Success vs. heat may not tilt Series to Royals
Kansas City hit just .220 against pitches 87 mph or below
The narrative for the Mets-Royals World Series pretty much writes itself. Can Kansas City's strikeout-averse bats, which just put up possibly the most impressive contact season ever, overcome New York's flamethrowing arms, which threw a higher percentage of pitches at 95 mph or higher than anyone in recorded history?
It's been well-reported that the Royals fared well against pitches of 95 mph or higher, ranking first in batting average, second in slugging and first in contact percentage, and therefore it's inferred that they'll have an advantage in the World Series.
But is that advantage actually real? We tend to use 95 mph as a dividing line for elite heat, but velocity can't simply be cut into two buckets like that. Ninety-six mph isn't 99 mph; 87 mph isn't 94 mph. It's worth wondering if the Royals would look so productive if we'd simply made the cut at 93 mph or 97 mph rather than 95 mph. Either way, the Mets won't be throwing only hard heat.
So let's do something different. In order to make it more specific to what Kansas City will actually see, let's take New York's postseason pitching numbers and split them into several Statcast™ velocity buckets -- 12 percent came in between 91-93 mph, 24 percent were thrown between 94-96 mph, and so on. Then, we can see how well the Royals performed against each bucket over the course of the season. We'll use batting average, because its main flaw (walks are good and shouldn't be ignored) is less glaring when we're talking about batted balls.
Since batting average is really just a percentage -- saying someone hit .200 is the same thing as saying they got a hit 20 percent of the time -- for the purposes of these charts, the same scale will work for both numbers.
What we can see is a trend that both supports and refutes the theory. That is, it's true that the harder the ball is pitched, the better the Royals tend to do. They hit just .220 on pitches 87 mph and below, 23rd-best in baseball, and 13th in the 87-89 mph range, but they are in the top three in the next three buckets.
Of course, the Mets throw their highest percentage of pitches at 87 or below, 26.2 percent of their postseason pitches, in fact, which makes sense. It's not just Bartolo Colon; it's Jacob deGrom complementing his fastball with a lethal changeup and Matt Harvey missing plenty of bats with his curveball. So in that sense, the Royals' biggest weakness is the Mets' biggest strength.
It's a little different when it comes to making contact, as Kansas City's strikeout percentage generally follows the velocity trend, which is true for most teams. (Though the 100 mph and up bucket looks like an outlier, the samples there are extremely small and are somewhat misleading.) Again, though, the worst performance for the Royals is in the bucket the Mets utilize the most often. They really stand apart in that 94-96 mph range.
Kansas City hits heat well. New York throws it well. It's not an advantage for either side. It's what the Royals do against those slow curveballs, changups and sliders that could make all the difference.