The season is down to a best-of-three scenario, and we get our first pitching rematch of the World Series with James Shields going up against Madison Bumgarner. The Giants will be the favorite in Game 5 considering Shields hasn't pitched well in the postseason while Bumgarner has pitched well in all five of his playoff starts and gets to throw in front of an energized home crowd. Let's go inside the matchup.
The numbers show the extent to which Shields has struggled in his four postseason starts:
Regular season: .256/.298/.404, 19.2% K rate, 4.7% BB rate, .296 BABIP
Playoffs: .337/.389/.542, 17.8% K rate, 6.7% BB rate, .381 BABIP
Let's check a couple of his heat maps to see what's been going on:
It all starts with fastball location. Batters are hitting .273 against his fastball, but they hit .274 against it in the regular season. While it may appear that Shields has centered too many fastballs, that's actually how he pitches; he doesn't really paint the corners with either his four-seamer or two-seamer.
The problem has been his off-speed stuff and cutter. Batters are hitting .350 against his changeup, .318 against his cutter and .625 in eight plate appearances ending with his curveball. The changeup was a big weapon for Shields during the season, but when he's on, he is hitting that low outside corner against left-handed batters. Instead, you can see where batters have done their damage: changeups down but over the middle of the plate.
You could argue that Shields' problems have been due to some bad luck -- witness that .381 average on balls in play. Before Game 4, however, Shields explained some of his issues.
"I was just kind of rushing to the plate," he said. "Ball was getting flat, really flying open. ... We had a good bullpen session. We fixed some things mechanically, and hopefully it translates into the game."
It would seem a flat changeup would end up over the middle of the plate instead of that corner that Shields usually pitches to. He doesn't throw his curveball a whole lot, but it was an effective weapon during the season as batters hit just .207 against it. It's been a nonfactor in the playoffs. Again, if he's flying open and causing his pitches to flatten out, that's certainly going to affect his curve.
This is likely Shields' final appearance in a Kansas City uniform. He is a free agent, and it's unlikely the Royals will match offers Shields will get elsewhere. He is 1-1 with a 7.11 ERA in the postseason. He has one last opportunity to show why he's the ace of this rotation.
Bumgarner, meanwhile, is 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA and has gone at least seven innings in each of his five postseason starts. He will join Curt Schilling of the 2001 Diamondbacks and Chris Carpenter of the 2011 Cardinals as the only pitchers to start six times in a single postseason. Those were two of the more memorable postseasons by pitchers, as Schilling went 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA and Carpenter went 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA, including a 1-0 win over Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the division series and a win in Game 7 of the World Series on three days' rest.
A win in Game 5 certainly puts the Giants in a good position to win a ring like those two did.
Check out the postseason numbers against Bumgarner's three primary pitches:
Fastball (56 percent of his pitches): .132/.169/.191
Cutter (28 percent); .250/.302/.250
Curveball (14 percent): .111/.172/.222
(Our system registers the cutter as a slider, but it is apparently a cut fastball, a pitch Bumgarner learned at Triple-A Fresno in 2010 from journeyman left-hander Horacio Ramirez.
Bumgarner throws up in the zone with his fastball and cutter but then does this with his curve:
You can imagine hitting that pitch. You've been pounded with hard stuff up, and Bumgarner comes in with a 76 mph breaker at the bottom of the zone. It's a pitch he primarily uses against right-handed batters. They hit .209 against it the regular season but are 1-for-16 with 10 strikeouts against it in the postseason.
What's interesting is that he has used it more against left-handers in the postseason. He has thrown 72 curveballs in the postseason, 30 against left-handed batters; in the regular season, he threw just 86 of his 471 curves to lefties. He threw 17 curveballs in Game 1, and batters went 0-for-3 with three K's against it.
The other adjustment Bumgarner has made the past few months: more four-seam fastballs and fewer cutters. In the first half, he threw both pitches about equally; in the second half and postseason, it's been more than 50 percent fastballs and fewer than 30 percent cutters.
If there's a reason to be concerned -- grasping at some hope here for the Royals -- it's that Bumgarner is at 256 innings on the season after pitching 201 1/3 last year. Bumgarner dismissed this on Saturday.
"I don't think the increase -- we went through this in 2010, I believe, where it was like 75 more innings than I threw before -- I don't think that has anything to do with anything," he said. "I work hard and take care of myself, and I think that's what's important."