Well, it’s finally happened. After 71 years, the Billy Goat curse is no more. And who do the Cubbies get to play for top prize? None other than the team with the next longest drought as World Series champions.
After the jump, more on this year’s improbable World Series matchup!
With teams that have gone a collective 176 years since claiming their last World Series titles, it’s no surprise that this is the first Fall Classic meeting of the Cubs and Tribe. What’s perhaps more surprising is that first time World Series matchups are nothing new. In fact, this year marks the sixth time in seven seasons with a first time matchup of league champions.
The Cubs are the second team, and second league champion (after the 2003 Yankees), to feature three age 30+ starters with 180 or more strikeouts. The Indians counter with a pair of thirty-something relievers with 70+ IP and 300 ERA+, the first team with that one-two combination. Overall, Cub pitchers ranked first in the NL in fewest hits, runs and earned runs allowed, while Cleveland hurlers allowed the fewest hits among AL teams and ranked second in fewest runs and earned runs allowed.
On offense, both teams ranked second in their leagues in runs scored. The Cubs led the NL in walks and on-base percentage and ranked second in OPS. Cleveland led in stolen bases and ranked in the top 5 for BA, OBP and SLG. Both teams had three players with 90+ runs scored, but the Cubs had the same number drive in 90 or more compared to just one 90 RBI man for the Indians. Both teams have two 30 home run men and one more with 20 dingers.
Both teams had just one player with 80 walks, but Chicago had three more with 70 or more free passes compared to just one for Cleveland. The Indians have a pair of qualified .300 hitters, while Chicago has two batting .290 or better. Cleveland has four players with 100 strikeouts and twice as many whiffs as walks, compared to just two for Chicago.
Looking at situational hitting, 32% of Cleveland baserunners scored compared to 31% for Chicago. Both teams scored 50% of their baseruners from 3rd base with less than two out, while the Indians had a 55% to 52% edge in advancing baserunners from second base with nobody out. On defense, Cleveland allowed runs by 51% of baserunners at third base with less than two outs, compared to 48% for the Cubs. Those similar results are consistent with similar ratios of 0.75 and 0.77 for ground balls to fly balls, and 1.02 to 1.01 for ground outs to air outs (Cub totals first in both cases).
If Cleveland’s base stealers can get on base, they look to have a good chance to steal, with an 81% success rate on the season, and going against Cub batteries that allowed successful steals on 78% of attempts. In comparison, Chicago was successful on only 66% of steal attempts while Cleveland batteries threw out 39% of would-be base stealers. Despite that apparent speed edge, the teams had almost identical totals for extra bases taken on hits (i.e. advancing more than one base on a single, or more than two bases on a double), with only a slight 45% to 43% edge for Cleveland in percentage of opportunities doing so. Also, despite their speed, Cleveland grounded into double plays in 12% of opportunities to do so, compared to just 8% for Chicago, the latter figure likely aided by the Cubs edge in walk rate at 10.8% of PAs compared to just 8.6% for Cleveland.
With a batting lineup laden with switch-hitters, Cleveland enjoyed a platoon advantage in 70% of PAs this season compared to just 57% for Chicago. That may be a problem for Chicago’s right-handed pitchers who had the fifth worst OPS differential facing left-handed batters among all major league teams. In contrast, Cleveland pitchers fared better in OPS against without the platoon advantage, for both their left-handed and right-handed pitchers, the only team to do so this season. Those platoon advantages have helped Cleveland batters post the majors’ best OPS differential when swinging at the first pitch, and 5th best after an 0-1 count, results likely aided by being selective on the first pitch, with the 8th lowest percentage of first pitches swung at.
Cleveland pitchers were challenged when facing better teams, with the 7th worst OPS differential when facing .500 or better opponents. In contrast, Cub pitchers enjoyed the 10th best OPS differential in that split. Cub pitching owned AL opponents with the majors’ best OPS differential in inter-league play, 30 points better than the second place Mets. The Indians were middle of the pack with almost the same OPS result facing opponents in each league. The two teams did not face each other this season, and split four games last year.
Indian pitchers fared better when pitching with the lead, posting the majors’ best OPS differential in that split, compared to a 13th best result for the Cubs. Neither team’s pitchers did well when their team was behind, with Cub pitchers posting the majors’ worst OPS differential in that split and the Indians not far behind with the 4th worst result. When facing batters the third time through the order, Cub starters had the 7th lowest OPS differential compared to 11th lowest for Tribe starters. When facing batters a first time, Cleveland relievers were middle of the pack with the 15th best OPS differential while Cub relievers had the 3rd worst OPS differential in that situation, actually faring slightly worse in that split than overall.
On defense, Cleveland committed twelve fewer errors than the Cubs on the season, though both had the 7th lowest totals in their leagues. On a position basis, the biggest edge for the Indians is at third base with just 14 errors compared to 25 for Chicago, in almost identical numbers of chances. The biggest Cub edge is at first base with just 6 errors compared to 18 for the Indians.
What does it all mean? Beats me, but if I had to pick a couple of keys for each team, it would be:
- Indians offense: getting on base to take advantage of a fairly clear speed advantage
- Indians defense: limiting walks to Chicago’s batters. When walking four times or less, the Cubs are only 48-46, compared to 55-12 with more than four free passes.
- Cub offense: taking the lead early, as the Indian bullpen looks really solid from the 6th inning onwards
- Cub defense: racking up the K’s. With nine strikeouts or more, Cleveland was only 24-38 for the season. That ninth strikeout is pretty important as the Indians were just 6-16 when fanning exactly 9 times, compared to 15-5 with eight whiffs and 11-6 with seven.