The Diamondbacks are going to the World Series. It still sounds like something of a joke, considering how far we have come since losing nine games in a row. Fun fact, only one other pennant winner in the past 70 years has had a nine-game losing streak. That was the 2017 Dodgers who somehow managed to lose eleven straight in September, but still won 104 games that year. We probably remember that team. They beat us in the Division Series, but lost the World Series to the Astros in seven games, albeit... for reasons. Let’s hope there will be no such shenanigans from the other team out of Texas, on this occasion!
As we sit on the eve of the series, I thought it might be interesting to repeat the same exercise we did before the Championship Series. I’ve already seen a couple of attempts to compare the two teams at each position. There was a particularly wretched one from Bleacher Report, that I’m not even going to link to, and a more measured one by Mike Petriello on MLB.com. But I am going to repeat the process I used in the previous round and look mostly at the regular-season production of the players we’re going to see in the upcoming games. This basically halves the work I need to do, since I already scraped the necessary numbers for the D-backs. :)
Unlike the Championship Series, where the Phillies and D-backs were very close to even in terms of total WAR, here the Rangers have a significant overall edge. By bWAR, they are more than ten wins better, posting 34.9 bWAR compared to the Diamondbacks’ figure of 24.0 bWAR. The Fangraphs’ version of the metric is in agreement, and in fact, gives Texas an even bigger edge: 33.3 to 19.7 fWAR. The difference is at both ends. Focusing on bWAR, the Rangers have the two best players, in Marcus Semien (7.4 bWAR) and Corey Seager (6.9). The D-backs’ best pair are Corbin Carroll (5.4) and Ketel Marte (4.9), each two wins below their counterparts.
At the other end, there were only a handful of Rangers who were below replacement level, totaling -1.3 bWAR. The D-backs had nine such players, totaling more than twice as much negative production, -3.0 bWAR. Of course, most will not have any impact on the World Series, not being on the roster, but it does appear each team will keep one “negative nancy” around: Robbie Grossman for Texas, and Pavin Smith for Arizona. But as before, let’s stick to the core nine on each team. Outside of those, the Rangers bench got only six at-bats in their Championship Series. Torey Lovullo spread things out more, with 22 PA (12 for Emmanuel Rivera, 9 for Smith, 1 for Jordan Lawlar), but the top 9 are unchanged.
This would appear to confirm the Rangers’ advantage among position players, with the biggest differences being in the middle-infield. Great though Marte has been, Semien was MVP level in the regular season, and Seager is even further ahead of Geraldo Perdomo. It’s alao worth noting that Evan Carter is the Rangers’ own wunderkind in the outfield, having just turned 21 in August. He didn’t even debut until after rosters expanded in September, but forced his way on to the roster by hitting .306 with a 1.058 OPS. The WAR figure he posted is all the more impressive, though it came off a .412 BABIP - Carter’s OPS in the ALCS, where he appeared in all seven games, was a more pedestrian .681.
As in the previous analysis, I’ll be sticking to fWAR for this section, because Fangraphs allows it to be easily split into starters and relievers. At the team level, this is much closer than on the position player front. The Rangers were worth +15.2 fWAR, and the D-backs +13.0. Across starting pitching, it’s 12.6 to 10.8 in favor of Texas, and out of the bullpen, there’s a slight edge in favor of Texas, at 2.6 to 2.2. However, we all know that the Arizona bullpen has been much better of late, and flat-out incredible during the playoffs, so full-season numbers probably don’t do them justice.
But again, let’s break it down to the players you’re likely to see pitching in the World Series. The Rangers used four starters against the Astros, and I imagine they will operate the same rotation against the D-backs. Similarly, I expect Arizona to use three starters and a bullpen outing in Game 4. On that basis, I’m using Joe Mantiply as starter #4, with Slade Cecconi and Kyle Nelson as the arms out of the bullpen. As previously, pitchers only get “credit” for their performance in the role in question, e.g. Cecconi doesn’t get input from his four starts. An exception is Jon Gray, who appeared only as a starter for Texas, but worked out of the pen in the ALCS. I divided his bWAR by three to reflect a reliever’s workload and production.
A big difference is the way the Rangers were buyers through the trade deadline. Mike Hazen was in the market for a starter, but found the price too rich, though got a much-needed, effective closer in the shape of Paul Sewald. The Rangers had no such reluctance to pull the trigger at the deadline, sending Ronald Acuña’s brother Luisangel, the #38 prospect in all baseball. to the Mets for Max Scherzer. They got another starter, Jordan Montgomery, and reliever Chris Stratton from the Cardinals, and a month earlier, picked up Aroldis Chapman from the Royals for a couple of prospects. They were clearly in it to win it; the D-backs might have been a bit more aggressive if they’d known they’d reach the World Series!
But it is worth repeating the same mantra I said in my NLCS analysis. What will determine the result is how well these teams play in the coming games. Everything else is irrelevant. The Rangers may well be a better side than the Diamondbacks “on paper.” But so were, arguably, the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies. Anyone tell me what they are doing now? The D-backs team we’ve seen in the post-season seems to have found a new gear. Arizona went 9-3 (with eight of those twelve games on the road) facing three opponents against whom they were a combined 12-14 in the regular season. The Rangers have also gone 9-3, against the best their league can offer.
It promises to be a fascinating series, with two teams who play contrasting styles of baseball, and I’m looking forward immensely to seeing how it plays out.