World Series Preview: Comparing the Pitching

The Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants have reached the World Series thanks in large part to the strength of their pitching staffs. But which staff has the advantage in the series?

Starting Rotations

Post-Season Advantage: Giants

Going into the 2014 season, the San Francisco Giants featured a rotation with two former Cy Young award winners, as well as former All-Stars Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson. Before the end of the regular season, the Giants lost Matt Cain to an elbow injury and Tim Lincecum was moved from the rotation into the bullpen due to ineffectiveness. San Francisco added Jake Peavey from Boston via a trade and moved Yusmeiro Petit into the rotation from a long-relief role in the bullpen.

The Giants finished the regular season in the middle of the pack in starter’s ERA (16th in baseball) with a 3.74 mark. Giants’ starters were among the best in baseball at throwing strikes, however. They finished fifth in baseball in fewest number of walks.

The Royals, on the other hand, had a very stable starting rotation in 2014. All but 11 starts were made by the same five starters – James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Kansas City finished tied for 10th in MLB in starter’s ERA (3.60). Royals’ starters struck-out the sixth-fewest number of batters, but they also walked the seventh-fewest.

In the post-season, the Giants’ veteran rotation has pitched better than their regular season record would have predicted. In 10 games, the veteran staff of Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson and Vogelsong have posted a 2.40 ERA and a 51:15 K:BB in 63 innings. The Royals’ staff doesn’t have nearly the same amount of post-season experience, but they have held their own. Shields, Ventura, Vargas and Guthrie have a 3.80 ERA in 45 innings with a 33:15 K:BB.

Both number one starters Bumgarner and Shields are legitimately series-changers, but Bumgarner has had a better post-season thus far than Shields. Should the series go seven games, these two could make three advantages and the Giants should have the advantage in the head-to-head match-up. Both staffs have a penchant for throwing strikes and neither line-up is particularly patient, so defenses will play a big role in the success and failure of each rotation. Thus far this post-season, the Giants and the Royals have been nearly flawless defensively.

The Giants, as a team, aren’t particularly active on the bases, and Royals’ starters do a good job of controlling the running game. There has been only one attempted base-stealing during the post-season against the Kansas City rotation and he was caught. During the regular season, the Royals’ rotation allowed the fourth-fewest number of stolen bases in MLB.

The Royals have found a lot of success stealing bases this post-season, and they could find some success running against the Giants’ rotation. During the regular season, San Francisco starters allowed 71 stolen bases (sixth-most in baseball) and 76% of attempted base-stealers were successful. The Giants’ rotation hasn’t been tested thus far this post-season on the bases, but that figures to change during the World Series.

During the regular season, the Giants and Royals were 16th and 17th in homeruns allowed by starters. The Giants haven’t used the longball much during the post-season, homering in only three games (the Wild Card, the NLDS Game Two and the NLCS Game Five), but they were a better homerun-hitting team during the regular season than the Royals. Kansas City has found its power bats this post-season, homering eight times in eight games. Both teams’ rotations have allowed their share of homers (five for SF in 10 games and seven for KC in eight games), but they have done a good job of limiting the damage from those homers.

Where the Giants may have the advantage is with the experience of their staff. All four starters have significant post-season experience, while Shields was the only Royals’ starter with post-season experience before 2014. The pitcher most to keep an eye on is Ventura, the Royals’ rookie who had a 3.20 ERA in 183 innings during the regular season. The flame-throwing right-hander has surpassed his career-high in innings pitched and has already had two instances of arm discomfort this post-season. The Royals will need two good starts from Ventura if the series goes past five games, and that could be a lot to ask of a 23-year-old who may be pitching on fumes at this point in the season.


Bullpens

Post-Season Advantage: Royals

Neither team would be this far in the post-season without the brilliant work they have received from their bullpens this October. The Royals and Giants rank one-two in OPS against this post-season at 482 and 569, respectively, amongst bullpens’s. During the regular season, the Royals’ bullpen allowed a 651 OPS against, while the Giants’ bullpen allowed a 614 OPS against (second-best in baseball).

The Royals’ bullpen is strongest at the back, with closer Greg Holland and set-up men Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera making it difficult for teams to mount comebacks if trailing or tied after the sixth inning. Davis and Holland have both pitched in all eight post-season games, while Herrera has pitched in seven. They have allowed a combined three runs in 25.2 innings pitched. All three have plus fastballs and all three are extremely difficult to homer off of.

Kansas City hasn’t had to dip much deeper into their bullpen than the Herrera-Davis-Holland trio, with veteran Jason Frasor and rookie Brandon Finnegan being the only other relievers to appear in more than one game. Kansas City’s bullpen isn’t nearly as deep as San Francisco’s, so if the Giants can knock out the Royals’ starters early, they could exploit an area of weakness in what has been a significant area of strength for the Royals this post-season.

San Francisco has used a significantly larger pool of relievers to make it through this post-season. Closer Santiago Casilla and set-up men Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo have each appeared in seven of the 10 Giants’ post-season games, while left-handed specialist Javier Lopez has six appearances. Hunter Strickland and Jean Machi have made four appearances, while longman Petit has logged nine innings over two outings. The veteran Lincecum has yet to appear in a post-season game, but he looms as a possible wildcard for San Francisco. Lincecum dominated as a reliever in the 2012 post-season.

The Giants’ bullpen is a pitch-to-contact group. Only Lopez, Petit and Strickland have struck-out more than a batter an inning this post-season. Strickland and Machi have combined to allow six homeruns, but the rest of the group has allowed just one. All seven of the runs allowed by the Giants’ bullpen this post-season have come on solo homeruns. Teams haven’t challenged the Giants’ bullpen on the bases most this post-season. Of the three runners who have attempted to steal against the SF bullpen this October, two have been successful. The Royals have used their speed late in games to put pressure on opposing teams’ bullpen, and that should play a big role in late-game situations, if the Royals are able to reach base against the Giants’ bullpen.

Both bullpens figure to continue to be excellent during the World Series, but where the Royals have an advantage is in the quality of the stuff from their back-end relievers. Holland, Davis and Herrera all have the ability to overpower hitters, as does the rookie Finnegan. Only Strickland has truly overpowering stuff out of the Giants’ bullpen, although San Francisco has successfully “finessed” its way through the late innings, for the most part, this October.


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