World Series Game 7 Preview: 4 Storylines to Watch
The Cleveland Indians get Corey Kluber. The Chicago Cubs get Kyle Schwarber. It's the two best teams trotting out their optimal units for a Game 7 that will decide who will be the 2016 World Series champion.
Tonight's going to be fun.
Regardless of who winds up on top, a long winless drought will be broken, and it will be the cherry on top of what has already been an incredible World Series. We've had as much drama and excitement as you can possibly muster, and the conclusion is yet to be written.
There are thousands of factors that will help decide tonight's outcome, and any of them could push one team or the other to victory. Let's parse through four of the biggest storylines entering Wednesday's game that will help determine whether it's the Cubs or the Indians bathing in champagne after the final out.
Corey Kluber on Short Rest
When you've got a hurler as ridiculous as Corey Kluber, you want that puppy on the bump as often as humanly possible. Unfortunately, that means using him when he's not at full rest, begging a question of whether or not this will curtail Kluber's effectiveness.
Kluber has started five games so far in the playoffs, and two of those have been on short rest. All three earned runs he has allowed in the postseason have come in those two starts. However, when you dig a bit deeper into his peripheral numbers, there doesn't seem to be a huge difference in his abilities.
|Rest||Starts||Innings||Walk Rate||Strikeout Rate||Swinging-Strike Rate||Fly-Ball Rate|
While the walk rate and strikeout rate are nearly identical, his swinging-strike rate (the percentage of pitches that result in a swinging strike) is actually higher when he's on short rest. This is too small of a sample to say that Kluber excels when he's gassed, but we can say that he's still stupidly good.
The other interesting data point there is the fly-ball rate. While the swinging-strike rate is reassuring, this is the spot that could get Kluber in trouble.
Progressive Field finished 2016 ranked fifth in home-run park factor, according to ESPN's data, and it ranked 12th in an average ranking of the previous three seasons. Meanwhile, the Cubs finished the regular season ranked eighth in fly-ball rate against right-handed pitching, and that was with Schwarber largely out of the fold. This is a dinger-conducive park hosting a team that is well versed in the long ball. Kluber should be able to get strikeouts tonight, but when the Cubs make contact, things could change in a hurry.
The Andrew Miller Effect
While the Cubs have clawed their way back into this series, the Indians have been able to keep their best asset simmering in the bullpen. Andrew Miller hasn't pitched since Game 4, and that is a frightening thought.
Miller essentially acts as an insurance policy should Kluber slide early on. In nine postseason appearances, Miller has already tossed at least two innings six times, topping out at 46 pitches back in Game 1. The Cubs won't be lucky enough to avoid him tonight.
You would think that if any team could overcome Miller, it'd be the Cubs. They led the league in wRC+ against lefties this year at 116, distancing themselves from the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks (111). However, Miller has still been stout against the Cubs with a 17.8% swinging-strike rate, meaning even the best will have their struggles.
The one area where the Cubs might be able to make up ground against Cleveland's pitching staff would be Cody Allen. Although Allen was excellent this season with a 2.90 SIERA, that's a far cry from Miller's mark of 1.10. Additionally, Allen allowed a 35.3% hard-hit rate this year, so if it's a close game late with Allen trying to close up shop, don't count out the Cubs.
Kyle Hendricks Against Lefties
Given the construction of Cleveland's lineup, you can get a good idea of how a pitcher will fare against them by looking at his splits versus left-handed batters. That's good news for Kyle Hendricks.
Check out his regular-season numbers based on what handedness of batter was at the dish. Even though he's a righty facing a lefty-heavy lineup, that's not going to hurt Hendricks at all.
|Handedness||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate|
The only area in which Hendricks was better against right-handed batters during the regular season was his strikeout rate, a trait that will absolutely help him when facing a masher like Mike Napoli. Everywhere else, though, it was the lefties who lagged behind, and that should give Hendricks confidence going up against this Cleveland squad.
If you're digging for a fatal flaw in Hendricks' game, it would be his home-road splits. His ERA slid to 2.95 on the road this year compared to 1.32 at home, and that's backed up by a strikeout rate that fell to 21.2% from 24.6%. That's problematic, especially as he goes up against a lineup that has the benefit of a designated hitter, but it's also something in which Hendricks showed improvement throughout the season.
This table shows Hendricks' marks on the road in the first half of the season compared to the second half. Both samples included over 44 innings pitched.
|On the Road||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate|
Those are some serious deviations in plate-discipline stats, and the batted-ball stats remained largely stagnant. Even Hendricks' weakness became a strength in the second half, and when you add in his platoon splits, this won't be an easy task for Cleveland.
The Value of Kyle Schwarber's Lumber
Game 7 will be in Cleveland tonight because the American League won the All-Star game back in July. If it were decided based on record, this game would be in Chicago, where the Cubs would not have a designated hitter. This means that -- because the A.L. won the All-Star game -- the Cubs get to start Schwarber and bat him second. The winning pitcher in that All-Star game was Corey Kluber. Hello, unintended consequences.
You're probably sick of hearing about Schwarber by this point, but it's truly hard to overstate his value to the lineup. This is now the top five in the Cubs' order with their splits against righties this year (except for Schwarber, whose marks come from 2015).
|Batter||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate|
Look at those walk rates. The league average for non-pitchers is 8.3%. This lineup -- with Schwarber in it -- can absolutely flood the basepaths, and their hard-hit rates allow them to create chaos when they do.
With Kluber on the mound, four of those batters will swing from the left-hand side of the plate. That's big when you consider that Kluber's strikeout rate against lefties was just 23.4% compared to 29.2% against righties. Add in that Kluber is pitching on short rest, and Schwarber's a key difference in this contest. He wouldn't even be in there if Kluber hadn't won the All-Star game.
What numberFire's Metrics See
Based on the four storylines above, you know this is going to be a tight game. That's exactly what numberFire's metrics show.
Right now, the Indians have a 53.9% chance of winning Game 7. This does factor in both starting pitchers, and it includes Schwarber in the starting lineup. Even with that, we can't find a definitive favorite in this matchup.
Basically, they're expecting a thrilling finish in what has been a tremendous series. And as a fan of baseball and sports in general, what more could we want?