When I initially sat down to take a few notes for the statistical end of today’s column, my intention was to create a theme centered on the advantages the Astros have over the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series—at least on paper, anyway. The problem I had, however, was no matter how far I would stretch certain theories and statistics, I simply could not come up with more than just a few factors which favored the Astros, all bias aside. Even the Houston offense, as prolific as it was this year, doesn’t have a significant edge over the Los Angeles crew.
Granted, the World Series is a completely different animal compared to the regular season, the Division Series, or even the Championship Series. All the prior stats are out the window. Teams are no longer looking ahead—all strategies are seemingly in the moment. In-game management becomes paramount. Timely hitting is huge. The club with the hottest starting pitching rotation reaps a tremendous advantage.
But even with all of the mystique bottled up at the onset of the Series, about the only thing we can turn to to break down the numbers are tendencies and statistics. And while we can admit the Astros may have a slight edge in terms of overall offense and production off the bench, the Dodgers are dominant in a handful of other important categories.
Team Defense—The Dodgers were far and away the best defensive team in all of baseball during their 2017 campaign, no matter how the numbers are twisted around. I like to look at defensive efficiency, where the Dodgers ranked first in the MLB with a 70.3% mark, while the Astros ranked 25th a 68.2%. Even in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, the Dodgers finished out front by a wide margin, while the Astros finished right in the middle of the pack at 15th.
Furthermore, the Dodgers’ catching tandem of Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal has a clear defensive advantage over Brian McCann and Evan Gattis—without question. And as far as stolen bases go, the Houston catchers threw out a major-league worst 12% of would-be base stealers during the regular season—something the Dodgers are likely to keep in mind with runners on board.
Bullpen—On Saturday, we mentioned that when considering the 10 teams who took part in the playoffs, the Astros ranked sixth in bullpen ERA during the 2017 postseason. The Houston relievers surrendered 19 earned runs in an even 34 innings of work, which calculated to an ERA north of 5.00. More importantly, the Astros’ bullpen has given up eight long balls and five doubles so far in the playoffs, as opposing hitters tallied a .310 OBP, a .477 slugging percentage and an .787 OBP. In comparison, the Los Angeles postseason slash line for opposing batters was .160/.177/.337. No, that is not a typo.
During the regular season, the Houston relief corps ranked a not-so-impressive 17th in the MLB in bullpen ERA—a figure that’s very surprising for a club contending for a World Championship, while the Dodgers ranked fourth after a late-season collapse when critical roles were being jockeyed to determine the best fits for the postseason rosters. See Pedro Baez, Josh Ravin, Walker Buehler, Brock Stewart, et al.
Starting Rotation—While the starting rotations between both squads may be more comparatively similar than many think, the Dodgers’ rotation is certainly deeper. Looking at the one-two punches, the tandem of Justin Verlander/Dallas Keuchel relative to Clayton Kershaw/Yu Darvish can be deemed a push; however, the three-four combo of Rich Hill/Alex Wood appears to have a very favorable advantage over Charlie Morton/Lance McCullers—not to take anything away from Morton’s outstanding ALCS Game 7 performance.
Overall, Los Angeles starters finished first in the bigs with a 3.38 ERA, while the Houston crew finished sixth at 4.03, yet the Astros did indeed go more than half the season without Verlander. In the 2017 playoffs, Dodgers’ starters tallied a 3.19 ERA over 42-1/3 frames compared to a 3.10 ERA over an even 61 innings, but we still give the advantage to Los Angeles based on rest/freshness and the aforementioned notes regarding depth.
Home Field Advantage—These numbers actually play out closer than expected, but the fact that four games—if necessary—scheduled to be played at Dodger Stadium may be a heavy advantage for Los Angeles. Conceding that both teams played equally well at home in the playoffs, because the Dodgers had a stellar 57-24 regular season home record, they narrowly get the edge here. At 53-28, the Astros were no slouches on the road, however, a weighted park factor score of .961 for Dodger Stadium certainly plays into the favor of the Los Angeles pitching staff. Ironically, Minute Maid Park was the friendliest park for all big league pitchers this year.
Several other areas also come into play. There’s probably no clear-cut advantage between the coaching staffs, being that arguments can be made for both clubs. Interestingly, though, the formulation of prospective lineups may play heavy into the outcomes. As successful as the Houston offense was, they were slightly better against righty pitching in the regular season—an .827 vs. .811 OPS—but will face a lefty-dominated rotation from the Dodgers. And while the Dodgers surprisingly finished the regular season better against lefty pitching, they will face a Houston staff loaded with right-handed pitchers.
In the end, there are surely many surprises in store for everybody during the Fall Classic, and once the dust settles, both teams have a fair chance at hoisting the championship trophy in the end. But after a quick look at many of the numbers across the board, one can determine that Los Angeles has at least a slight advantage at the onset.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)