The Mets can use their strengths to protect their own weaknesses against the Royals
If the Mets are going to win the World Series, they’re going to have to beat an old fashioned baseball team to do it.
They’re facing a Kansas City Royals team who is already battle tested. This is their second World Series berth in as many years, and they’ve utilized a very similar style to reach the 2015 World Series as they did the 2014 World Series.
This is a very aggressive offense that swings at a lot of pitches, even those out of the strike zone. They only saw 3.71 pitches per plate appearance in 2015, the lowest rate in the game in 2015. But despite this rate, the Royals have a knack for staying in at-bats, fouling off tough pitches, and driving up pitch counts early, forcing mistakes inside the strike zone. That’s evident in their 68.8 percent contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone, the second best in the sport.
And speaking of inside the strike zone, the Royals made contact with 89.9 percent of pitches they saw inside the strike zone, the highest rate in baseball in 2015. Their 48.3 percent overall swing rate was the ninth-highest in baseball, and their swing rate of 33.3 percent of the pitches they saw outside the strike zone was the sixth-highest. They were last in the league with a 6.3 percent walk rate, and 24th in home runs.
But that aggressive style most certainly worked for them. And unlike the Cubs, the Royals aggressiveness didn’t hinder their ability to hit hard fastballs, either. They were the best in baseball at hitting pitches 95 mph and faster.
They also don’t strike out very much – they had the best strikeout rate in the game at 15.9 percent in 2015, the third best team batting average at .269, and the best overall contact rate of any team in baseball in 2015 at 81.9 percent. They were 11th best team on-base percentage at .322, tenth best OPS at .734.
This is also a fast and aggressive team on the bases. They had the fifth-most stolen bases in the league with 104. They’re an excellent first-to-third club and their 75.3 percent stolen base rate was the fourth best in baseball as well.
So the Royals can exploit the Mets in a couple of ways right off the bat, no pun intended. They don’t overly pull the ball, but don’t overly hit the ball to the opposite field. They take what they’re given and they do a lot of damage against them.
Their running game can expose Travis d’Arnaud’s weakness at throwing to second base, who recorded -4 defensive runs saved (DRS) behind the plate thanks in large measure to his inability to throw runners out consistently. He only threw out 14 of 43 would-be base stealers in 569 innings in 2015.
The Royals speed and ability to make contact can impact the Mets well known handicap with their middle infield defense. They could easily expose Wilmer Flores lack of range and footspeed as well Daniel Murphy’s often mystifying play at second base.
So, how can the Mets protect these weaknesses?
One of the Mets strengths this season has been their ability to protect d’Arnaud as much as possible, and that’s in their ability to hold runners on. They allowed 75 stolen bases, the fourth-fewest in the National League and the same number as the Royals in the American League with the superior Salvador Perez and co. behind the plate. They’ll have to keep those runners close, keep them thinking and keep them from getting consistently large leads and good reads on their deliveries.
The Royals contact rate inside the strike zone seems to scream the loudest out of all of the things they do remarkably well. So it would seem obvious the Mets simply have to throw fewer strikes, right?
Their contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone is also very high. That means they not only know how to be productive with those pitches, but they also have an ability to stay in at-bats. They’re not patient at all, but they also don’t swing wildly and strike out that much, either.
The Royals never give away at-bats.
“We’re definitely ready for this challenge,” d’Arnaud told Kevin Kernan in the Post on Monday. “We all believe in each other and that’s all we can really do.”
The logic would dictate that the Mets need to utilize their strength and try to turn that into a weakness for the Royals. There are hard fastballs, but then there are hard fastballs with movement, and the Mets need to ensure they’re not only getting good movement on their fastballs, but moving it around the strike zone as well.
This is precisely what Noah Syndergaard intends to do.
“The Royals hit the fastball really well and they are an aggressive team,’’ Syndergaard said. “The main thing for me is to execute my pitch. I think we are all pretty mature out there. We’ll basically just go to our strengths.’’
One thing their big three pitchers all do is throw two-seam fastballs which tends to jam hitters. They can then go the other way and out of the zone with their off-speed stuff if they can get ahead, taking advantage of that aggressiveness and at the very least, keep them unconfortable while trying to induce weak contact.
Weak contact – especially in the air – will keep Kansas City and their speed off the bases. The Mets starters in this series were marginally better at getting groundballs during the regular season, but that’s where those two-seamers will come in handy for them as they can try and get groundballs off the trademark when they come inside.
Matt Harvey knows how important it will be to rely less on their hard fastballs as well.
“I think for us it’s mixing our pitches and not relying on our effective velocity, but going out there and going over the scouting reports,’’ Harvey said. “Finding what works against this team specifically.”
So far, the Mets have found what works against each oppoent that’s stood in their way, whether its the Nationals, Dodgers or Cubs.
There’s one last hurdle, perhaps the greatest of them all.
But as d’Arnaud said, they’ve shown they’re up for this challenge.