Going into this World Series, many of the previews involved one key matchup: whether hard-throwing New York Mets pitchers could overwhelm the contact-minded Kansas City Royals hitters. Could the Mets’ starters approach the dominance they showed against the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS? The Royals are also a great defensive team with a penchant for timely baserunning, and the Mets were riding a historic hitting performance by Daniel Murphy. But none of that would matter if K.C. couldn’t catch up to the Mets’ blazing pitches and put the ball in play.
The two teams have now played two games, and the early returns are clear: On top of its 2-0 lead in the Series itself, Kansas City is decisively winning the battle to make contact.
During the regular season, the group of pitchers that the Mets have thus far used in the World Series struck out 23 percent of opposing batters,1 while the particular group of hitters the Royals have used struck out in 15.2 percent of their plate appearances. Doing a little cross-multiplication using the 2015 MLB-wide average strikeout rate of 20.4 percent, we would have expected New York’s pitchers to set down 17.2 percent of Kansas City batters on strikes in the World Series.
But instead of striking out 17.2 percent of the time, Kansas City hitters have whiffed in only 10.3 percent of their plate appearances through two games, a pretty sizable departure from expectations. There was only an 11.8 percent probability that Kansas City’s strikeout rate against these Mets pitchers would be as low as it has been through two games.2
Why? In Game 1, Matt Harvey had arguably the worst stuff of his career; Jeurys Familia’s sinker caught too much of the strike zone. In Game 2, Jacob deGrom threw as hard as ever but couldn’t get the Royals to swing through much of anything. But mainly, Kansas City is just good at this — the Royals are possibly the best contact-hitting team ever. (“Singled to death,” lamented one anguished Mets fan in FanGraphs’ live blog.)
So good luck, Thor. When I recalculated our Elo ratings, they said the Mets have a 50 percent chance of winning Game 3 with Noah Syndergaard taking the hill (and a mere 18 percent probability of digging out of their 2-0 hole to win the Series). But Elo doesn’t know how hard Syndergaard throws — and how little that may matter to the Kansas City batters he’ll have to face.