It’s a fallacy that information makes life easier. More often than not, the more we know, the more complicated our lives become. In the Dark Ages of baseball, setting a lineup wasn’t so difficult; just play the nine guys who pass the eyeball test. Now, with an abundance of data and advanced metrics, deciding who should start a World Series game is incredibly complex.
The stats and information that are publicly available are nothing compared to what the Red Sox and Dodgers have at their disposals. They know a lot more about their own players than we ever will. All the same, we can still guess along with the managers and try to predict how the Dodgers might attack David Price in Game Two.
Full disclosure: as of this writing, Game One has not yet been played. I don’t know who won, but through the magic of time travel, you will know the result by the time you read this article. It sure was a great game though, with an unbelievable pitching performance by someone [Editor’s note: Eh, kinda Chris Sale]! When that batter [Editor’s note: Eduardo Núñez] got the big hit, it was all over. And the great defensive play by [Editor’s note: Manny Machado] that guy was incredible!
Price, the Red Sox left-hander, basically has a four pitch mix that consists of a sinker, four-seam fastball, cutter, and changeup. There’s also a curve, but he rarely uses it these days— he threw the hook just 2.7 percent of the time in 2018 and hasn’t thrown one at all since August. The fastball and sinker both average 93 miles per hour, the cutter is about 88, and the changeup 86. Here’s his usage of all his pitches against right-handed and left-handed hitters, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
David Price 2018 Pitch Usage
|Pitch||Usage vs. Lefties||Usage vs. Righties|
|Pitch||Usage vs. Lefties||Usage vs. Righties|
The biggest difference is the cutter, which he leans on heavily against righties but pretty much shelves against lefties. He tinkered with a different formula in his last start against the Astros in the ALCS, but for these purposes, what really matters is the changeup. Statcast breaks down how each batter performs against types of pitches, but not each specific pitch. Four-seamers, sinkers, and cutters are all classified as “fastballs,” and the changeup is categorized as “offspeed.” The curve is in the “breaking” category, but since he no longer throws it, that’s not our concern.
Essentially, Price throws variations on a fastball roughly 80% of the time against both same-side and opposite-side batters. The other 20% is offspeed. Knowing this, we can look at how each of the Dodger hitters perform against these types of pitches from left-handers such as Price.
Setting the Dodger Lineup
First of all, it’s time to get Yasmani Grandal back in the lineup. He’s much, much better against fastballs from lefties than Austin Barnes, with a .446 wOBA compared to .302. Neither of them really do well against offspeed stuff, with Grandal posting a .301 wOBA and Barnes .348 (but just .290 xwOBA). Obviously, there’s concern about the defensive issues that got him benched during the NLCS, but if Roberts can be confident that Grandal can get back to his normally elite defensive work, there’s too much advantage to ignore.
The Dodgers have used David Freese at first base against lefties, and it’s easy to see why. He crushed them for a .321/.387/.489 slash line this year. He went 15-47 with six walks since Los Angeles acquired him on August 31st, playing almost exclusively against left-handed pitching. Price doesn’t have any good options against him; he has a .452 wOBA against lefty fastballs and .435 wOBA against lefty offspeed pitches.
It’s worth noting that the Dodgers have two right-handed hitters on their World Series roster that actually don’t hit lefties very well. One of them is Brian Dozier, who doesn’t hit anyone well these days. Surprisingly, the other is Yasiel Puig. One would think he’s the type of hitter who should punish fastballs from lefties, but he struggled to a .250 wOBA against them.
Given what we know about Price’s heavy reliance on fastballs (or variations thereof), here is the Dodgers best possible lineup against him, in no particular order, with wOBA against lefty fastballs:
- C Yasmani Grandal, .446
- 1B David Freese, .452
- 2B Max Muncy, .426
- 3B Justin Turner, .410
- SS Manny Machado, .396
- LF Chris Taylor, .351
- CF Cody Bellinger, .320
- RF Kiké Hernandez, .355
- DH Matt Kemp, .428
Obviously, it’s more complicated than just looking at how well each guy hits fastballs from lefties. The Dodgers have information we can never know, such as where Grandal’s head really is right now after his benching. Presumably, they also have more specific data on how each hitter’s swing path lines up with each of Price’s pitches, and whatever proprietary metrics and scouting reports they keep under lock-and-key.
The Red Sox have their own information as well. They’ll use it to get the best possible advantage against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. However, their lineup is a lot less flexible than the Dodgers’. Their only real decision is about which awful hitting catcher they want to use. Of course, things get more interesting when the series shifts to Los Angeles and they lose the DH, as illustrated here by Steven Martano. Whoever plays or sits, there will be good reasons behind those decisions, and this is just a glimpse at one branch on the decision tree.
Not related to the article at all, but while I was writing this, I paused to play HQ Sports Trivia and won tickets to Game Four of the World Series! I’m too excited not to share it, and frankly a little delirious at the moment. I just want to take the opportunity to thank all of you for loving baseball as much as I do, and for caring enough about my thoughts on baseball to read this. Even if you don’t care, thank you anyway just for getting this far into the article.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983