One of the biggest strikeouts in last night’s World Series Game Two came in the seventh inning when Carlos Santana swung through a curveball from Mike Montgomery. The Indians had two on and two out, and trailed 5-1. One swing of the bat would have brought them to within a run.
The curveball has been Montgomery’s secret to success. The 27-year-old lefty began featuring it prominently after coming to the Cubs from the Mariners in late July. His sinker has also became a primary weapon. His pitching coach, Chris Bosio, deserves much of the credit.
Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.
The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections.
Strikeout rate dropped from 17% to 13% after promotion to Triple-A, while walk rate held steady at 8.5%.
The Diamondbacks drafted Banda out of high school in 2011. He didn’t sign, though, and then matriculated to JUCO powerhouse San Jacinto in Houston. The Brewers drafted and signed him the next year and Banda spent two years struggling in Rookie-level ball before the Diamondbacks acquired him in the Gerardo Parra deal (along with Mitch Haniger) in July of 2014. Banda took off after that, went to the Futures Game this year and had success at Triple-A in the hitter-friendly environs of Reno.
Potential rooting interests notwithstanding, last night’s World Series Game Two was pretty brutal, as far as World Series games go. It was a cold, wet, dreary night in Cleveland. One team’s win expectancy was greater than 90% by the fifth inning. It lasted more than four hours. The Indians made six pitching changes. The Cubs made more mound visits than pitches. Trevor Bauer started for Cleveland, and of his 87 pitches, just 53 were strikes. Jake Arrieta started for Chicago, and of his 98 pitches, just 55 were strikes.
Tough game to watch, all around. So, rather than dissect the game, let’s dissect Jake Arrieta’s postgame press conference. These things aren’t always very revealing, but in the spirit of the current political season, maybe some fact-checking can reveal some truths.
* * *
Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA: “Well, I think really controlling my effort is when I was able to get locked in. I kind of had my foot on the gas a little too much at the start, trying to do more than I needed to.”
The first pitch Arrieta threw was his hardest of the night! As easy as it can be to write off something like “I had to get locked in” as a ballplayer cliche, these are human beings who are prone to unintentional rushes of adrenaline, and this is, after all, the freaking World Series. Arrieta hit 95 on the first pitch of the night to Carlos Santana, and then never hit 95 again. He was all over the place in the first, throwing just 43% strikes, his lowest strike rate of any inning, and walking Francisco Lindor on four consecutive pitches with two outs. The adrenaline effect is real. It looks like it was real for Arrieta last night, and it may help explain part of his early-game troubles to command his pitches.
Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “Then I really got back to just executing good pitches towards the bottom of the strike zone. With the cutter going one way and the sinker going the other way, trying to be as aggressive as I could, and allow those guys to put the ball in play and let the defense work.”
In the first inning, 57% of Arrieta’s pitches were in the lower half of the zone or beyond. After that, it was 56%. The first-inning issue wasn’t necessarily leaving the ball up, but there’s a different between “pitches toward the bottom of the strike zone” and “good pitches toward the bottom of the strike zone.”
Lower-half pitches in the first:
After the first:
It’s tough to compare one inning to 4.2, but I think I’ll allow it. That really bad slider off the plate in the first didn’t come back. Those three middle-middle pitches didn’t come back. It seems like there’s a higher percentage of pitches catching the bottom edge of the zone.
Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “Then in the sixth, I think that maintaining a consistent feel and on a night like this with the weather the way it was can be tough. So I tried to keep the body warm and ready to go the best I could.”
It was rainy, windy, and in the low-40s by a lake in Ohio. Wearing short sleeves is not how one tries to keep the body warm, you absolute madman.
Q. You mentioned the conditions, how did they affect your choices? And how would you compare tonight to that Game 2 you started in Citi Field last year?
JAKE ARRIETA: “Pretty similar, I would say. I think the temperature was probably close to what it was at Citi Field.”
Last night’s first-pitch temperature: 43 degrees, cloudy.
Last year’s first-pitch temperature: 45 degrees, partly cloudy.
Q. You mentioned the conditions, how did they affect your choices? And how would you compare tonight to that Game 2 you started in Citi Field last year?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “I think keeping my hand as warm as I could in between innings to not lose feel in the fingertips, because for, not even just a starting pitcher, but for a pitcher, you want to have that consistent feel off your fingertips, especially on your breaking ball, to maintain consistency with how you execute those pitches.”
Arrieta may not have made the best life choice for keeping the body warm, but as far as keeping the hand warm, it seems like he did a fine job, because last night’s success had plenty to do with his breaking pitches. As our own Jeff Sullivan detailed back in late-August, a big part of Arrieta’s midseason skid had to do with his struggles against left-handed batters. This, coming on the heels of his excellent slider disappearing. Against lefties in 2015, Arrieta was able to paint the outer edge of the zone, back-dooring his breaking pitches in at the last second. During much of 2016, rather than starting his breaking pitches outside the zone and back-dooring them to the edge, he was too often starting them on the edge and moving them to the middle of the plate.
Last night, Arrieta threw 36 breaking balls to lefties out of 71 pitches — 51%, almost double his season rate. And here’s the location of those pitches to lefties:
Arrieta absolutely lived on the outer half of the plate, and you see all the purple in the bottom-left quadrant of the zone, indicating well executed back-door sliders, and enough light blue in the area, too, indicating those big, looping curves that catch the zone at the last second.
He was wild, but he managed to keep the walk total down, and he was wild out of the zone, rather than being wild with hittable mistake pitches. When Arrieta was able to find the zone, it was with pitches that stuck to the game plan, and with his movement, pitches that stick to the game plan are tough to square up.
And the press conference? Good. More insightful than most. Mostly truthful and supported by the evidence. I give it an 8/10. But, my God man, put on some sleeves.
It would’ve been the thrill of his life to play in his first-ever World Series game, but I don’t think Anthony Rizzo‘s going to be telling many stories. Though just being there is an achievement in and of itself, Rizzo finished the game 0-for-4, and he popped up against Corey Kluber three consecutive times. Rizzo is a fly-ball hitter, but he’s not a pop-up hitter. Kluber made him uncomfortable. He made the lot of them uncomfortable. The Cubs were defeated, and I’m sure Rizzo doesn’t want to talk much about it.
But don’t confuse a lack of discussion for a lack of remembrance. Rizzo might not have been successful on Tuesday, but he did pick up on a tell. And he brought that information with him into Game 2, a somewhat sloppy affair the Cubs took 5-1. Rizzo, in the first inning, doubled home Kris Bryant while facing Trevor Bauer. By WPA, it was the most important play of the game, and even just in the moment, it got the Cubs on the World Series scoreboard. Rizzo’s two-strike double was a big one, and had it not been for the night before, it very well might not have happened.
As I write this, Kyle Schwarber just worked a 3-0 count against Indians starter Trevor Bauer in Game 2 of the World Series, and then Schwarber ripped an RBI single into center field. Now there’s a mound visit. Things aren’t going well for Bauer in his first start since his drone-shortened outing against the Blue Jays in the ALCS.
And in that outing against the Blue Jays, however short, I noticed something about Bauer that I made a note to keep an eye on the next time he took the mound. I’ve watched Bauer pitch his entire career, and I’d never noticed it before.
I want to show you a couple pitches. This first one is a fastball, Bauer’s first pitch of the game:
And now a curveball, the very next pitch:
The difference stuck out to me like a sore thumb. To me, Bauer sure looks like he’s decelerating his motion significantly in the second pitch, and slowing his arm action. I started trying to identify the curve as Bauer was throwing it with each pitch, and I was doing so with success.
I took a screenshot when Bauer’s arm stopped going back and started moving forward, at the moment when his glove reached its highest point. Again, the fastball is on the top and the curve on the bottom:
The MLB logo makes it easy to compare, and it’s noticeably higher on the curve, in the second clip. This is something our own Jonah Pemstein sort of wrote about this earlier today, that Bauer’s release point on the curve is unusually high, relative to his other pitches. But this has less to do with release points and more to do with timing.
Take these clips from Bauer’s best start of the year, back in June against the Mariners.
First, a fastball
Now the curve:
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m see more conviction with the curveball, and less slowing of the arm action. The same screenshots:
They’re almost indistinguishable. The bottom of the glove more or less lines up with the chalk.
Back to tonight. I’m seeing it again. Again, I’ve been trying to identify the curves as Bauer winds up, and I’m getting it right almost every time. If I’m getting it right from the press box, I have a hard time imagining Cubs hitters aren’t.
Here’s a couple of curves to Kris Bryant, and while FOX, somehow, still has not yet captured a full Bauer windup on a curve, the slowed arm action is still apparent:
And the comparison shot:
Again, the lettering makes it easy to compare, and it’s clear Bauer is reaching higher. Part of that is likely just by design, the nature of throwing a curve, but we see that it wasn’t as extreme earlier in the season, and it’s hard not to notice the change in arm action.
Either way, the curve is just missing. Bauer had trouble throwing it for a strike against the Blue Jays, and here’s his current pitch chart as I write this post:
He can’t throw it for strikes, and when he is getting it inside the zone, he’s leaving it up. Also, there’s this:
Bauer’s curveball spin is way, way off after one inning: 2514 RPM is his season average, in the first it was 2005 RPM.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 26, 2016
So, yeah. Something is up with Trevor Bauer’s curve.
Earlier today, Eno Sarris took a look at the arsenals of tonight’s World Series Game Two starters, Trevor Bauer and Jake Arrieta. In this article, I’m going to hone in on one of those pitches in particular: Bauer’s curveball.
Pitchers want to disguise their pitches. This is a pretty obvious statement – it’s harder for a batter to hit a pitch if he can’t tell what’s coming. So naturally, conventional wisdom dictates that pitchers should try to make every pitch look the same coming out of their hand. You don’t want drastically different mechanics while throwing one type of pitch than while throwing another.
So when Trevor Bauer throws his curveball from a significantly different height than all his other pitches, that stands out. It’s hard to notice on television, but Bauer releases his curve a full six inches higher than all his other pitches.
Jon Lester doesn’t throw to first. This isn’t new. In the National League Championship Series, Dodgers runners tried to dance off the first-base bag, taking large leads to try and disrupt Lester. By and large, it didn’t really work. The Dodgers didn’t take the extra base, and Lester had few problems pitching to the Dodgers with runners on.
Last night, in Game One of the World Series, the circumstances were mostly the same. On paper, at least. Cleveland did steal a base against Lester, but they also got caught stealing once, too. That’s actually a net positive for the Cubs in terms of runs. Again, on paper.
One of those stolen bases belonged to Francisco Lindor, though. Not only did the young shortstop steal a base in the first inning, but he preceded it with some of the same sort of dancing with which the Dodgers experimented previously. The end result of that first innings was two runs for Cleveland — the only two they’d need to win the game.
Was there anything Francisco Lindor did that might have gotten Lester out of rhythm in the first inning, or were the two walks and hit-by-pitch that followed simply ill-timed luck. Is there any evidence that ties Lindor’s steal to Lester’s head?
On the season, Lester threw 64% of his pitches for strikes. Generally speaking, he relies on swinging strikes to get batters out, as his strike-zone percentage of 46% placed him among the bottom quarter of qualified pitchers this year. Of the first eight pitches he threw before Lindor’s single, Lester recorded seven strikes, retiring Rajai Davis on four pitches and inducing a first-pitch out from Jason Kipnis. Lindor was only on first base for two pitches, both called balls by the umpire. The second pitch was in the strike zone, but as is sometimes the case on stolen-base attempts, David Ross‘ movements to prepare for throwing out the runner didn’t provide a good opportunity for framing; the pitch, likely as a result, was called a ball.
Six of Lester’s next eight pitches were balls, and suddenly the bases were loaded. For the rest of the game, Lester threw 64% of his pitches for strikes, just like the regular season. Unfortunately for Lester, one of the balls went to human ball-magnet Brandon Guyer, who has what could be generously called a “strategy” for getting hit. That HBP and a swinging bunt on the previous pitch led to the 2-0 Cleveland lead that proved to be the difference.
Let’s take a look at what Lindor did to “distract” Lester. Here’s the stolen base itself:
It doesn’t appear that Lindor does anything out of the ordinary here. He took perhaps a slightly larger lead than normal, and then ran on first movement. Lindor was safe, as Ross had difficulty getting the ball out of the glove. When August Fagerstrom discussed Lester and Ross, he went through the numbers on why it’s so difficult to steal on them despite Lester’s throwing problems:
Well, let’s run some math. The problem here is, Lester and Ross are quick. All of the following information comes from Statcast, provided by Mike Petriello. Lester was getting the ball to the plate between 1.1 and 1.2 seconds last night, and Ross’s average pop time for the season was 1.95, which ranked sixth among 83 catchers with at least five throws to second base. Both those figures could be considered plus to elite on a scouting scale, and as a battery, their ~3.15 time to second base is hard to beat.
Lindor took advantage of a slightly larger lead and the knowledge that he could leave on first movement without consequence. Those two things together likely put Lindor’s chances of stealing a base at something like average for him, after factoring in the speed of Lester’s delivery and Ross’s pop time. Did the steal get in Lester’s head to help cause the walks of the next two batters as Rajai Davis intimated?
: Hello all.
: Jeff Sullivan is either here or will be here soon as well.
: Will Jason Heyward ever start a game this series?
: If he didn’t start the first two games, not sure what would change the situation for the rest of the series. He’s a defensive replacement at this point.
Inarguably, one of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning. Really, a handful of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning, but the top half ended with Andrew Miller whiffing David Ross with two down and the bases loaded. The score at that point was a manageable 3-0, and the showdown got people talking. In part, there was confusion over why Ross was hitting there in the first place. Ross is not that good a hitter! But, he was definitely the one up there, and he is not a bad baseball player. Maybe most remarkable was this:
That’s the other thing people have discussed. At 3-and-1, with nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. At 3-and-2, with still nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. Those are what are referred to as classic fastball counts, and the perception is that there’s a lot of risk in going offspeed, because those pitches are more likely to be balls. Indeed, the final pitch wound up out of the zone, but Miller got Ross to chase, which is kind of his thing. It’s not Ross’ fault that Miller is some sort of baseball god.
The at-bat inspired some wonderful writing. In there, you see a discussion over what pitches there were, and what pitches Ross was expecting. It takes some balls to throw back-to-back sliders in that situation. I searched for precedent. I bet you’re not surprised to learn Miller hasn’t pitched that much this year with the bases loaded. When he has, he’s even less frequently been in three-ball counts. In fact, this year, before yesterday, Miller had thrown two three-ball pitches with the bases loaded. They both came on May 6, with the Yankees leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the top of the ninth. Miller threw a 3-and-1 pitch to David Ortiz, and he threw a 3-and-2 pitch to David Ortiz.
Here’s the first of them.
The count ran to 3-and-1 in the first place after a fastball/slider/fastball/slider sequence. It’s the same sequence that took Miller to 3-and-1 against Ross. Back in May, against Ortiz, Miller threw a 3-and-1…slider, for a close called strike. Now, it looks worse in the video, because the catcher was crossed up. The catcher was crossed up! And Miller still got the strike. That’s good umpiring! But it made Ortiz upset, because he turned around and saw the catcher fumbling, and so he made some assumptions. John Farrell came out to keep Ortiz from getting ejected. Farrell got ejected.
So, full count. Bases still loaded, one still out, one still the deficit. This is about as high-leverage as it can get in the first week of May. Miller threw the baseball that he had.
Slider, called strike, strikeout. Does the pitch seem kind of low to you? It definitely seemed kind of low to John Farrell, who — wait, what was Farrell doing still in the dugout? Get out of there!
People were heated. Ortiz got ejected. His getting ejected mattered less after the at-bat than it would have in the middle of it. It was a generous strike call. It was maybe probably a ball. Tough couple pitches.
But it’s not the results that matter to me. It’s just the process and the precedent. Miller got a lot of credit for throwing Ross two three-ball sliders. On the only two comparable pitches he threw this year, he also threw sliders. That’s kind of the thing about guys who throw 60% sliders — they don’t do that unless they really, really trust the pitch. For all intents and purposes, Andrew Miller’s slider is his fastball. At least, in the way we think about pitchers conventionally. Against Miller, it’s impossible to rule out the slider, ever. It’s among the things that make him nearly unhittable.
Andrew Miller threw David Ross some tough sliders in a difficult spot. Andrew Miller throws tough sliders. The best pitchers can do whatever they want.
Larry Vanover was the home-plate umpire yesterday. At one point on Twitter I noticed he was trending, so, you probably know what that means. After one particular half-inning, Jon Lester walked over to Vanover to have a little chat, presumably to try to clear some air. There were disagreements. When the stakes are so high, it’s possible to see injustice everywhere.
Vanover, in truth, called strikes that were perfectly fine. There were borderline pitches, and any borderline-pitch decision will make half the viewers upset, but overall, the Vanover zone was good. Maybe great! Let’s use the artificially binary strike zone from Baseball Savant. During the season, 91% of the pitches taken within the strike zone were called strikes. Vanover called yesterday at 96%. During the season, 13% of the pitches taken outside of the strike zone were called strikes. Vanover called yesterday at 10%. More preserved strikes, fewer extra strikes. That’s good umpiring. He clearly missed a pitch or three, but that’s just part of the everyday arrangement. Sometimes I fall asleep without taking out my contacts. That’ll happen until we have lens-removing robots. (I, too, will not accept said robots until they are perfect.)
If you attempted to characterize the starters for Game Two of the World Series merely by arsenal alone, you might end up somewhere you didn’t expect: the same place. Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta throws a four-seam fastball with ride and good velocity; a sinker he’s gone to more often this year; a strong, harder breaking ball; an excellent, bigger breaking ball; and a change he doesn’t use very often. As for Trevor Bauer… Well, huh: he has the same stuff.
Maybe you scoff, because of the differences in the results. Arrieta has produced three consecutive excellent seasons; Bauer has shown promise and improvement, but seemingly not on Arrieta’s level. Regardless, the similarities are present — and remain so, even if you take a more numbers-based approach to the analysis.
Every now and then, something occurs in a major-league game that just compels me to stop what I’m doing, switch gears, and go into analysis mode. It happened most recently in the top of the fifth inning of NLCS Game Five when Kris Bryant hit a fly ball to straightaway — but slightly on the left-field side of — center field. Center fielder Joc Pederson ran nearly straight backward initially facing toward right field. Then he suddenly and perhaps inexplicably spun around to face left field while still running toward the fence.
At the last minute the ball went just over the reach of his outstretched glove, on the right-field side of center field. The ball bounced on the warning track close to the CF fence, and when the dust had settled, Bryant was on second base with a double. Just to make sure everything is completely clear: Pederson was initially facing the right direction, then he spun around to face the wrong direction, then he spun back at the last second to the original direction, with the ball barely escaping his outstretched reach. Having spun around a complete 360 degrees, he clearly misplayed the ball.
: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Probably a happier one if you’re a Cleveland fan.
: Let’s talk some World Series, or if your team is already out of it, we can work in some offseason stuff too.
: What are your thoughts on last nights game? As a Cubs fan, even with a loss I saw a lot of optimism there, more specifically vs Miller. Obviously upset with a loss, but I was more mad in the LA shutouts.
: Yeah, if you’re the Cubs, I think you’re fine with last night. Miller is spent, Schwarber looked good, and you’re not going to keep giving bombs to Roberto Perez all series. You just look at that one, say they needed it more, and realize you’re now in a great position to take the next two.
: The Coghlan/Heyward decision got me thinking about hot streaks/slumps. This doesn’t really exactly apply here, because Coughlan wasn’t hitting that great. But if a guy like Heyward has looked lost recently, and if another player seemed to be really locked in, would that sway your decision on who to play? Even if their projections were similar or even slightly lower for the player who was on a hot streak?
: Hot streaks have been extensively studied, and they basically have no real predictive value. Which is to say we can’t identify ahead of time when a hot streak is over.
Several hours before the first pitch of the World Series opener in Cleveland on Tuesday night, a reporter opened the press conference with Indians Game Two starter Trevor Bauer by asking him what it was that he enjoyed about watching Game One starter Corey Kluber when he was at his best. Probably nine in 10 pitchers answer this question with some form of stock response, praising Kluber for the way he competes, his intensity on the mound, or his routines in between starts (Indians players love Kluber’s routines). Whenever nine out of 10 someones would say any one thing, Trevor Bauer is always that 10th guy.
“I like the two-seam fastball,” Bauer said, matter of factly. “That’s a pitch I’m fascinated with. A pitch I started throwing mostly by studying his, and figuring out exactly why it moves and all the science behind it. So I enjoy watching that because sometimes it moves a lot, and it’s really fun to see the reactions to it.”
Bauer spent blocks of time during the 2015 offseason watching film at 1,000 frames per second of Kluber’s two-seam fastball, studying its spin axis and the way Kluber achieves that spin and movement based on the way it comes off his fingers. That year, Bauer threw more than 350 two-seam fastballs, having thrown just seven in his career before learning it by studying Kluber. This year, the two-seam fastball trumped the four-seam as Bauer’s go-to offering, and he threw it more than any other pitch, turning himself into a completely different type of pitcher in the process.
On Tuesday night, we saw just why Bauer went to such lengths to mimic Kluber’s two-seamer, as it was the biggest reason Cleveland’s ace was able to carve up perhaps baseball’s best lineup, allowing just three baserunners in six scoreless innings while striking out nine, and turning Chicago’s biggest threat, Anthony Rizzo, into mush.
Since the beginning of this year’s postseason, the present site has become littered with a collection of posts examining the somewhat novel (if also logically sound) deployment of relief pitchers during that postseason. A hasty examination of the archives reveals, for example, a post declaring the advent of the bullpen revolution; a meditation on likely bullpen usage in 2017; and then a third one about how another run might never be scored in a major-league game.
Given this trend, one might suggest that the editors of this site should change its name to BullpenGraphs. But only as a joke, presumably, is why one would do this. Because actually changing the site’s name to BullpenGraphs would represent a huge logistical nightmare — and would almost certainly hurt traffic. And therefore revenue. And therefore ruin the site entirely. Which, for someone who’s employed by that site and also possesses a mortgage, isn’t a particularly amusing joke.
In any case, mostly at the center of this enthusiasm regarding bullpen usage has been Cleveland left-hander Andrew Miller. And for good reason: not only has Miller been predictably effective, but he’s also been ubiquitous. Following last night’s appearance in Game One of the World Series, Miller has now recorded a strikeout rate of 47.1%, stranded every runner who’s been dumb enough to get on base, and conceded zero runs in 13.2 innings. So, roughly as good as possible.
Andrew Miller, for once, didn’t look invincible. After relieving Corey Kluber in the top of the seventh inning, he walked Kyle Schwarber — who answered all of the questions about rust and timing in that fantastic at-bat — and then gave up a single to Javier Baez, loading the bases with nobody out. Down 3-0, this was the Cubs shot at winning Game One, and potentially running away with the series; if Cleveland couldn’t win the home game where Kluber dominated on full rest, they weren’t going to have an easy time winning four more without that ideal setup.
But Miller, being the excellent pitcher that he is, got Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center field, leaving the bases loaded. Then Addison Russell struck out, and Miller was one out away from getting out of the jam. The final at-bat of the seventh inning seemed like the Cubs last shot to win; a big hit in the gap would tie the game — or a home run would even give them the lead — but an out would end the rally, leaving the team down three with only six outs to go against Miller and the looming Cody Allen.
So when David Ross stepped up to the plate to take his chances against Miller, I was pretty surprised, to say the least.
Letting Ross hit here? Really?
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 26, 2016
The World Series Notes column that ran earlier today included quotes from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist on the subject of Corey Kluber. More specifically, their lack of success against the Indians right-hander. The sample sizes are small, but nevertheless real. The two Cubs came into tonight’s game a combined 1 for 20 against Kluber.
They weren’t alone in their woe. The nine players in Chicago’s starting lineup were 4 for 35, with 15 strikeouts, in their cumulative career against the Cleveland ace.
Do small sample-size results mean anything in a given game? Conventional wisdom says no. It is, after all, small sample size. That doesn’t mean it can’t hint at future performance. Some players simply don’t see the ball well against certain pitchers, which is something you can’t quantify. And if a player isn’t careful, the conundrum can go from his eyes to between his ears.
“It’s a mentality,” said Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. “Some pitchers, the more you face them, it domes you up. You’re like, ‘Man, I’m getting out all the time. I don’t feel good.’”
“Guys know if they’re comfortable against a pitcher or not,” confirmed Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. “They know how they felt in the box, and that’s something you can’t see in the numbers.”
Tonight’s numbers looked all too familiar to most members of the Chicago lineup. They went 4 for 22 against Kluber, with nine strikeouts. Eight of those punch outs came in the first three innings.
Did a multitude of Cubs lack confidence in the box in Game One of the World Series? The answer to that question is an unequivocal no. This is one of the best hitting teams in baseball. They aren’t about to be cowed, no matter how good the pitcher.
That doesn’t mean subconscious doubt didn’t begin to creep into a few heads. As for how well the NL champs were tracking the ball, the number of swings and misses, and called strikes, tell a story.
Which brings us back to sample size, which now stands at 8 for 47, with 24 strikeouts. Still too small to be meaningful in a certain sense. As much as anything, what it says is that Corey Kluber is very good.
The Cubs will face Kluber at least one more time this October, and while they’ll do so with stiff upper lips, it’s hard to imagine them being fully confident.
: Welcome to the World Series!
: This should be a fun series.
: Let’s start with a poll.
: I love that they used the Imperial March when the Cubs came in. Because when I think of evil baseball empires, the Cubs are the first team that comes to mind.
: When napoli got announced it felt like it was about the 6th time he was in the world series… turns out its only 3 but with 3 different teams so still impressive
Over the last few days, we’ve written a decent amount about the Cubs potential line-ups for the World Series, with Kyle Schwarber‘s return creating some options. With Schwarber set to DH when the games are in Cleveland, that left Joe Maddon with a decision to make about his outfield; stick with the struggling Jason Heyward while betting on his defense and track record, or go with the less experienced Willson Contreras, the youngster who was terrific in the second half but doesn’t have Heyward’s glove. Faced with a star player coming off a lousy season or a young maybe-star-in-the-making, Joe Maddon chose… Chris Coghlan?
It’s true, Coghlan is starting in right field in Game 1 of the World Series for the best team in baseball. With all due respect to Maddon and the Cubs — who obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to running a baseball team — this is a fairly perplexing decision.
To come to the conclusion that you don’t want to start Heyward against a right-handed pitcher, you have to put a lot of weight on his 2016 performance, believing that he’s currently unable to hit anywhere near his career levels for one reason or another. His postseason struggles (.071/.133/.179 in 30 PAs) certainly make it easier to buy into that theory, but there’s no question that benching Heyward means that you’re overweighting recent performance relative to long-term track record.
Except somehow, the Cubs are starting the only guy on their entire roster who hit worse than Heyward this year.
Like Heyward, Coghlan is a much better hitter than his 2016 line indicates, and was a good hitter as recently as last year. But there’s no getting around the fact that Coghlan was lousy in 2016, and while he’s only hit five times in the postseason, he’s 0-4 with a walk, so it’s not like he’s earned his way into the line-up with a strong recent performance either.
If you’re overweighting recent performance in order to talk yourself into benching Heyward, I’m not entirely sure how you ignore Coghlan’s 2016 struggles to determine that he’s the better option. To do so would require ignoring what he did in Oakland this year, and only focus on his performance after getting to Chicago, which amounts to a total of 133 plate appearances. Deciding on a World Series starter based on the most recent 133 PAs is to weight recent performance so highly that it’s essentially indefensible.
For the record, here are their forecasted performances Steamer, which take all relevant data into account.
This morning, I argued for Heyward to start even if the team saw his bat as a liability at the moment, based on the value of aligning his defensive value with the team’s highest likelihood of putting a ball in play. That said, there was a decent argument for starting Contreras, if you really believed Heyward’s bat is broken beyond repair right now.
But in starting Coghlan, the Cubs are getting the worst of both worlds; the guy who didn’t hit at all in 2016 along with a guy who is a significant defensive downgrade. Coghlan is essentially what you’d get if you had Heyward’s 2016 bat and Contreras’ 2016 outfield glove. When faced with a choice between offense and defense, Maddon chose neither.
Because it’s baseball, Coghlan will probably hit a couple of home runs tonight and be the hero for the series. And it’s not like this is a big enough deal to get up in arms about, since Coghlan will be pinch hit for as soon as Andrew Miller enters the game anyway. We’re likely looking at one or maybe two at-bats before he’s replaced, and a few innings of downgraded defense at one corner outfield spot; starting Coghlan isn’t some disaster that will sink the Cubs chances of winning tonight.
But based on everything we know, it’s a weird call. Contreras is probably the best hitter not in the Cubs line-up, even with the platoon disadvantage, and it’s not easy to see that Coghlan is going to hit better against Kluber than Contreras would if you’re going for an offense-first line-up. And you have to do some mental gymnastics about the value of recent performance to come to the conclusion that you want to bench Heyward but still think Coghlan is worth playing. Sticking with Heyward would have been justifiable. Starting Contreras would have been justifiable. Starting Coghlan? I don’t get it.