Data suggests Mets starting pitchers must trust what makes them great – the fastball
The first two games of the World Series just haven’t worked out for the New York Mets whatsoever.
The Royals strength with their aggressive, fastball-hitting and rich-with-contact offense has crippled the Mets strength of power-armed strike throwers in the first two games of the series.
Or has it?
Certainly, the Royals are known for being the best hitting team on fastballs 95 mph and up. They have the best contact rate in the game, the lowest strikeout rate in the game as well.
That can all be very intimidating, as it suggests that they can flat out hit anyone at anytime.
Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom have unquestionably emerged as two of baseball’s best pitchers, and there’s also no question they are a big reason why the Mets are in the World Series today.
But why? Was it because they spent the entire year finessing people to the sum total of 393 strikeouts between them? Did they combine for a 27-16 record because they dominated with curveballs and change-ups?
No, they are where they are – and who they are – because of their trademarked velocity. Velocity which has dominated baseball’s best offensive forces from Bryce Harper to Kris Bryant, from David Ortiz to Jose Bautista.
But in these two games against the Royals, they were different pitchers.
Harvey threw 80 pitches on Tuesday night. Only 30 of them were fastballs, or 37.5 percent. The rest were a combination of change-ups, sliders and curveballs. He recorded only two strikeouts and a total of seven swings and misses, two off the fastball.
It was the smallest percentage of fastballs Harvey has thrown in a game all year, and it’s not even close. The next fewest was 48.35 percent against the Nationals on October 3. His season average for fastballs thrown was about 60 percent.
That’s a major deviation for Harvey, and while he most definitely pitched well enough to win on Tuesday, that pitch selection is not what made him successful in 2015.
Now, as expected, the Royals certainly put his fastball in play very often on Tuesday night, a total of ten times or 33 percent. But they only recorded two hits off of his fastball, one of which – the inside-the-park home run from Alcides Escobar – should have been an out.
As for deGrom, he threw a higher percentage of fastballs in his Game 2 start on Wednesday. He recorded no swings and misses on his fastballs and only three total on the night. He threw 53 of his 96 pitches for fastballs (four-seam and two-seam), or 56.3 percent. But that’s also under his season average – he threw his four-seam and two-seam fastball more than 60 percent of the time in 2015 as well.
But similarly to Harvey on Tuesday, the Royals only recorded two hits on the 53 fastballs deGrom threw on Wednesday. They put a smaller percentage of his fastballs in play as well, and actually did not put 18 of the 25 two-seamers deGrom threw in play.
In total, the Royals have recorded only four hits against fastballs from deGrom and Harvey combined.
So the reality for both pitchers was their fastballs were indeed their best pitches in their outings, but both used them less than they normally have throughout the course of the season.
As such, the Mets didn’t really employ their strengths against the Royals strengths. Instead, they relied on off-speed and finesse, or in other words, a pitching style neither are accustomed to.
Simply put, the Mets have to get back to utilizing that strength, which is relying on power and location. The data suggests the Royals are not hitting their best stuff, even though their season stats indicate they are masters of the 95+ mph fastball.
But that’s the thing. There’s 95, and then there’s the 95 that comes out of the hands of Harvey, deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. It’s a proven success story.
Go try and win with it, and if the Royals still win, at least the Mets will know Kansas City truly beat their absolute best.
It starts again with Syndergaard on Friday night in Flushing. And if it goes right with this championship-caliber and dominating pitching staff, an 0-2 should be no sweat.