The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will finish 2017 World Series this week and one of the prevailing headlines has been the slickness of the baseball. Both pitching coaches have said something about and the players have been clear that something isn’t right.
SBNation's Alex Kirshner noted that “if the baseball are juiced, the Dodgers should be the angriest this morning with an article.”
Kirshner noted that any claims would be difficult without a full split of baseball data that is not available during the playoffs. But the basic crux of his argument was the Astros historic offense has been the driving force for Houston and juiced baseball would of course help that.
He went as far as to say this:
The Astros’ pitching staff isn’t as talented as the Dodgers, or as good. But Astros pitchers were fourth in the league in ground ball percentage this year, inducing them on 47 percent of balls in play. Both teams struck out a ton of batters, an almost exactly equal 21.6 percent of them. But the Dodgers gave up more fly balls — 36 percent, compared to 33 percent for Houston — that could turn into homers. The two offenses hit an almost identical rate of fly balls, with L.A. a few decimal points ahead.
But that would be ignoring the fact that Astros and Dodgers have been early the same value in starting pitching throughout the regular season in fWAR (Dodgers - 16.7, Astros - 15.2*), K/9 (9.27, 9.31), HR/9 (1.16, 1.15), left on base percentage (77.5%, 74%), and (3.74, 3.81).
In the playoffs, it has been the same: ERA (Dodgers 3.86, Astros 3.44*), strikeouts (72, 92), batting average against (.200, .227), WHIP (1.01, 1.11), and K/9 (9.92, 9.30).
If we’re talking about juiced or slick baseballs, the most talked about aspect has been how it affects the slider. The best example has been Yu Darvish and his terrible outing in Game 3.
Let’s talk about Ken Giles. The Astros closer, arguably a top 10 closer in all of the baseball entering the playoffs, he finished the regular season with 34 saves (eighth in the major leagues).
Ken Giles is classic two-pitch closer. He throws a faster and slider. In fact, he has thrown the slider 47 percent of the time during the regular season.
What if Giles couldn’t throw his slider effectively because of this slickness? What would mean if the Astros couldn’t use their closer? We already know the answer to that...Game 4 the Dodgers were able to get three runs off two hits in the ninth without Giles retiring a batter.
The Astros bullpen is already shorthanded and may be neutered because their closer can’t throw his slider with a slick baseball.
Like Kirshner, I can’t prove the effects of the baseball on the 2017 World Series.
But I felt compelled to defend the Astros starter Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers Jr. from the comment that they aren’t as talented as the Dodgers. And if the balls are juiced or too slick