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5 key Statcast storylines for Astros-Dodgers

MLB.com

The Astros and Dodgers took turns holding the mantle of "baseball's best team" during the regular season. Now, each club has the chance to prove it on the sport's biggest stage.

The upcoming matchup between two 100-plus win teams -- only the eighth such World Series meeting in history -- is filled with an overwhelming amount of talent on both sides, in every facet of the game. Either Houston or Los Angeles' long-suffering fanbases will see a postseason drought come to an end, and Statcast™ will be tracking every pitch of the 113th World Series presented by YouTube TV to tell the story of how they did it. In fact, Statcast™ has tracked every pitch, swing, run and throw by these teams dating to Opening Day, when the Astros and Dodgers were just two of 30 teams with World Series aspirations.

The Astros and Dodgers took turns holding the mantle of "baseball's best team" during the regular season. Now, each club has the chance to prove it on the sport's biggest stage.

The upcoming matchup between two 100-plus win teams -- only the eighth such World Series meeting in history -- is filled with an overwhelming amount of talent on both sides, in every facet of the game. Either Houston or Los Angeles' long-suffering fanbases will see a postseason drought come to an end, and Statcast™ will be tracking every pitch of the 113th World Series presented by YouTube TV to tell the story of how they did it. In fact, Statcast™ has tracked every pitch, swing, run and throw by these teams dating to Opening Day, when the Astros and Dodgers were just two of 30 teams with World Series aspirations.

Before they take the field for Game 1 tonight at Dodger Stadium, here are five Statcast™ facts to keep in mind on the stars of the 2017 World Series.

:: World Series schedule and coverage ::

1. Don't expect hard contact in Game 1

It's hard to imagine a more marquee World Series matchup between two left-handers than Clayton Kershaw against Dallas Keuchel in Game 1, and each pitcher has the type of command that can dominate opposing lineups every time they take the mound -- albeit in different ways. Kershaw recorded the Majors' highest strike rate among starting pitchers at 68.6 percent, and his opponents hit only .237 against his pitches inside the strike zone during the regular season. Keuchel, meanwhile, posted the highest ground-ball rate of any starter and allowed just a .126 batting average in at-bats decided on his pitches outside the strike zone.

• Gear up for the World Series: Astros | Dodgers

Together, both Kershaw and Keuchel were among the Majors' very best in terms of lowest average exit velocity allowed in the regular season.

Lowest average exit velocity allowed, 2017 regular season
Min. 400 batted balls allowed
1-T. CC Sabathia: 83.9 mph
1-T. Kyle Hendricks: 83.9 mph
3-T. Keuchel: 84.5 mph
3-T. Kyle Freeland: 84.5 mph
5. Kershaw: 84.6 mph

2. Look for Justin Verlander to keep it "rising"

Verlander is not only blessed with one of the hardest four-seam fastballs of any starter in terms of velocity, he also features the highest spin rate on the pitch. Why is that important? The first three years of Statcast™ data tells us that higher spin helps generate the "rising fastball" effect -- allowing the ball to defy gravity for longer -- and elicit more whiffs and popups. Check out where Verlander has gotten his swings and misses with his four-seamer this year:

Only D-backs starter Robbie Ray allowed a lower batting average than Verlander on four-seam fastballs in the upper-third of the strike zone and above during the regular season. Verlander employed that pitch to perfection in each of his instant-classic American League Championship Series starts against the Yankees -- which happened to be his two best starts by fastball spin rate since 2015 -- by holding the pinstripes hitless in nine at-bats decided on his fastballs upstairs. New York hitters struggled against that pitch all season, and so did the fly-ball loving Dodgers -- Verlander's Game 2 opponent.

Highest average spin rate on four-seam fastballs, SP, 2017 regular season
Min. 500 4-seamers thrown
1. Verlander: 2,549 rpm
2. Max Scherzer: 2,505 rpm
3. Yu Darvish: 2,501 rpm
4. Sonny Gray: 2,492 rpm
5. Jeff Samardzija: 2,485 rpm

Lowest team batting average on four-seam fastballs in upper-third of strike zone and above, 2017 regular season
1. Rays: .183
2-T. Dodgers: .189
2-T. Brewers: .189
4. Padres: .192
5. Yankees: .196

3. How does one pitch to Jose Altuve and Justin Turner?

That's what opposing pitchers have been asking on either side of the postseason bracket, as Altuve and Turner have had their way for the majority of October. Sure, Altuve (.400) and Turner (.387) top all hitters in terms of postseason batting average thus far, but a deeper look with Statcast™ metrics show that the results line up with the performance. Statcast™'s expected batting average metric (xBA) goes about calculating what a batter should be hitting independent of outside factors, like standout defensive plays and shifts, by considering hit probabilities based on exit velocity and launch angle, along with a batter's real-life strikeouts. Through this prism, Altuve and Turner are still right up near the top of all hitters this postseason. Good luck to whichever pitcher is tasked with getting these guys out in a big moment in this series.

Video: ARI@LAD Gm1: Statcast™ measures Turner's three-run HR

Highest xBA in 2017 postseason
Min. 30 at-bats
1. Yuli Gurriel: .371
2. Altuve: .333
3. Turner: .314
4. Carlos Correa: .299
5. Chris Taylor: .264

4. Yuli Gurriel is crushing the ball

We weren't going to forget about the top name on that xBA list. That's just one metric that says Gurriel is putting together the best at-bats of anyone so far this postseason. Gurriel showed his skills plenty of times for the Cuban National Team through the years, but the rookie leads all players in average exit velocity in his first taste of October. The first baseman also ranked among the game's very best at putting "hard-hit" contact - defined by Statcast™ as any ball hit with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph -- into play, and that's continued right on into October, too. Gurriel's box score numbers cooled off somewhat during the ALCS presented by Camping World, but expect him to be a force in the World Series if he continues to make contact like this.

Video: Must C Clips: Gurriel gives Astros lead in the 6th

Highest average exit velocity, 2017 postseason
1. Gurriel: 93.8 mph
2-T. Yasiel Puig: 91.8 mph
2-T. Greg Bird: 91.8 mph
4. Carlos Santana: 91.6 mph
5. Aaron Judge: 91.0 mph

Most hard-hit balls (95+ mph exit velocity), 2017 postseason
1. Gurriel: 18
2. Gary Sanchez: 15
3-T. Correa: 14
3-T. Didi Gregorius: 14
5. Alex Bregman: 13

5. Yasiel Puig is as locked in as he's ever been

Yasiel Puig ... disciplined hitter?

Such a description didn't come to mind in Puig's struggles prior to 2017, but Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward has re-made Puig into an offensive force. The right fielder has swung at fewer than 20 percent of the pitches he's seen outside the strike zone this October, as compared to close to 30 percent in his 27 career postseason games before this year. Puig has forced opposing pitchers to give him pitches to hit within the strike zone, and he's crushed them to the tune of an even .500 batting average (12-for-24) through the first two rounds. The Dodgers' lineup is much harder to navigate when Puig is focused, and that's certainly been the case so far.

Video: NLCS Gm1: Puig mashes a solo homer in the 7th

Lowest swing rate on out-of-zone pitches, 2017 postseason
Min. 50 pitches seen outside the strike zone
1. Jayson Werth: 12.0%
2. Taylor: 17.0%
3. George Springer: 18.9%
4. Puig: 19.4%
5. Anthony Rendon: 20.3%

Highest BA against in-zone pitches, 2017 postseason
Min. 20 at-bats decided on pitches in strike zone
1. Puig: .500
2. Turner: .458
3. Gurriel: .423
4-T. Altuve: .414
4-T. Correa: .414

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros