A statistical look at Harvey vs. deGrom in playoffs
With five off-days in between their sweep of the Cubs in the National League Championship Series and the start of the World Series on Tuesday night, the Mets had the freedom to line up their starting rotation in at least a few different ways.
On Saturday, Mets manager Terry Collins revealed his choice, as Matt Harvey will get the assignment against the Royals in Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time). Jacob deGrom goes in Wednesday's Game 2, followed by rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz in Games 3 and 4, respectively, back at Citi Field on Friday and Saturday.
That order came as something of a surprise. The Mets had Harvey's supposed innings limit to deal with late this season, and they chose deGrom to open the best-of-five NL Division Series against the Dodgers, slotting Harvey in for Game 3 to limit him to one start.
deGrom also was New York's best pitcher over the course of the season, finishing fourth in the NL in ERA (2.54) and FIP (2.70), fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.4) and sixth in FanGraphs.com's wins above replacement (5.2). On the other hand, Harvey wasn't far behind him in any of those categories, and Collins had other factors to consider as well.
"Matt was going to pitch next," Collins said. "I didn't want to give him five more extra days if I could help it. I thought, obviously, Jake could use an extra day."
deGrom has made one more start than Harvey this postseason, throwing 7 1/3 more innings and 132 more pitches. Meanwhile, Harvey comes in with an additional three days of rest, going back to his outing in Game 1 of the NLCS on Oct. 17.
With those differing workloads in mind, here is a look at how the two have compared in some other areas this postseason.
deGrom came out throwing gas in Game 1 of the NLDS, hitting 98 mph several times in the opening frame. He averaged almost 97 mph with his fastball over seven scoreless innings, in which he allowed five hits, walked one and struck out 13. It was one of his hardest-throwing outings this season.
However, deGrom's velocity slipped in his last two starts, even as he remained effective (13 innings, 10 hits, four runs). In Game 3 of the NLCS, he averaged "only" 95.3 mph with his heater, though that's still roughly equal to his season average.
Harvey followed a similar pattern. In his start against the Dodgers, he threw both his four-seamer and two-seamer at a touch over 96 mph, right in line with his average. Against the Cubs, his four-seamer dipped to 95.0 mph and his two-seamer to 94.3. Yet Harvey also enjoyed more success, striking out nine over 7 2/3 strong innings.
Neither pitcher has been wild. In Game 1 of the NLDS, deGrom's only walk was intentional, and in the two starts since, he issued a total of four unintentional free passes over 13 innings. In each of his three postseason outings, his strike rate ranged between 64 and 67.5 percent, a bit below his regular-season rate of 68.6 percent, which ranked sixth in the Majors.
One area in which deGrom slipped in Game 3 of the NLCS was first-pitch strikes. In his first two playoff outings, he threw them 71.7 percent of the time (not counting an intentional pass), above his regular-season mark of 68.6 percent. But against the Cubs, he started 16 of 26 batters (61.5 percent) with a strike, tied for his seventh-lowest rate this year.
Even after falling behind 1-0, deGrom held opponents to a .609 OPS this season, but they managed only a .516 OPS working from an 0-1 count.
Meanwhile, Harvey has walked three batters unintentionally over his two starts and raised his strike rate from 62 to 69 percent, compared with his season average of 67.8 percent. He threw first-pitch strikes to 60.4 percent of hitters, also below his average (68.2 percent).
While the Mets' staff features a lot of hard throwers, the Royals ranked among the Major League leaders this season in hitting against fastballs thrown at 95 mph or faster.
"We've still got to pitch to our strength, and our strength is power," Collins said.
Regardless, it can't hurt to have some other weapons, and deGrom and Harvey both do. In fact, both implemented a significantly more offspeed-heavy approach against the Cubs than they did against the Dodgers.
Over deGrom's three postseason starts, his usage of his offspeed pitches (changeup, slider and curveball) has increased from 34.7 percent to 41.0 percent to 57.0 percent. He leaned heavily on his curveball and changeup in the NLCS, throwing them a combined 49 times while inducing 10 swings and misses and four strikeouts. Throughout 2015, opponents have hit only .200 with a .247 slugging percentage against his three offspeed pitches.
They didn't do a whole lot better against that same trio of pitches from Harvey, hitting .202 and slugging .329. Harvey also bumped up his offspeed usage from 35.1 percent in the NLDS to 41.2 percent in the NLCS. Between the two outings, he got 20 of his 31 swings and misses and nine of his 16 strikeouts from those pitches.
The Mets' decision doesn't change the fact that deGrom will pitch on extra rest, though going in Game 2 gives him one additional day after throwing 100 pitches Tuesday.
"We see the benefits of how he pitches when he's a little bit better rested at this time of year," Collins said. "We liked that. We just thought the extra rest for Jake would help."
That may be true, but it doesn't really show up in deGrom's regular-season numbers. In 10 starts on four days of rest, deGrom posted a 1.47 ERA and a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 15 starts on five days of rest, he posted a 3.27 ERA and a 5.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In a smaller sample of five starts on additional rest, those numbers were 2.63 and 5.3. deGrom's first three postseason games have come on four, five and four days' rest. The last time he pitched after longer than a six-day break was at Cincinnati on Sept. 27, when he allowed one run over six innings and struck out nine following a 12-day rest.
Even with the Game 1 nod, Harvey is getting more than five days' rest, a situation in which he produced a 1.88 ERA in eight regular-season outings. He pitched on extended rest in the NLDS before taking a normal turn in the NLCS.
The Mets' chosen order also means that Harvey would be lined up to pitch on normal rest in Game 5 (if necessary), while deGrom would get one extra day before taking the ball in a theoretical Game 6.
That time might prove to be beneficial for deGrom and the Mets as they attempt to overcome a tough Royals club and capture their first World Series championship since 1986. Clearly, the club has its reasons for picking Harvey to pitch Game 1. But there isn't much in the recent statistical record for either pitcher that makes the Mets' choice an obvious one.