World Series Preview


Isn’t the Internet a wonderful place?. A friend sent it to me. Seems like a shame not to use it now…

I’ll start by fulfilling my promise from the ALCS preview: The Cubs will win in five games, delighting their overprivileged and smug fans.

It’s the only rational prediction one can make:

  • The Cubs won nine more games than the Indians,
  • Despite playing in the league without the DH, they scored 31 more runs
  • The DH increases scoring by about half a run– 60 runs in a season (factoring in interleague play). I would expect the Cubs to allow fewer runs than the Indians– but they allowed 120 less.
  • The Indians are the sixth-best defensive team in baseball. The Cubs are first.
  • The Cubs go into the series healthy. The Indians will definitely be without Carlos Carrasco– and maybe Trevor “Dronefingers” Bauer or Danny Salazar.

The Indians have only two tangible advantages. First, the series will start in Cleveland– and if it goes seven games, there will be four games in Cleveland, Thanks to HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, we know that umpires slant their calls to the home team. The Indians can expect about 10 more blown calls in their favor in each home game.

Second, the Indians hit northpaws slightly better (.259 batting, .763 OPS) than lefthanders (.268 BA, but only a .743 OPS). Jon Lester is the only lefty in the Cub rotation.

The Cubs, on the other hand, hit 15 points higher against lefthanders (.267-.252) with an OPS 48 points higher (807, as opposed to .759 against righties). The Indians have no lefty starters and only one reliever.

No, Andrew Miller is not an edge. The Cubs picked up Aroldis Chapman at the Yankee Bullpen Fire Sale. He pairs with former Indian Hector Rondon to cancel out Miller and Cody Allen.

But the lack of tangible edges doesn’t mean they can’t win it all.

About 30 years ago, I saw a study that analyzed the World Series and said the best team won about 70% of the time. I can’t find the study, so I can’t replicate its methodology. But I did a quick look over the last 30 years and found that the better team (based on wins, runs scored and runs allowed– with a correction for the DH) won only 16 times out of 30.

I don’t have an explanation for it, other than a few things:

1. The longer playoff schedule has decreased offense. It will be 45 degrees at game time with a 7-mph wind.

It is very difficult to hit in cold weather. It is even more difficult to hit if you were born in the south (or Latin America), where you are used to hot weather. Not to go all Donald Trump,. but there are players who hit .360, with power every July or August. But in April and September, they struggle.

Cold weather can, in effect, eliminate a large skill difference in pitching. The team with the weaker pitching will be nearly as hard to hit in bad weather as the stronger staff. Cold weather benefits a team that throws fastballs– especially if they pitch to contact– because batters can’t get good swings.

That last doesn’t benefit the Indians as they are currently constructed. Chicago throws hard too.

2. Interleague play, when combined with interleague trades and free agency, means that everyone is likely to have seen everyone. In the old days, we would be speculating about how the Indians would do against Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44), Jake Arrieta (19-8, 3.10), Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13) and John Lackey (11-8, 3.35) in games 1-4. 

We know the answer to that, The Indians faced Arrieta on June 16, 2015 and kicked the crap out of him: 5 innings, 3 hits, but 6 walks and a homer.  Only three players in that lineup will play this time, but:

  • Carlos Santana walked and hit a three-run homer,
  • Francisco Lindor went 1-3 with an RBI, hitting the ball hard all three times
  • Jason Kipnis went 0-2 with a walk, two steals two runs scored (he got on bases on a force)

Bauer was pitching a shutout, until his pitch count went too high and he needed help from Terry Francona‘s customary 8 relievers.

Knowing that you have seen a pitcher– that you hit him– makes it much easier to face him in the postseason. The opponent is a known commodity, not a shadowy legend.

Lester has spent 11 seasons in the majors. Nine were in the American League. Lester is 7-1 with a 3.0 ERA in 15 starts against the Indians (4-0 and a 3.72 ERA in Cleveland), which obviously means the team has its work cut out. But in 7 starts he has a no-decision, meaning the Indians have some hope.

Lester faced Kluber on August 24, 2015, with both pitchers going deep into the game and the bullpens getting the decision. Kipnis went 1-4, both Santana and Lindor went 1-3 and Roberto Perez went 0-1.

Lackey has spent 11½ of his 14 seasons in the American League. He’s 8-9 with a 3.92 ERA against Cleveland in 20 starts (3-5 with a 2.94 ERA in Cleveland). The Indians hit Jason Hammel on June 18th, 2015— two runs in four innings– and won the game

The only unknown is Hendricks. He has never pitched in the AL, or against the Indians, so they will have to figure him out on the fly.

3. Moneyball allows a weaker team to exploit edges. Thanks to Bill James and Billy Beane, everyone keeps stats nowadays. A manager who pays attention to the data– facing a manager who does not– can beat him by taking advantage of counter-intuitive matchups.

Joe Madden is a good manager, but he doesn’t believe in matchups as much as Francona does. He plays hunches.

4. The Indians play more old-fashioned baseball. They stole 134 bases and were caught only 31 times. Chicago stole less than half as many bases (66) but managed to get thrown out more often (34).

The Cubs have more sacrifice hits (42) than the Indians– but 29 were made by pitchers. The Indians had only 31– but only four were made by pitchers. The only starters with no sac bunts are Santana and Mike Napoli. The Indians hit 60 sac flies; the Cubs only 37.

I do not like one-run baseball– it wastes outs. Over the long runs, it will cost you games. Over a seven game stretch, some of them likely to be close, it can mean the difference.

Do I believe that any of this eliminates the difference between (say) Kris Bryant (7.7 wins above replacement) and Jose Ramizez (3.9)? No. But it doesn’t need to.

Over the course of a season, Bryant will produce far more value than Ramirez. But in the course of a short series, the two can be equal. In point of fact, they were equal in the Dvision Serieses: Bryant hit .375 with a 1.018 on-base plus slugging against San Francisco. Ramirez hit .500 with a 1.183 OPS against Boston.

The difference between the two is that Bryant hit .304 with an .942 OPS against Los Angeles in the ALCS. Ramirez hit .059 (1-17) with a .118 OPS against Toronto.

Anthony Rizzo is definitely a better player than Napoli. But 54 points of batting average and 128 points of OPS can be wiped away if one guy hits a two-run double in a tie game, while the other strikes out.

Also, the Indians definitely were not expected to be here– and don’t have any pressure on their shoulders. The Cubs, on the other hand, underperformed last season and the pressure of 108 seasons on their shoulders. Chicago doesn’t go quite as psychotic as Boston, but they’re not laid back. (Ask Steve Bartman.)

If I were required to bet $500, I would take the Cubs 4-1, because that’s the smart bet. Terry Francona doesn’t know who his game two starter will be– he’s hoping that one of his injured pitchers will be healthy. That usually augurs bad things

But anything can happen. It certainly has. Ideally, it will happen again.


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