2014 American League Championship Preview

Despite both teams sweeping their opponents in the ALDS, each series was fairly close, and if a few breaks had gone the other way, each series could have easily gone to a 4th or 5th game. But that’s not what happened. The Royals came up big twice in extra winnings to notch wins, while the Orioles had two REALLY big 8th innings in their first two games to take control of their series against the Tigers. Now we have an ALCS with two teams that are in a lot of ways, very similar to each other.   The Kansas City Royals haven’t seen the World Series since 1985 and the Baltimore Orioles haven’t been since 1983. Just the fact that one of these teams (and their fans) will finally make it back there after such a long time is pretty exciting.

Starting Pitching

These are basically the same tables that I had up for the Wild Card game and the ALDS previews, but they’ve been slightly modified to replace Danny Duffy with Jeremy Guthrie for the Royals and Kevin Gausman with Miguel Gonzalez for the Orioles. Apparently the Royals have concerns about Danny Duffy’s shoulder, and prefer to use him out of the bullpen (the fact that he pitched poorly at the end of the season may have something to do with it as well). As for the Orioles, I’ve made it clear several times on the internet that I prefer Gausman in the rotation (specifically over Gonzalez), but Baltimore begs to differ, and I’m sure they have a good reason that has so far escaped me. Gausman pitched out of the bullpen in the ALDS (and looked really good), and all signs point to him in the bullpen for the ALCS as well.

Starters

EDGE: Kansas City, but it’s close. The Orioles have the edge in ERA and strikeouts, but the Royals starters generally have a better FIP and allow fewer free passes. Having said that, these are similar rotations, which contain pitchers (outside of James Shields and possibly Ventura) consisting of good 3/4 starters. The fact that Kansas City has James Shields is what gives them the edge. I hate to sound like a broken record, but if the Baltimore rotation included Gausman over Gonzalez, I’d likely call this a push or even slightly favor the Orioles.

Bullpens

Top 3 relievers for each team (by fWAR).

Relievers

EDGE: Baltimore. The Royals had the best bullpen in baseball according to fWAR, but if anyone left in playoffs can match them, it’s Baltimore. Wade Davis may have had one of the greatest relief seasons ever, but if you look at the strikeout and walk rates, Andrew Miller has been even more dominant. Adding Gausman certainly strengthens the Orioles bullpen as well, however, Kansas City counters with Brandon Finnegan, who has pitched well in his first postseason. Overall, these bullpens are both strong, and Kansas City may even hold a slight edge in talent, however, what gives Baltimore the edge is how these bullpens are utilized. While Royals manager Ned Yost prefers to stick to strictly defined roles, Orioles manager Buck Showalter uses his bullpen based on the how the game evolves, making sure that his best relievers are pitching in situations with the most leverage.

Offense

Offense

EDGE: Baltimore. This one isn’t even close. The Orioles led the majors in home runs this year, hitting 116 more than the last place Royals. To put it another way, the difference between the number of home runs each team hit is greater than the total number of home runs hit by Kansas City (95). Baltimore is just the better hitting team. Period.

Baserunning

Baserunning

EDGE: Kansas City. Again, not close, but this time it’s in the Royals favor. The Orioles hardly ever steal bases, whereas the Royals steal so many bases that even Billy Butler got in on the action during the ALDS. The real story line here though is how well the Orioles pitchers and catchers will be able to contain the Kansas City running game. Oakland and Anaheim were both below average in that regard, but the Orioles were one of the best at preventing stolen bases. The Orioles work with their pitchers to be quick to the plate with runners on base (Buster Olney has some interesting statistics on this earlier in the week, ESPN Insider required), and Caleb Joseph has been terrific at throwing out would be base stealers, throwing them out at a 40% rate.

DefenseDefense

EDGE: Kansas City. This is another category that’s very close though. If Baltimore had a healthy Manny Machado, I’d be more inclined to call this a push, but even though Ryan Flaherty has done a decent job in Machado’s absence at the hot corner, the Orioles defense isn’t at full strength. What really sets the Royals defense apart from Baltimore’s is their outfield. With Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, and (sometimes) Jarrod Dyson running wild out there, it seems like nothing ever drops.

Lorenzo  Cain Diving Catch - ALCS

Verdict

As I stated in the beginning, the Orioles and Royals are very similar in a lot of ways. Even though the Royals may hold a slight edge in starting pitching, bullpen (at least talent wise), and defense, the Orioles are not far behind. The big difference between the two teams is the offense, and I think it’s potentially a big enough difference to swing the series in Baltimore’s favor on its own. Add that to the fact that Buck Showalter is one of the best in-game managers in baseball and Ned Yost, ummm…..isn’t, and I think Baltimore advances to the World Series in 6 games.

*DEFINITIONS: FIPwRC+UBRwSBDRSUZR/150

One Response to “2014 American League Championship Preview”

  1. […] semi-coherent analysis of the Baltimore Orioles « 2014 American League Championship Preview […]

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