My Mets fandom is pretty well-documented. From me in an orange Mets hoodie slumped over my computer, as Carlos Beltran took a called strike three half a world away, in the Pro Tour coverage to the hundred-odd followers I lost while posting incessantly about “sportsball” throughout the playoffs. There is no way I could possibly write an objective World Series preview so I reached out to someone who could — Toby Wachter. Okay…he can’t either but as he documents below he is much more rational than I when it comes to the NY Mets. — BDM
Like most gamers, I tend to be a fairly logically minded person. One of the many reasons I love baseball is that seemingly everything is quantifiable, from wins over replacement players to calculating open market value for any player in dollars. You can even run studies on whether intangible concepts like “clutch” are quantifiably true. More than ten years removed from the release of Moneyball, this is old hat news: most professional sports teams now use some form of advanced analytics.
This viewpoint is particularly bad in my situation, because I’m a Mets fan. Mets fandom usually requires some form of optimism that is irrational at best, delusional at worst. One particular memory that stands out in my mind is walking back to the subway in 2009 after going to a Mets game with BDM, as he told me he felt the Mets offense was better than the Phillies. This was a Met squad that featured such luminaries as Jeff Francouer, Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis and an age 40 Gary Sheffield. The Phillies offense that year was pure bonkers, with Howard, Rollins, Werth and Chase Fucking Utley all in their prime, with an inexplicable awesome season from Raul Ibanez thrown in for good measure.
Needless to say, Brian has always been quick to rush to an optimistic assessment of all things Mets. I’ve consistently been the ass who is impulsively compelled to splash cold water on any and all rays of hope. But I just have to listen to my brain over my heart.
“No Brian, Josh Thole is not a regular, everyday major league catcher.”
“Nick Evans is actually trash.”
“Josh Satin’s best trait is actually his crazy eyebrows, not his bat (and no, he’s not the second coming of John Olerud).”
But something crazy happened. The Mets are in the World Series, and in my humble opinion, they should be the favorite to win. For real, looked at objectively; not just in BDM’s world of “Jeremy Hefner is going to be a solid cog in the rotation for years to come”.
So, as repayment for years of playing “No, that’s just not realistic”, here are seven entirely rational reasons why the Mets are going to win their first championship in 29 years.
1: Infinite Heat
The Mets postseason rotation of Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz is worthy of all the praise heaped upon it. Every expert from ESPN to MLB Network has said there is no rotation in baseball history comparable where pure stuff is concerned. If you’ve looked at any sports broadcast or newspaper since the World Series matchup was set, you’ve seen how no team throws more 95mph+ pitches than the Mets, by a wide margin.
Those same media outlets are pointing to the Royals’ ability to hit 95mph+ better than any team in the league. Okay. That’s tracking results on one pitch, not on sequences. Anyone who has watched the Mets aces can tell you while the speed is the foundation, they mix in offspeed pitches and breaking balls quite well. When Thor brings the hammer curveball after a steady diet of 99mph, it’s entirely unfair for the batter.
Contrary to popular belief, the Mets rotation is not made up of fastball throwing robots, but human beings that can come in with a gameplan and mix pitches to break up the batter’s rhythm.
On subject . . .
2: Contact, Schmontact
Sure, you can talk up the Royals “putting the ball in play” all day long. Yes, they were ranked #1 in contact this season. It’s legit. But if the Mets can carve up a powerful Cubs lineup with power in every spot, they can do the same to a singles happy Royals team. I’ll certainly feel more comfortable with Harvey, deGrom or Syndergaard pitching with men on base to a guy unlikely to hit a home run than I did when it was Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber or Kris Bryant in that same spot.
When your whole plan is to make contact and do the “paper cut the pitcher to death” thing, it just means you need to beat one of these pitchers multiple times in an inning. The Royals ranked 11th in slugging this year, and 24th in home runs. This is not the stuff of nightmares with men on base. Go ahead, hang out at first base and have a chat with Lucas Duda (what you’d actually talk about with him, I have no idea). Maybe try to steal second and if that works, have a chat with Wilmer Flores about bottling tears and turning them into walkoff power through gypsy magic. But that’s probably where the adventure on the basepaths ends.
All the data on baseball tells us the best way to score runs is getting on base and hitting for power. While the Royals provide a different look that has been successful, the edge it might provide against good pitching is marginal at best.
3: Too Many Flukes (Too Many Flukes!)
Let’s not forget the Royals needed a lot of luck to get here. They were only successful in a must win Game 4 in the ALDS against the Astros because sure handed Carlos Correa managed to mishandle a double play ball. The ALCS saw Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista botch an easy out in the outfield. Seriously, look at those graphs and see how close they were to losing.
Game 6 featured a Royals fan doing his best Jeffrey Maier impression to boost a ball into a home run, and then some pretty shoddy ball and strike calls by the umpire at a critical moment for the Jays (tying run at third with less than two outs).
To be fair, some of this is due to persistence on the part of the Royals. They put the ball in play, and when that happens, bobbles by otherwise sure handed fielders can happen. But let’s contrast to how the Mets got here: they grinded through a five game series against the Dodgers where two of the three best starters in the National League (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) made appearances in all but one. For an encore, they swept a juggernaut offense in the Cubs, and took out the other best pitcher in the league (Jake Arrieta). One of these things is not like the others.
4: The Ace That Isn’t
At the trade deadline, the Royals were the first team to jump into the “Rent an Ace” market, giving away some young talent to get Johnny Cueto for the stretch run and playoffs. This was done with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be in their future after 2015, as he was in his walk year and many big market teams were primed to pony up the absurd amounts of money necessary to lock up his services (a luxury Kansas City can’t afford).
Cueto had posted an ERA under 3.00 every season since 2011, and ranked second in Cy Young voting for 2014 with 20 wins (if you’re the kind of person who cares about that sort of thing). 2015 looked to be more of the same, with Cueto posting a 2.62 ERA for the going nowhere Reds.
For whatever reason, since jumping to Kansas City, he posted a 4.76 during the regular season, and has been on a short leash in October. The Royals didn’t get what they thought they were trading for, and being unfamiliar with the player, they’re struggling to address what’s wrong. There was some thought that Salvador Perez was too big a catcher and wasn’t setting up the glove low enough, for one theory. Ned Yost sounded entirely puzzled whenever asked by media.
How can you fix a player that’s been in your organization for a few months? You can try, but it’s guesswork. When asked what they can do to get Cueto right, Ned Yost sounds like a manager with a player he rightly doesn’t know very well, and is grasping at straws to figure out a solution. They’ll have to throw Cueto out there because it’s what he’s there for and it’s not like they have many better options. Bad for Kansas City, and certainly not a good spot for Johnny’s bank account come this winter.
5: Lucas Duda Unleashed
Lucas Duda is the baseball version of The Incredible Hulk. Sometimes, he is a mild mannered large beast of a man who is as weak as a baby bird with a bat. He swings at bad, low breaking balls and makes you tear your hair out.
But after weeks upon weeks of watching him put down so many doughnuts, eventually he gets into one. The confidence goes up, and he turns into an otherworldy tater mashing machine. His last such streak during the summer featured eight home runs in seven games. A good number of Mets winning streaks during the season were powered by Duda literally carrying the team’s offense.
In the deciding NLCS game against the Cubs, the Hulk woke up and Duda hit two doubles and a home run, bringing in five RBI. It’s a shame he has to sit for almost a week after that performance, but Duda’s hot and cold streaks seem to be based more around confidence than timing. I expect we’ll get The Good Lucas Duda for the World Series, who can carry the Mets offense just as well as Daniel Murphy did during his hot streak. Three of the four Royals starters are average at best right handed pitchers, setting up Duda for a great series.
6: Ned Yost’s Follies
I’m in the camp of believing there are three kinds of managers: a select few who can actually add wins to your team (Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon), those who actively lose your team games (Matt Williams, and . . . I’ll just say Matt Williams again here), and the vast majority are fairly neutral. I’ll put Terry Collins into that bucket. If Ned Yost is in the neutral bucket, he’s teetering on the edge and closing in on “loses you games” territory.
For a very recent example, in the clinching ALCS game Yost put Kelvin Herrera out for the 7th, and brought in Ryan Madson in for the 8th . . . who promptly gave up a huge home run. Questionable on two levels: why is Madson the 8th inning guy over Herrera, and why not bring Herrera out for a second inning when you’re trying to keep the lead and go onto the World Series?
The Royals 2014 postseason saw plenty of questionable decisions by Yost: in the Wild Card game alone he called for a botched double steal, and inexplicably brought young starter Yordano Ventura into a key spot pitching out of relief, where he promptly gave up three runs. There were plenty of other questionable decisions throughout their 2014 postseason. Almost every time, despite making a bad call, his team managed to bail out the manager. At some point, Yost’s “misplay, but topdeck, I win!” luck has to run out.
7: Who Have You Faced Lately?
Pitchers the Royals have faced in the postseason: Colin McHugh, Scott Kazmir, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Colin McHugh (2), Marco Estrada, David Price, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey (who departed for the sins of the Wilpons so we may have Thor and d’Arnaud, praise his name, still a Met in spirit), Marco Estrada (2), David Price (2).
That’s a whole lot of “good, not great”; the only aces in the bunch are Keuchel and Price. Keuchel shut down the Royals in his start, though granted he’s a control artist and not a flamethrower like the Mets staff. The “David Price can’t pitch in the postseason” noise is just as silly as it was with Kershaw before this year. He pitched an excellent Game 2 until the aforementioned Goins/Bautista debacle unraveled everything, and performed quite well in Game 6 removed from two solo home runs.
Point is, the Royals have faced two aces this postseason. One carved them up, the other actually pitched excellently if not for a few bad pitches, or one bad defensive cue behind him. In the World Series, they’ll be facing three legit aces, and one not too far behind that tag in Steven Matz.
On the other side of the coin, the Mets have faced Greinke twice, Kershaw twice, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. The three times they didn’t get an ace were Brett Anderson, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. All were either shellacked, or chased out of the game early.
Aside from “coin flip to see if he’s an ace or terrible” Johnny Cueto, the Royals rotation is made up of unstable, easily tilt-able hothead Yordano Ventura (scouts actively encourage opposing batters to try and get under his skin), along with journeymen Edinson Volquez and Chris Young (the tall, old one from Princeton, not the terrible former Mets outfielder turned adequate Yankees platoon guy). Past Mets teams have had issues with handling average pitchers like these. Sometimes, this pops up and I get 2011 Mets PTSD; for example, their inexplicable ability to hit National League punching bag Matt Wisler this season. But I’m going to remind myself that it’s easier to hit against average pitching than great pitching. The Royals rotation is “good” on the right days, and certainly nowhere near great.
Teams That Are Good at Baseball Things Win Baseball Games
The media is pumping up the Royals as the team that “does things the right way”, “makes things happen on the basepaths”, and every other cliché you can think of for a team that doesn’t do the things most great baseball teams do. At the end of the day it may not be the most romantic notion in the world, but 98mph heaters and three run homers are better at winning baseball games than hitting singles, stealing bases and making contact.
If Matt Harvey shows up for Game 1 as himself despite the long rest, I expect the Mets will sweep the first two games in Kansas City, with deGrom going in Game 2. My overall prediction: Mets in six, though I’d love to see them win it in five and celebrate in front of the hometown crowd.