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Let’s go back to February of this year when Vegas released the odds for all teams to make it to the 2014 World Series. The Kansas City Royals were 50-1 favorites. The San Francisco Giants had better odds at 20-1. The best odds went to the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers at 8-1 and 7-1 respectively. Needless to say, it has been a wacky, but memorable season full of surprises. It is a shame that it will come to an end soon.
San Francisco Giants vs Kansas City Royals (Game 1, October 21, 2014, 8:00 PM ET on FOX)
Both clubs were wild card teams that won less than 90 regular season games. This will be the first time two wild card teams meet in the playoffs since 2002. This is definitely the first time two wild card teams meet in the new format. The Royals are trying to erase a 29-year championship drought. The Giants are trying to win their third championship since 2010.
Both teams made it this far in the postseason using unorthodox methods on offense. Aside from batting average, both teams do not rank in the top 10 in the traditional slash lines of on-base (OBP) and slugging (SLG) percentage or Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA–at its most basic, this stat emphasizes that not all base-hits are created equal). The Giants do enough damage with their bats to get on base and score runs. The Royals on the other hand had the lowest Strikeout Rate (K%) this season and had the best 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”) in the Majors. But of course, despite showing an over-dependence on steals this past season, the Royals have hit dramatic home runs this postseason, most notably by Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Both teams had pretty high Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP–per fangraphs.com “measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit”) which would explain their high batting average despite not showing much skill at the plate. The Giants are a fly ball team; the Royals are a ground ball team, which is great for their style of play and takes advantage of their speed, but are susceptible to plenty of pop ups.
Both teams profile as a free-swinging ball club. While the Royals are able to generate plenty of contact to suit their style and take advantage of their speed, the Giants were a bottom 10 team in terms of Contact Rate.
The Royals did a good job limiting their walks this season and also finished the season with one of the lower BABIP in the league which helped them survive despite their mostly finesse profile. James Shields and Yordano Ventura have proven to be a formidable 1-2 punch in the rotation, with Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas filling out the rotation as pitch-to-contact starters.
But the Royals don’t have a pitcher that can match up against Madison Bumgarner who has been masterful in these playoffs. He anchors a top 10 rotation and is the main reason the Giants dominate the Royals in the categories mentioned in the table. Not only that, but Jake Peavy has been marvelous since being acquired from Boston, meanwhile Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong have depended on wits and guile.
Simply put, the Royals are a fly ball team that frustrates opposing hitters with plenty of pop ups. The high Fly Ball Rate (FB%) helps the club limit their home runs against. The Giants, on the other hand, have a lot more variance in their batted balls profile, which can be deadly against a Royals’ team that thrives off complete randomness. San Francisco also had the seventh highest Line Drive Rate (LD%) in the league this season.
Both teams do a great job inducing swings as both clubs finished in the top 10 in Swing Percentage, though the Giants are much better in the Swinging Strike Percentage with the Royals finishing 20th in that category. As mentioned, the Royals profile as a finesse team as can be seen by their high Contact Rate. Meanwhile, opposing hitters had a pretty tough time making contact against the Giants rotation. Facing a lineup that has made plenty of contact, especially in this postseason, is going to prove to be a highly anticipated match-up.
The Royals’ bullpen can rack up the strikeouts but, as can be seen in their Walk Rate (BB%), they are vulnerable to giving up walks. Closer Greg Holland has five walks in these playoffs alone (Walks per 9 of 5.6). But the lethal trio of Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera have pitched a combined 25.2 innings pitched and have racked up a total of 30 strikeouts, pretty much shutting the door in the waning innings of games.
Conversely, the Giants’ four most used relievers are as follows:
They have a collected Strikeout per 9 of 6.3 but a BB/9 of 2.9. Needless to say, both teams have played up to their regular season profile in these playoffs: the Royals overpower, but go through command problems; the Giants have a finesse bullpen that relies heavily on control and pitch-to-contact.
The Giants owned the best BABIP among the bullpens this year, which has been crucial in their effectiveness despite the low K%. Both teams induce lots of ground balls, but the Giants have a much higher pop up rate.
Because the Royals go through lapses of poor command, they have a low Swing Percentage. On the contrary, the Giants induce plenty of swings which causes a high Contact Rate, but this bodes well for San Francisco because they do rely on batted balls to get through innings. The Royals have a much lower Contact Rate, which makes sense after seeing their high strikeout total and low Swing Percentages, but it’s not elite level.
The Giants are not an effective running team and they’re definitely not running on Salvador Perez and will have to think twice about testing the Royals’ outfield arms, especially Alex Gordon in left and Jarrod Dyson late in games. On the other hand, the Giants were a middle tier team in keeping the run game in check and in terms of outfield arms.
We’ve mentioned how Brandon Crawford is great at turning the double play, regardless who the Giants play at second, but him and Joe Panik have formed one of the better double play duos in the league. Other than that, Kansas City rates as the better defensive team with elite-level range.
- The Royals seem to have the charisma and the momentum coming into this series, but the Giants won the NLCS on a walk-off home run, survived an 18-inning game, and are just as resilient as the Royals have been.
- The Royals have youthful exuberance with a “why not us?” attitude. Their dominant performance in these playoffs have them carrying a swag that is comparable to other past championship teams.
- Led by fiery leader, Hunter Pence, the Giants are a team full of veterans who have a lot of experience in the playoffs under their belts.
- Despite Ned Yost making questionable decisions at the start of the playoffs, he’s done a great job adapting in these playoffs while maximizing his team’s strengths and exploiting his opponents’ weaknesses.
- With another ring on his finger, Bruce Bochy, in his 19th consecutive season as a manager, might begin to get strong consideration for the hall-of-fame–assuming he doesn’t already.
A lot of contrasts with these two teams. Athleticism vs veteran grit; power vs finesse (in the pitching department); youth vs experience; breaking a championship drought vs building up a dynasty. Unlike last year’s World Series, both of these hitting lineups are pretty one-dimensional, are not very effective, and do not take a lot of pitches. Because of this fact, it should prove to be a very chaotic World Series, but both teams have proven to thrive in these conditions. Nevertheless, because of their dominant bullpen, their style of play, and their superior defense, the Royals should capture their first title since 1985.
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