Numbers favor Aoki, Reddick against WC aces
Stats reveal plenty of variables that could factor into Lester-Shields matchup
With aces Jon Lester and James Shields starting and both teams featuring strong bullpens, Tuesday night's American League Wild Card Game (8 ET, TBS) between the A's and Royals has all the makings of a low-scoring affair in which even the smallest advantage could be the difference.
One key angle to watch is how KC will fare against the left-handed Lester. While the Royals have generally handled lefties pretty well this year -- .710 OPS as a team, eighth in the AL -- their lineup will likely feature a handful of hitters who struggle against southpaws (more on that below). Of course, Lester was actually tougher on righties this year than ever before, holding them to a .230/.273/.344 line. Lefties actually fared better, hitting .258/.307/.389.
On the flip side, the Royals may be the best run-prevention team in baseball. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, they have the best defense in MLB, and Kaufman Stadium is a notoriously tough park in which to go deep, ranking 12th in the AL this season in home run park factor. In other words, it's hard to hit one out, and the Royals defense will get to everything else, making it extremely tough to score on them.
In the fight to advance to an AL Division Series matchup with the Angels, one favorable matchup might be enough to turn the tide for one team or the other. Here's a look at some other numbers that could make an impact.
• Nori Aoki fared the best of any Royals hitter against Lester this season, going 4-for-9 with two RBIs. Lorenzo Cain was 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles, while Alcides Escobar was 3-for-7 with one two-bagger.
• Lester, on the other hand, held both Omar Infante and Billy Butler hitless in nine at-bats, while Mike Moustakas went 0-for-5 against him.
• Shields has faced Adam Dunn more than any other A's hitter, since the slugger spent plenty of time in the AL Central with the White Sox. As a member of the Royals, Shields has held Dunn to a .240 average (6-for-25) with one home run, two walks and 11 strikeouts.
• In the last two seasons, Josh Reddick has enjoyed the most success against Shields among current A's, going 4-for-6 with four extra-base hits. Reddick homered twice off Shields on Aug. 3, then reached him for a double and a triple Aug. 14.
• Coco Crisp has struggled the most against Shields during his time with Kansas City, going 0-for-7 with no walks and one strikeout.
• Though the Royals certainly are glad to have the game at home, Shields actually posted a better ERA on the road (2.97) than at Kauffman Stadium (3.51). However, Shields produced a superior strikeout-to-walk ratio in Kansas City (4.5, compared with 3.9).
• Both starting pitchers excelled in key spots this season. Shields held batters to a .545 OPS in high-leverage situations, as determined by Baseball-Reference.com, while Lester gave up a .613 mark.
• Batters hit .227 against Lester through his 75th pitch this season, but .262 afterward, with six of their 16 home runs.
• Among likely Royals starters, Aoki (.863 OPS), Butler (.847) and Cain (.827) have done the most damage against left-handers, while Salvador Perez (.632), Infante (.584) and Moustakas (.554) had the most trouble.
• Aoki was the Royals' best hitter at Kauffman Stadium, posting a .322/.383/.419 line. Moustakas, on the other hand, hit .185/.259/.306 at home.
• When the Royals need a big hit, Alex Gordon has been their man, batting .338 with seven homers and 58 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
• Reddick (.849) was the only A's player with finish with an OPS of at least .800 against righties.
• With Geovany Soto likely to start at catcher for Oakland, Derek Norris could be a weapon off the bench, especially against a left-handed reliever. Norris hit .311/.393/.470 off lefties this year and went 4-for-15 with a double, a home run and three walks as a pinch-hitter.
• Norris (.995 OPS), Josh Donaldson (.908), Brandon Moss (.858) and Dunn (.824) all have mashed with runners in scoring position.
• In the A's bullpen, Ryan Cook (.442 opponents' OPS), Fernando Abad (.475), Dan Otero (.539) and closer Sean Doolittle enjoyed the most success against right-handed batters. Doolittle (.276), Luke Gregerson (.526), Abad (.527) and Eric O'Flaherty (.536) all owned left-handed batters.
• The Royals have the last three innings of the game covered with the trio of right-handers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland. They combined to hold right-handed batters to a .153 average, while lefties managed only a .203 mark.
Any of these numbers, small samples or not, could come into play at a critical moment Tuesday.
Perhaps it will be Aoki continuing his recent success against Lester, or Reddick doing the same against Shields. Perhaps it will be one of those starters bearing down to get an out with the game on the line. Or it could be Norris getting a crucial hit off the bench or Gordon bringing home the winning run from third.
The answer could dictate which club moves on and which begins its offseason on Wednesday.