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Will the New York Mets be undone by the Kansas City Royals contact hitting?


With a 2-0 lead in the World Series, the Royals are in an excellent position to bring home their first title since 1985. In the first two games they’ve received timely hitting, excellent starting pitching, and strong bullpen work. They have a lot of things going right that will help them win just two more games.

Another reason they’ve taken a commanding lead is their contact hitting.  During Game 2 Tom Verducci and Harold Reynolds in the FOX booth were nearly tripping over each other, talking about how impossible it was to strike out the Royals. And they were right – Jacob deGrom was simply unable to put hitters away, much like Matt Harvey the night before.

So far this postseason, the Royals are striking out much less than their playoff counterparts, though interestingly their strikeout rate has ticked up just a bit from the regular season (16.0%, slightly up from 15.9%).  In other words, they’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing all season long, it’s just that more people are finally paying attention.  That being said, their strikeout rate is still over a third lower than the rest of the 2015 playoff teams:

   

Strikeout Percentage

2015 Postseason (All Teams)

24.3%

2015 Postseason Royals

16.0%

2015 Regular Season (A.L.)

19.9%

2015 Regular Season Royals

15.9%

2014 Postseason (All Teams)

19.5%

2014 Postseason Royals

18.3%

2014 Regular Season (A.L.)

19.8%

2014 Regular Season Royals

16.3%

Despite all the talk about the Royals’ lineup and their never giving up on at bats, the Mets were still a Jeurys Familia slider-that-didn’t-slide away from taking a 1-0 lead in the series in Game 1.  Furthermore, the Royals will never be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut, and have scored in just 6 of the 23 innings they’ve played in the World Series.  It’s worth remembering they finished a respectable-but-not-dominating sixth in the American League in runs in 2015.  It’s nice to strike out less than any other team in the league, but it doesn’t matter if runs aren’t put on the board.

And finally, it’s funny how short memories are at this time of year.  Taking a trip down memory lane to what we witnessed one year ago can remind us of how quickly new narratives can take hold.  2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner shut down the Royals in an absolutely historic performance in Games 1, 5 and 7 (in relief).  Against the Royals, Bumgarner had a World Series pitching line of 21 IP, 0.48 WHIP, 1 BB, and 17 strikeouts.  Though as noted above the Royals struck out in just 18.3% of their postseason plate appearances last year, they struck out in 23.0% of their plate appearances against Bumgarner, significantly higher than the average playoff strikeout percentage and regular season percentage last year.

What can be taken away from this reminder? Not a whole lot – many expected the Mets’ pitchers to be able to blow more pitches by the Royals lineup through the first two games and so far the Royals are clearly winning that battle. Certainly many expected the Mets’ starting duo of Harvey and deGrom to have more than four strikeouts through two games (the same number of strikeouts as Jon Niese in just three innings of work).

But with just two games down in what many predicted to be a World Series that would again go to a decisive seventh game (and still certainly could), the Royals are only halfway to the finish line, and all it takes is a single dominating performance to get the momentum shifted towards New York’s “other” team.



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