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The Kansas City Royals, after defeating the Oakland Athletics in their Wild Card match-up, earned a trip to face another American League West team in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We all know the Royals can run, but can they keep up with (and contain) Mike Trout and company?
The Royals have become instant darlings this season as they have rocked the baseball world to advance to the Division Series. By now, we all know the narrative: this is the Royals’ first playoff berth since George Brett and the 1985 Royals took home the World Series. For the Angels, however, a big payroll means big expectations. After failing to win 80 games in 2013 (the first time they failed to reach that mark since 2003), the Angels got on a hot streak late in the season to overtake the Athletics in the AL West race. This is the first time the Angels will be playing in October since 2009 and have not won a title since 2002.
As mentioned in our AL Wild Card preview, the Royals’ lineup had the lowest Strikeout Rate (K%), but also had the lowest Walk Rate (BB%). Kansas City also finished in the top five in batting average. Other than finishing first in Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB–per fangraphs.com, this stat “estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team by stealing bases, as compared to the average player”), led by speedster, Jarrod Dyson, the Royals were a middle of the pack team on offense, at best. The Angels however, are in another realm in terms of offense, finishing seventh in Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), led by Trout and supported by Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols.
Both teams finished in the top half in terms of Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com“measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”). Both teams do a good job at varying their batted balls, although the Royals would appear to be a Ground Ball-hitting team. Both teams ranked near the bottom in Fly Ball Rate, but both teams tend to pop up a lot.
Both teams rank in the top half in terms of Swinging Percentage. Worth reiterating is the fact that the Royals are a free-swinging bunch that rely heavily on high contact rate. And as noted before, the Royals don’t strike out a lot, they just swing at almost everything (see Salvador Perez‘s game-winning hit in the Wild Card game), but somehow do enough to generate high rates of contact. The Angels, in terms of contact rate, are adequate at best in this category.
The Royals don’t strike out many hitters, but ranked seventh in lowest BB%. The Angels finished in the top 10 in K%, but struggled with walks this year. Go figure. However, the Angels’ Advanced ERAs (FIP and SIERA), describe a better rotation than the Royals. It should be noted that the Angels are missing Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs in the rotation.
Both teams finished in the top 10 in BABIP. Both rotations have fly ball tendencies which helped keep their BABIP in check and even helped limit their home runs and pop up rates. The Royals do have a higher Line Drive Rate (LD%), but the Angels are not a line-drive hitting ball club.
The Royals do a better job forcing opponents to swing at their pitches, but as mentioned before, they don’t strikeout a lot of hitters so a lot of their swings generate contact. This would lead one to believe that the Royals, for the most part, are a pitch-to-contact rotation. Not surprising, James Shields leads the club in inducing swings outside of the strike zone.
The Angels don’t force many swings, finishing dead last in Swing Percentage, but they also have low contact rates. As mentioned, the Angels do try to strike out hitters at a high rate. Matt Shoemaker leads the rotation in Swinging Strike Percentage.
Both teams are good at getting strikeouts out of the ‘pen, with the Angels finishing in the top 10 in K%, led by Kevin Jepsen in this percentage stat. Both teams finished in the top 10 in FIP. Wade Davis and Greg Holland finished with FIPs under 2.00. Jason Grilli for the Halos was best on his team at 2.15.
Both teams finished in the top half in BABIP with the Halos ranking seventh in that category. Anaheim being a fly ball team would explain the low BABIP. Both clubs don’t force many pop ups, but they do a good job in keeping the ball in the park. A concern on the Kansas City side is that they rank up there in Ground Ball and Line Drive Rates, which might leave them susceptible to a higher BABIP in this short series.
Unlike the Angels’ rotation, the Angels bullpen does a much better job at forcing hitters to swing at more of their pitches, especially outside the zone. In a bizarre twist, the Royals bullpen are at the bottom in the Swing Percentage categories. In terms of Contact Rate, both teams finished middle of the pack in these categories.
Just like they did against Oakland, the Royals speed on the base paths will continue to be on display as the Angels rank as one of the worst teams at stopping the run. The Royals have the better range, arms in the outfield, and were among the best in both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), thanks to an outfield led by Alex Gordon. The Angels have a pretty good double-play duo in Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar.
- Momentum is on the side of the Royals who showed ample amounts of resiliency against the Oakland A’s
- Angels have the experience advantage in postseason play
- Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia has been managing the ball club since 2000 and has led the team to seven playoff berths
- Despite the win, Royals manager Ned Yost was heavily criticized by both traditional and SABR pundits on social media, especially on Twitter:
Ned, aren’t you just a LITTLE curious as to what might happen if you didn’t always sacrifice the runner to second? A little?
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 1, 2014
- Even former superstar, Pedro Martinez got in on the act:
PEDRO IS STILL KILLING NED YOST. He’s more #TrueSABR than any of us, man.
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 1, 2014
Many cynics would say that despite the short-comings of their manager, the Royals survived all sorts of wild and wacky situations in their Wild Card game against Oakland. Now the focus is on winning three more games. Based on the stats mentioned, it would appear that the Angels have a huge advantage in this series and are more than ready and willing to end Kansas City’s dream season.
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