change of pace from the Fastball-slider heavy deGrom and Harvey, and the fireball-curve combo the Royals will see from Syndergaard. Most teams would kill for a #4 starter like Matz.
In probably the most interesting matchup of the Series, the Royals will run out the lineup that struckout less than any other team in MLB this season. Of the 13 Royals players who got at least 100 regular season plate appearances, only two (Alex Gordon & Paulo Orlando) don’t have a strikeout rate lower than league average. The other nine aren’t even close: every player other than those two has a K% at least 4% lower than the MLB average of 20.4%.
As a team, the Royals struck out at a MLB low 15.9% rate – that’s 2.3% lower than the #2 team (Oakland) and 4.5% below league average. The difference between the Royals at #1 and the As at #2 is greater than the difference between the difference between the As and the #13 team (the White Sox). All of this means that this World Series will face off three of the Strike-out-ing-est starters in the Majors (and, as a group, in postseason history) against the team that posted the lowest strikeout in MLB (by a wide margin).
Another unusual strength of the Royals is the fact their lineup has few weak spots. Of their nine starters, six of them had a wRC+Weighted Runs Created Plus: A comprehensive measure of offensive production relative to the league. 100 is average and each point above or below is a percentage better or worse than the average player. of at least 122, but none of them was above 131. That’s an odd collection of “good but not great” hitters that makes the Royals offense something of a slog for pitchers (especially when those hitters don’t deliver easy strikeouts). On top of that, of the three starters who were below league average hitters on the year, one of them is catcher Salvador Perez who delivered 21 homers on the year, and another is Alcides Escobar, their worst hitter during the regular season, but who has a .954 OPS for the postseason and just slashed .583/.615/.917 in the ALCS.
On the flip side, the Royals walked at a lower rate that any team other than the Marlins (both tied at 6.3%) and the Mets pitchers as a team had the lowest walk rate in MLB (5.2%), with their front three starters all walking even fewer (Harvey had a 4.9% rate and both deGrom & Syndergaard had 5.1%), so we’re not likely to see a whole lot of slow trots to first base when the Royals are at bat.
In the end, it is strength v. strength in this are, but the Mets have got the bigger muscles (in their arms…since it’s pitching). Despite their lack of weakspots, the Royals were, at the end of the day, a slightly above league average offense, despite their penchant for making contact. The Mets starters, however, are anything but league average, and they’ve been absolutely dominant this postseason.
Advantage: Mets +1.5
Royals Starters v. Mets Lineup
This is not nearly as exciting as the previous match up. The Royals will run a mix of talented but often erratic and under-performing starters to the mound. The Mets, on the other hand, have hit the ball well in the postseason, building on their strong second half, and have a player in Daniel Murphy who is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball.
Despite the electric stuff that the Royals starters can occasionally deliver, they’ve been the definition of “average” overall. Only Yordano Ventura was genuinely an above-league-average pitcher this year, and even that not by much. The starter with the best primary stats is probably the #4, journeyman veteran Chris Young, and his stats are largely an illusion bolstered by a crazy low BABIPBatting Average on Balls In Play. As the name suggests, this is the percentage of balls put into play (either by a hitter or by a pitcher’s opponents) that turn into hits. League average BABIP is about .300 and when a player is deviating from their career average by a significant amount, that’s often a red flag they’re getting either lucky or unlucky over the course of a single season.. For the Royals, the pitching battle is truly won when their incredible defense robs opposing hitters on the reg.
On the Mets side of things, boy did they get healthy at the right time. In some games in the first half, the Mets #3 & #4 hitters had averages under the Mendoza line, whereas in the lineup they’re putting out there now seven of the eight position players have wRC+Weighted Runs Created Plus: A comprehensive measure of offensive production relative to the league. 100 is average and each point above or below is a percentage better or worse than the average player. of 110 or above, with six at 130 or above. What’s even better for the Mets, the low man of the group in the regular season (with a wRC+ of 110) is Daniel Murphy, who in the post season has turned into a bearded Babe Ruth.
Even worse for the Royals is that the one time a weak spot can move into the lineup is when a lefty is on the hill. In those games, Juan Lagares (and his slightly above league average – even against lefties – bat) takes over center field. However, unless the Royals change their rotation from the previous series, they’re running with four righties, so they’ll be facing rising star Michael Conforto instead (.270.335.506 and the second highest wRC+ on the team).
This matchup isn’t really close, especially if Daniel Murphy continues to go absolutely nuts. The Mets may have been an average offense on the season, but they were 99 lb. weaklings in the first half (scoring 3.48 runs per game, which would have been worst in MLB over the full season), and Charles Atlas in the second (scoring 5.1, which would have been 2nd best in MLB over the full season). They’ve been as good or better in the postseason, while the Royals have remained decidedly average and inconsistent.
Advantage: Mets +1.5
After two matchups that clearly favor the Mets, we’re now getting into the reasons why the Royals are making their second straight World Series appearance.
The Mets bullpen is solid. Jeurys Familia has been everything you could want in a closer: brings the heat, strikes out a lot of folks, and doesn’t walk many. They’ve got several good arms (Goeddel and Gilmartin in particular), but no great lefties, and the Royals have a lot of lefty bats. When the Mets starters turn the ball over to manager Terry Collins, they can walk off the mound with a reasonable confidence that their efforts aren’t going to be squandered, but the lefty issue is a real one.
The Royals bullpen, on the other hand, is a weapon. It’s the sort of bullpen that leaves their opponents thinking “If we don’t beat up on the starters, we’ve got serious problems.” The Royals lead the AL in bullpen ERA, lead all of MLB in bullpen ERA-Adjusted Earned Run Average Minus – the ratio of the players ERA to league average ERA, adjusted for park effects. 100 is league average and every 1 point deviation from 100 is a percentage point better or worse than league average. E.g., an ERA- of 90 means the pitcher’s ERA was 10% better than league average, and an ERA+ of 110 means it was 10% worse., and were 6th in FIP-Adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching. A measure of the events “under the pitcher’s control” (HR, BB, Ks, HBP) that attempts to remove the influence of team defense – whether good or bad – on the pitcher’s stats. It is then adjusted for park effects and related to league average FIP. 100 is league average and every 1 point deviation from 100 is a percentage point better or worse than league average. E.g., an FIP- of 90 means the pitcher’s FIP was 10% better than league average, and an FIP- of 110 means it was 10% worse.. Yes, their closer, Greg Holland, had Tommy John Surgery two days before the end of the regular season, but they replaced him with Wade Davis, who had a 0.94 ERA on the year (lowest in MLB of all relievers with at least 40 innings pitched) and a FIPFielding Independent Pitching. A measure of the events “under the pitcher’s control” (HR, BB, Ks, HBP) that attempts to remove the influence of team defense – whether good or bad – on the pitcher’s stats. It is scaled like ERA, so a “good” ERA number is also a good FIP score. of 2.29 (good for 12th in MLB of relievers with 40+ IP).
Davis is joined in the bullpen by Kelvin Herrera (86 FIP-) and Ryan Madson (77 FIP-) who has rejuvenated his career nicely with the Royals this year. Ned Yost still makes a number of questionable roster moves, and is still rather locked into using each pitcher in their “assigned role”, but with as stacked as the Royals’ pen is, even Yost can’t mess things up too much.
The Royals’ bullpen is definitely weaker with the loss of Holland, and it’s not the same as it was last year (when “Herrera, Davis, Holland” might as well been “Game, Set, Match”), but it’s still a clear area of strength. The Mets pen is by no means a weakness, but when their starters turn over the ball to the bullpen, opposing hitters are happy. For the Royals, it’s the exact opposite: when opposing hitters haven’t scored much off the Royals starters, they know they’re in for big trouble in trying to get to the Royals pen.
Advantage: Royals +1
Team Defense & DHs
Probably the biggest reason the Royals have been so successful the past few seasons and the way the Royals management has embodied the Moneyball ethic (i.e., finding undervalued resources and exploiting them). The Royals have an amazing defense. They saved 56.9 defensive runs above average (DEFDefensive Runs Above Average. A stat that attempts to measure a player’s defensive contributions, including a positional adjustment (i.e., a shortstop is considered more defensively valuable than a LF). Roughly 9-10 DEF is equal to one Win Above Replacement.) this year – second in the majors was the Giants with 30.2 and second in the American League was the Indians with 23. Only five teams in MLB were over 20.
Fans got to see the effect of this during last year’s series as Lorenzo Cain practically teleported around the field robbing opposing hitters. Only 29 players in MLB had a DEFDefensive Runs Above Average. A stat that attempts to measure a player’s defensive contributions, including a positional adjustment (i.e., a shortstop is considered more defensively valuable than a LF). Roughly 9-10 DEF is equal to one Win Above Replacement. of 10+; the Royals had 3 of those 29 (Cain, SS Alcides Escobar, and C Salvador Perez). While defensive stats still have their issues, when a team leads the Majors in essentially every single one of them – as the Royals do, most by wide margins – it’s not hard to see the connection between the stats and what’s happening on the field.
The Mets, on the other hand, are average. That isn’t meant as an insult, but rather just a statement of statistical reality. The Mets are in the middle of the pack in every stat, have two clearly above average guys (Conforto and Lagares, who unfortunately for New York, platoon the same position), and two clearly below average guys (Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer, who also platoon). Everyone else is relatively middle of the pack.
Despite the fact he was – at best – an average fielder, losing SS Ruben Tejada didn’t actually affect the Mets’ defense that much and it’s a much bigger loss for them in the World Series than during the NLDS and NLCS. They gain by having Wilmer Flores starting at SS, but they lose by having to play Daniel Murphy at 2B when they otherwise could have moved him to DH in the AL parks. Given that also means that the DH spot now will likely be filled by Cuddyer, it’s a big loss in those games.
When in NL parks, the Royals lose Kendrys Morales, arguably their best hitter. That’s a bigger blow to the Royals than having to play Cuddyer is to the Mets. That takes a very big bat and puts it into the hands of one of the Royals pitchers or pinch hitters.
Advantage: Royals +1
Not a particular strength for either team, especially with the aforementioned loss of Tejada forcing the Mets to move Cuddyer into the DH slot in the Royals home games. Cuddyer as your first bat off the bench is a good situation, as your DH getting four plate appearances a game, not so much.
Kansas City has two valuable defensive outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando (whom Yost has been using as a late-game defensive replacement for Alex Rios). Dyson is also crazy fast (26 Stolen Bases vs. only 3 caught stealing in just 90 games), so we’ll likely see him as a pinch runner at some point.
The biggest weapon the Mets have coming off the bench is Cuddyer as a pinch hitter in NL parks, and we’ll see Juan Lagares pinch hit against lefties (which often then shifts Yoenis Cespedes to LF and takes Conforto off the field – not necessarily the best changes) and Kelly Johnson against righties. The Mets have no one with speed like Dyson, and it’ll likely be Lagares if we see a pinch runner.
Because of one of the stupidest rules in any sport, any where, at any time, the Royals have home field advantage. The Royals, however, aren’t necessarily homebodies, notching the 4th best record in MLB overall (yes, both NL wild card teams had a better record than the best record in the AL), but the only the 6th best home record.
The Mets were a break even team on the road, but they actually had a better run differential on the road: +23 v. +37 (and yes, it’s W-L that matters, but a team ends up with the W by scoring more runs than they allow). Still, teams are about 7-8% more likely to pick up the win at home, which means that, all else equal, home field advantage is worth a bit less than a run per game. Over a seven game series, that’ll even out, but it does mean that the Royals will benefit from those “runs” first.
On a tangential note: Scott Lindholm of Beyond the Box Score (at SB Nation) broke down the historical numbers on playoff series wins, and the home team matters. Granted, even a few dozen series is still a small sample size compared to even a single regular season, but the regular season stats say “home field = good” as well.
Even if the rule was home field goes to the team with the best record, the Royals would have it, so it’s not relevant this year – still a bad rule though.
On the other side of the intangibles equation is Mr. Met – the best mascot in MLB – and the fact that the Mets have a theme/fight song that they haven’t changed since the the team was created in 1962. They heard that song, knew it wasn’t going to get better than that, and have kept it in all its pristine glory for 53 years and counting.
That’s gotta be worth one run over a seven game series – right?
Final Results & Prediction
The Mets have the advantage in this one, but not by a lot. They enter with the better offense and a killer group of starting pitchers. They face up against a team with a solid lineup, a brilliant bullpen, and a defense that turns extra base hits into Baseball Tonight Web Gems.
The Mets finish with a +1 advantage, which gets bumped to a +1.5 if Daniel Murphy can keep getting supplied with Super Soldier Serum. If he comes back down to Earth, it’s Mets in six, with one Royals win by the skin of their teeth (i.e., two diving catches and a brilliant bullpen effort). If Murphy continues to hulk out, it’s Mets in five, with a home game win for the Mets on a Murphy home run off of Wade Davis.