October 14, 2015
ALDS Game 5 Previews and PECOTA Odds
The Blue Jays and Rangers play each other for the fifth straight time. Wow.
PECOTA odds of winning: 58 percent Blue Jays, 42 percent Rangers
Projected Starting Lineups
Injuries/Availability: There has been no update on Beltre’s back, so we are going to assume he will play as he did in Game Four. While it is conceivable that Game Four starters R.A. Dickey and Derek Holland will be available out of the bullpen on a day's rest—neither worked deep—it is unlikely that either manager desires to have to count on them to record outs out of the bullpen. The same most likely goes for Rangers ineffective starters Martin Perez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Colby Lewis.
John Gibbons has said that Game One starter-turned-reliever David Price will not be available after throwing 50 pitches in relief Monday, but there is still a chance. The Rangers’ Game One starter, Yovani Gallardo, should be available in relief. One also figures that Blue Jays Game Three starter, Marco Estrada, would be available for long relief if needed.
It should be mentioned again that with Bret Cecil out for the playoffs, the Blue Jays' sole non-Price lefty is Aaron Loup.
Outlook: It will be Hamels versus Stroman round two in the Rogers Centre. The first game was sloppy, with three total unearned runs and a couple of baserunning mistakes from the Rangers. While neither pitcher was at his best, both kept the ball out of the air (Hamels and Stroman allowed four and three fly balls respectively). Given the offenses they face, this might prove to be a tough trick to repeat. More importantly, given the importance of this game and logic, it is likely that both pitchers will be on short leashes of the figurative variety. Should Hamels struggle out of the gate, the Rangers could go early to Gallardo, who will be on extra rest. The early replacement for Stroman, if needed, is murkier, but it could be either Estrada.
As for the offenses, the Blue Jays lineup has seemingly bounced back into their world-beating form after struggling through the first two games (most likely sparked by Dioner Navarro). The Rangers offense produced a respectable, albeit not good enough, four runs in Game Four after being held to held to one run and five baserunners by Estrada and the Blue Jays bullpen in Game Three.
As for the bullpens, the “regular” relievers (pitchers that were relievers during the regular season) have been great for both teams. The Blue Jays bullpen (again this excludes Price out of the pen) has pitched 13 innings, allowing two runs and nine baserunners, while the Rangers bullpen (excluding Lewis and Gonzalez) has pitched 17.67 innings allowing two runs and 12 baserunners. I think it is safe to say that we will probably not see Gonzalez or Lewis used in relief, unless the game reaches very extra innings. As for the Blue Jays, it is tough to tell. Ideally, they would only use Stroman, Loup, Mark Lowe, Aaron Sanchez (who has been particularly excellent) and Roberto Osuna. Price will ultimately be the wild card, but he has been the staff's hardest-hit non-Hawkins this series.
The bats and the gloves still give the advantage to the Blue Jays, even with Hamels' sliver of a reverse platoon split over his career. Either way, it should be a terrifying experience for both teams and their fan-bases.
The Astros have to recover, in all those soft-factor ways we don’t really believe in (but at the same time, can’t help but believe in), from a devastating loss in Game Four. The Royals have to recover, in a very real way, from the way they’ve been outplayed throughout this series.
PECOTA odds of winning: 57 percent Royals, 43 percent Astros
Projected Starting Lineups
Injuries/Availability: All the important position players on each team now seem to be healthy and ready to play. Gomez’s full-strength return is a big deal for the Astros. Houston is fortunate to have a defender as good as Jake Marisnick behind Gomez, but Gomez better contributes to lengthening the lineup.
Salvador Perez left Game Four after being hit in the ribs by a Lance McCullers fastball, which came after two or three foul balls that rang his bell earlier in the game. He passed two concussion tests, though, and figures to be in the lineup. (It’s unclear whether, if Perez can’t go, Ned Yost knows how to complete his lineup card. Stay tuned to find out!) The Royals sorely need Perez, because their backup catcher is Drew Butera, and although Butera had one of the pivotal at-bats in that miraculous eighth inning on Monday, he’s a terrible player even by backup catcher standards. It was logical of Dayton Moore to allow this to happen. If Yost isn’t going to use a certain roster spot, why expend scarce resources in order to strengthen it? Nonetheless, if Perez is diminished in his ability to catch or hit on Wednesday night, it will hurt.
Everyone is available in the bullpen in a loser-goes-home game, but take note of the workloads of two relievers on each side.
We talk about reliever usage mostly in terms of whether certain guys are rendered unavailable for a future game by the amount they pitched in a previous one, or by the number of consecutive days on which they pitched. Particularly because the table above represents nearly a full week of work, with two off days sprinkled in, there’s no way any of these guys would be unavailable, or even at significant risk of injury, because of their pitch totals in the series.
In October, the only really interesting reliever conversation is about whether a given pitcher is in danger of losing effectiveness, either because it’s hard to be sharp four or five times in seven days (particularly given an elevated pitch count and a bunch of pitches thrown under duress), or because you’re giving good hitters four or five looks at the pitcher in question. I’d still tend to think the effect is minimal, but it might not be zero. Moustakas has seen Sipp in every game of this series. Morales has seen him in each of the last three. At the very least, it might be that Sipp (and maybe Gregerson, who threw 40 pitches in the two games in Houston, and whose usage has generally been quite heavy since early September) will need to be used more carefully than A.J. Hinch normally would use him.
Oh and also, don’t look for Pat Neshek in any situation that matters. He remains a name in the mix in Houston’s bullpen, but his only appearance in this series was with Houston trailing in the bottom of the eighth in Game Two. He’s lost his spot in the setup hierarchy, and for tomorrow, one would assume that even Scott Kazmir will slide in ahead of Neshek if a fourth or fifth important arm is needed.
Outlook: It’s fascinating when a pitcher finds success after a long search for it, but it’s especially interesting when the reason for that is not adding to his repertoire, but subtracting from it. Until he turned up in Houston, McHugh made significant use of five pitches: four-seamer, cutter, sinker, curveball, and changeup. Part of the key to his renaissance: dropping the sinker and thoroughly minimizing his use of the change. Despite less-than-dominant raw stuff, McHugh now comes at hitters pretty directly. He uses his four-seamer to get ahead; his cutter to create bad contact or lock people up when he falls behind; and his curve to put batters away.
He’s thrown the cutter with particular frequency, and he doubled down on that against Kansas City in Game One. Of his 92 pitches that day, 39 were cutters, 28 were curves, 21 were four-seamers, and four were changeups. Of those 39 cutters, 29 went for strikes: 10 balls in play, 10 foul balls, and nine looking strikes.
The problem is right there in the math, though. The Royals swung at 20 of McHugh’s cutters last Thursday, and they didn’t whiff once. In fact, they only whiffed twice against him all day. The feeling many people had, watching the game—that Kansas City’s frustrating results against McHugh belied the quality of their contact against him—was well founded. Look, the Royals swing and miss less often than anyone else in the league, but one still must miss their bats now and then in order to reliably beat them. McHugh used an unusual blend of stuff to sneak by in Game One, but will have to do something different even from that in Game Five.
Johnny Cueto, meanwhile, went really, really fastball-heavy in his Game Two start. He threw 103 pitches, 94 of which were split among his four-seamer, cutter, and sinker. As has been his problem lately, the four-seamer just wasn’t capable of carrying the burden of being his go-to offering. He induced just two whiffs on 39 of them. It might behoove him, especially with the Astros having so thoroughly demonstrated their intention to kill the first straight fastball they see, to go much heavier on the sinker and cutter in Game Five. Whether he’ll have the confidence to do that (he’s also had trouble throwing the cutter for a strike; it’s never one thing when a good pitcher starts pitching badly) is an open question.
Jeff Quinton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jjq01