2016 World Series Preview

First off, I can’t believe I actually get to title this article, “2016 World Series Preview”. It’s just a surreal experience. We finally have our World Series match-up, as the Cubs took home their first NL Pennant since the Roosevelt Administration, and ironically enough are looking for their first World Series title since the Roosevelt administration (Franklin and Teddy, respectively). The national pundits are calling for a quick series, with the Cubs coming out on top. Of course, many of those so called “experts” also predicted the Red Sox and Blue Jays to advance as well.

As with my my ALCS preview, I’ll take a look at how each team stacks up with each other, giving scores on who wins each match-up, then give my prediction at the end. Let’s get started.

Infield

If you read my ALCS preview, you know I looked at each teams WAA (Wins Above Average) to help with these match-ups, and I will continue to do the same thing. The Indians infield finished the year with a 1.1 WAA, while the Cubs infield had a WAA of 12.8, just a staggering number. That’s like comparing Joc Pederson and Mike Trout.

The Cubs infield consists of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant. It doesn’t get much better than that. Actually, that is the best, no infield put up better numbers. Three of those guys were All-Stars, and Rizzo and Bryant will finish in the top of the NL MVP voting (Bryant will most likely win it). Rizzo and Bryant combined for 71 home runs and 211 RBI this year. Russell got most of his value through defense, but was still able to drive in 95 runs this year. Baez saw time all over the field, but manned second base throughout the NLCS, where he saw his star potential begin to blossom.

Nothing against the Indians infield, who didn’t find their rhythm until Jose Ramirez became entrenched as the everyday third basemen. On their best day, Mike Napoli, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez can match-up with any infield, including the Cubs. Napoli had a career year with 34 home runs and 101 RBI, while Kipnis and Lindor combined for a 9.7 WAR up the middle. Jose Ramirez is no slouch either. One of the most “clutch” hitters this season, he ended up seventh in the AL in batting average.

The Indians get the advantage in the middle of the infield with Lindor and Kipnis, but Rizzo and Bryant far exceeded the play of Napoli and Ramirez, which is why the Cubs win this match-up.

Advantage: Cubs (+2)

Outfield

The Indians outfield had a WAA of -1.2 on the season, while once again, the Cubs finished at the top of the NL, with a 5.1 outfield WAA. That’s like comparing Jay Bruce to Josh Donaldson. But once again, you have to look a little deeper into the numbers.

The Indians and Cubs both use the platoon better than any other teams, but their outfields will typically consist of these players throughout the World Series. The Cubs will run out a group of Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward, though Heyward’s recent struggles have seen Albert Almora getting some time in the outfield. Zobrist saw a lot of time at second base during the regular season, but has made the full-time switch in the outfield with the rise of Javier Baez. As usual, Zobrist does a lot of things pretty well, but nothing particularly great. Dexter Fowler will lead-off and man centerfield, he was the guy that made the Cubs go, with his great on-base percentage. Jason Heyward as usual had a great outfield glove, but saw his offense fall off a cliff, at this point you can’t expect much contributions from him.

The Indians will counter with an outfield that changes by the day. Coco Crisp/Brandon Guyer will get the majority of the leftfield responsibilities, while Tyler Naquin/Rajai Davis will split time in centerfield. Lonnie Chisenhall seems to be entrenched in rightfield, so expect him out there every game. Crisp seemed to be a liability coming into the postseason, but raked throughout the ALCS, and came up with some big catches. Guyer will start against lefties, where he, as well, rakes. Naquin seems lost with his centerfield defense, but started to heat up at the plate late in the ALCS. Davis should get the most of the playing time, but will probably be limited to appearances against lefties. Chisenhall’s bat cooled some late in the ALCS, but he’s far and away the best option in right.

This is certainly a close match-up, but the advantage Dexter Fowler brings at the lead-off spot and in centerfield just barely pushes the Cubs over.

Advantage: Slight Edge Cubs (+1)

Starting Pitching

Both of these teams owe a lot of success to their starting pitching, and they finished very close in WAA. The Indians were tops in the AL with a WAA of 8.9, while the Cubs were tops in the NL with a WAA of 9.5. The best comparison here would be the difference between Johnny Cueto and Max Scherzer, in other words, not much of a difference.

However, a big reason the Indians finished with the best WAA in the AL was because of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Carrasco will be out for this series, but the Indians expect Salazar to be good to go. Will it be as a starter or relief pitcher, we have yet to find out, but his return will certainly help. The Indians have announced their starters for the first three games. Kluber will take Game 1, followed by Trevor Bauer or Josh Tomlin (depending on Drone Gate 2016). Game 4 has yet to be announced, but it’s safe to assume it will either be a combo Ryan Merritt/Salazar or Corey Kluber. The Cubs have not released how their rotation will stack up, but it most likely include some combination of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey.

We know the story on Corey Kluber by now. True workhorse ace, he’ll take the ball when asked and give you a strong outing. So far this postseason, Kluber has pitched 18.1 innings and has a 0.98 ERA, while facing the Red Sox and Blue Jays. Meanwhile, Josh Tomlin has defied all conventional wisdom and has pitched his way to two postseason wins and a 2.53 ERA, after taking a curveball heavy approach this postseason. Bauer is the wild card, he hasn’t pitched particularly well this postseason, but if his finger has healed, he certainly has the stuff to shutdown the opposing offense. However, the Indians postseason approach is simple get the game to the bullpen as fast as possible.

In the regular season, the Cubs pitching was down right dominant. They led the NL with a 3.15 ERA, and have two guys in their rotation who could take home the Cy Young (Lester and Hendricks). Jon Lester has a career postseason ERA of 2.50 in 119.0 innings, you know what you’re getting out of him. Kyle Hendricks led the NL in ERA at 2.15, but looked shaky at times this postseason. He certainly didn’t look shaky in Game 6 of the NLCS though, throwing 7.1 innings of two-hit ball. Jake Arrieta is the wild card, he hasn’t looked like the dominant pitcher he was since the All-Star break, plus he has a career postseason ERA of 4.11. John Lackey drank from the fountain of youth all year long, but hasn’t been able to making it past four innings in any postseason start this year.

This is an extremely close match-up, so I’ll provide one final determining stat. Postseason starters ERA: Cubs – 2.55, Indians – 1.88.

Advantage: Slight Edge Indians (+1)

Relief Pitching

Andrew Miller, Andrew Miller, and Andrew Miller. Need I say more? Of course I do, I need to bask in the Indians glory somewhere, right? On the season, the Indians relievers had a WAA of 3.9, while the Cubs relievers posted a WAA of -1.0. You’re basically looking at the difference between the best relief pitcher (Zach Britton) and the worst (Matt Albers).

The Indians have tried to get to their bullpen as quickly as possible, which has meant giving the ball to Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen. Those three combined to pitch 15.2 innings in the ALCS with a 0.59 ERA, while striking out 25 batters. A lot of that can be attributed to ALCS MVP Andrew Miller. If the Indians get a lead, expect Miller to come in snuff out opposing team.

When the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman, it solved their biggest problem. They lacked a dominant, lights out closer, and in Chapman, they got one. However, Chapman has strictly been the end of game pitcher, unlike Miller who is available whenever. The rest of the Cubs bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Travis Wood put up some bad line scores in the NLCS.

Advantage: Indians (+2)

Defense

The Cubs got 70 runs from fielding, an almost unheard of number. 70 runs from fielding means that the Cubs added an extra 7 wins to their record just based on how well they fielded the ball. The Indians on the other hand were no slouches in the field, but finished well behind the Cubs, only getting 15 runs from fielding. The Cubs had five players contribute more than 10 runs from fielding, while the Indians only had one (Lindor). The Cubs also didn’t have anyone nearly as bad as Tyler Naquin who had a Rfield of -18 in centerfield.

Advantage: Strong Edge Cubs (+3)

Base Running

The Indians were the best base running team in the AL. They led the AL in stolen bases, and in stolen base percentage; they also took the most bases on hits, i.e. going first-to-third, and second-to-home. As a whole they got an extra 18 runs from their base running. The Cubs on the other hand had 68 less stolen bases than the Indians, and had nine players who contributed negatively on the base paths (the Indians only had three players). The Cubs were only able to muster an extra two runs out of their base running.

Advantage: Strong Edge Indians (+3)

Manager

Two of the best managers going head to head in the World Series, what more can you ask for. Maddon seems to have the upper hand, having managed in the NL all season. He knows how to go through a game with the pitcher hitting. But were are talking about Terry Francona here. He’s been here before, he’s won two World Series. As good as Joe Maddon is, he’s never won a World Series. That’s what gives the Indians the edge here.

Advantage: Slight Edge Indians (+1)

Our final tally has the Cubs taking three categories, totaling a +6, and the Indians taking four categories, totaling a +7. Believe it or not, but Terry Francona swung the score in the Indians favor. I compare this series to the 1995 World Series, the Indians came into the that series as the clear favorite, leading the league in almost every category. The Braves had one massive edge over the Indians though, and that was pitching. The same holds true in 2016, the Indians bullpen has been so good, and that’s why they take the series.

Final Prediction: Indians in 7

— Chris Sladoje (@The_Doje)