World Series 2013: Pitching preview

October 23, 2013

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s showtime. The World Series brings extra attention to baseball and each participating player.

As of this writing the final rosters are not available, nor are the Game 3 or Game 4 starters. Little or no change is expected from the League Championship Series rosters, so those will be used as-is for this World Series preview.

I’ve chosen a handful of metrics to provide a quick glimpse beyond the standard stats:

BF batters faced
KpBF strikeouts per batter faced
WpBF walks per batter faced
GpBIP ground balls per ball in play
HRpLDFB home runs per line drive and fly ball

The Cardinals have faced many more pitchers-as-hitters than the American League champions, but it still appears the Cardinals have a better overall staff. More strikeouts and ground balls, fewer home runs and walks than the Red Sox. The Cardinals beat the league across the line, while the Red Sox had mixed results (caveats of the AL East apply).

MLB 186737 20% 7% 45% 8%
Cardinals 5220 22% 6% 48% 6%
Red Sox 5590 21% 7% 43% 7%

Overall doesn’t say enough about the real story, even though the above numbers are limited to the players on the expected rosters not everyone will see much action. Others will pitch in roles that may only be familiar in October. There’s a table below that details everyone’s expected role at the same stat line shown above. Feel free to skip ahead and come back…

The bullpen lefties

The bullpen lefties are an interesting group. The highly educated Craig Breslow has been a quality choice for John Farrell this postseason. Breslow seems to rely on the weak fly ball for his outs, with a barely above average ground ball rate and a well below average strike out rate (particularly for a reliever). Franklin Morales and Felix Doubrant are encased in glass and to be deployed only in case of emergency or mop-up situation. Both are prone to the walk and Morales is an extreme fly ball pitcher. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Doubrant may be called upon to start Game 3.

Morales, Doubrant and Cardinal southpaw Kevin Siegrist boast three of the worst walk rates of the two staffs, Siegrist being a rare wild man in St. Louis. At least Siegrist is in another trio — the highest strikeout rates of the two staffs.

Mike Matheny’s duo is completed by extreme ground ball pitcher Randy Choate. Not a bad mix of skills to have available for particular situations, Choate with his low velocity and low arm slot, Siegrist more three-quarters and tall. Matheny also has some different looks on the other side of his bullpen.

Middle relief

Michael Maness is the designated right-handed worm killer for the Cardinals. He has a more conventional (and right-handed) delivery than Choate but an even better ground ball rate. Maness doesn’t strike out many men, nor is he likely to give up a free pass. That makes his ability to get balls in play on the ground all that more valuable.

The St. Louis bullpen is full of ground ball pitchers. But there is no Maness or Choate in the Boston bullpen — only Doubrant has a clearly above average ground ball rate. Ryan Dempster used to be a ground ball pitcher, but he’s moved away from sinkers and cutters as a Red Sox. He’s also moved to the bullpen after starting almost the entire season. His splitter can still miss bats, but his strikeout rate isn’t shiny, thanks in part to a high walk rate. He’s also had trouble with the home run ball, all reasons for his move from the rotation.

Brandon Workman converted from starting in the minors to relieving in the majors, and seems to have taken nicely to the role. He’s emerged as a solid late-inning option.

The primary setup man for Boston is Junichi Tazawa. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher but he limits the walks and strikes out enough guys to avoid crowding the bases.

Edward Mujica was the Cardinals closer until September and fatigue rolled around. Mujica’s best skill is not walking batters. He relies on a deceptive but soft splitter to keep hitters off balance — not exactly a closer profile in this era.

Shelby Miller was one of the best rookie starters in baseball for parts of 2013. He’s been shuffled off to the bullpen and the sides of milk cartons. If I was half joking about the pitchers the Red Sox kept behind glass, I guess I’m only a quarter joking when I say Miller has been set aside for emergency use only.

Former Brewers closer John Axford joined the Cardinals bullpen and has been a decent middle-to-late inning option. At the very least, he’s performed at a higher level since leaving Milwaukee.

Even though there are two ex-closers on the staff, rookie Carlos Martinez is the go-to setup man. He can hit 100 mph with his four-seam fastball and has a 97 mph two-seam sinker with plus movement. He’s a ground ball machine who is a refined secondary pitch away from being either a closer or a starter.

Closers: Trevor Rosenthal and Koji Uehara

The importance placed on filling the closer’s role is somewhat overrated. You need the right guy, but it may surprise some who that guy could be.

Uehara became the Red Sox closer in late June, replacing Andrew Bailey, who had replaced the injured Joel Hanrahan.

Rosenthal became the Cardinals closer in late September, replacing the fatigued and ineffective Edward Mujica.

Beyond neither being the closer until later in the season, there isn’t much in common between Rosenthal and Uehara. Both are about typical height for a big league pitcher (6 foot 2) but Rosenthal is a strapping flame thrower from Missouri and Uehara is a slight control artist from Osaka.

Rosenthal Uehara
MPH usage MPH usage
Fastball 98 79% 90 47%
Curveball 81 4% 70 ***
Changeup* 89 15% 82 49%
Slider** 90 1% 85 4%

*Uehara’s changeup is a split-fingered “fastball”
**Uehara’s pitch is actually a cutter, grouped together for convenience and general similarity
***Less than 1%

Rosenthal specializes in high 90’s heat, while Uehara is bouncing between a fastball that is as fast as Rosenthal’s changeup and a splitter that is as fast as Rosenthal’s curveball. It’s an amazing contrast in style but both have been outstanding relievers in 2013, including the postseason.

Two of Rosenthal’s last three outings have featured nothing but fastballs while Uehara can be 2:1 fastballs over splitters … or 2:1 splitters over fastballs. Both spell trouble for the opposing team.

Game 1: Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester

Left-handed Jon Lester is getting the ball for the first pitch of the 2013 World Series. He’s pitted against the dazzling Adam Wainwright, owner of what may be the best curveball in the business. Both pitchers have been getting stronger as the year went on, each getting velocity they haven’t seen in about three seasons. If that’s indication of what’s to come, Game 1 could be an epic battle.

Wainwright added a new variation of his four-seam fastball in 2013, giving him yet another weapon. Previously he had relied mostly on his two-seam (AKA “sinker”) and cutter to set up his devastating curveball, but 2013 saw a big drop in sinker usage.

Lester is throwing his five-pitch mix as usual. We’ve seen less of his changeup as the 2013 season progressed, and more and more four-seam fastballs. Oddly, this trend of fewer changeups later in the season has repeated itself for Lester since 2010.

Wainwright Lester
MPH usage MPH usage
Fastball 92 20% 94 45%
Sinker 92 19% 92 7%
Curveball 76 28% 77 12%
Changeup 85 4% 86 12%
Cutter 89 29% 90 24%

While there’s not a large power differential it’s clear that Wainwright doesn’t feature the power game like Lester does.

Tomorrow’s preview will focus on the Game 2 starters and will be included in the Game 1 wrap-up.

Jon Lester* (1) BOS 983 19% 7% 45% 7%
John Lackey (2) BOS 827 21% 5% 47% 9%
Ryan Dempster (RS) BOS 760 21% 10% 42% 10%
Felix Doubront* BOS 716 20% 10% 47% 6%
Jake Peavy (SP) BOS 629 20% 6% 35% 8%
Clay Buchholz (SP) BOS 491 23% 8% 46% 4%
Junichi Tazawa BOS 301 25% 4% 34% 8%
Koji Uehara (C) BOS 295 39% 2% 40% 8%
Craig Breslow* BOS 266 15% 8% 46% 3%
Brandon Workman BOS 200 25% 8% 43% 7%
Franklin Morales* BOS 122 17% 12% 38% 5%
Adam Wainwright (1) STL 1037 23% 3% 50% 5%
Lance Lynn (SP) STL 911 23% 9% 42% 5%
Shelby Miller (RS) STL 728 23% 8% 39% 8%
Joe Kelly (SP) STL 600 15% 8% 52% 6%
Trevor Rosenthal (C) STL 335 35% 6% 44% 5%
Michael Wacha (2) STL 333 26% 7% 45% 6%
John Axford STL 305 23% 9% 47% 11%
Edward Mujica STL 263 17% 2% 46% 10%
Michael Maness STL 252 14% 2% 69% 7%
Kevin Siegrist* STL 163 31% 10% 43% 2%
Randy Choate* STL 148 19% 7% 66% 0%
Carlos Martinez STL 145 21% 7% 58% 3%

* left-handed
(1) Game 1 starter
(2) Game 2 starter
(SP) Likely Game 3 or 4 starter
(RS) Starter moved to bullpen for playoffs
(C) Closer

Harry Pavlidis is the founder of Pitch Info. Follow him on Twitter: @harrypav.

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