How Michael Wacha, John Lackey Match Up in World Series Game 2
Game 1 of the World Series saw staff aces Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester square off and the Boston Red Sox come away with an 8-1 victory. The Game 2 matchup brings plenty of intrigue on both sides as well, with 22-year-old breakout rookie Michael Wacha taking on AL Comeback Player of the Year candidate John Lackey.
Entering the season, it's fair to say that neither of these guys were expected to be in the position they are right now. Wacha turned in a terrific spring training performance, but he opened the season in the minors and did not join the St. Louis Cardinals rotation full time until early September.
Meanwhile, Lackey missed all of the 2012 season with Tommy John surgery after a subpar first two seasons in Boston. Experience is certainly on Lackey's side, as he has 16 postseason games (14 starts) under his belt. But there may be no pitcher throwing the ball better than Wacha right now.
So who has the pitching advantage for Game 2? Let's dive head first into a sea of statistics to see if we can find an answer.
Lackey was 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA in his first two years in Boston, but he at least came close to returning to the form that earned him a five-year, $82.5 million deal from the Red Sox prior to the 2010 season.
He thrived at home this season, going 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 starts at Fenway, compared to just 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA on the road.
He made his big league debut on May 30, throwing seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball in a no-decision against the Kansas City Royals. He made three more spot starts before moving to the bullpen in early August, and it was not until Sept. 3 that he officially joined the rotation.
In five starts to close out the year, he was 2-1 with a 1.72 ERA. He ended things with a bang, throwing 8.2 innings of one-hit ball against the Washington Nationals before an infield single from Ryan Zimmerman kept him from making history. That was enough to earn him a rotation spot over Shelby Miller in the playoffs, though, and that's proven to be a great decision.
The NLCS was truly a coming-out party for Wacha, as he threw 13.2 scoreless innings over his two starts and out-dueled Clayton Kershaw twice to earn NLCS MVP honors.
Lackey was hit hard in his ALDS start, going 5.1 innings and allowing seven hits and four runs, though he still picked up the win. He threw a gem in the ALCS, though, allowing just four hits and striking out eight in 6.2 scoreless innings.
As far as experience against these guys goes, no one in the Red Sox lineup has ever faced Wacha before. The only Cardinals hitters who have seen Lackey are Carlos Beltran (0-for-9, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K) and Matt Holliday (0-for-7, 1 BB, 1 K), so there's not much to draw from there.
Instead, let's take a closer look at what type of pitchers Wacha and Lackey are and how the two teams have fared against similar pitchers.
|Pitch Type||Frequency||Average Velocity||Whiff/Swing||BAA||BB/K|
The changeup is clearly the X-factor for Wacha, as it's one of the best around. For everything you ever wanted to know about that pitch, I'll direct you to an article from MLB Lead Writer Zachary Rymer.
The long and the short of it is that it's a really, really effective pitch, and it's been the key to Wacha's success to this point in his young career. So how did Red Sox hitters fare against the changeup this year?
|CF Jacoby Ellsbury||187||.276||16||3||15.1%||9|
|RF Shane Victorino||129||.188||6||0||8.5%||5|
|2B Dustin Pedroia||114||.257||9||0||8.8%||4|
|DH David Ortiz||241||.354||17||3||7.5%||7|
|1B Mike Napoli||96||.192||5||1||37.5%||17|
|C Jarrod Saltalamacchia||198||.283||13||0||19.7%||11|
|LF Jonny Gomes||35||.250||2||0||22.9%||4|
|3B Xander Bogaerts||18||.000||0||0||38.9%||4|
|SS Stephen Drew||221||.191||8||0||15.8%||9|
Aside from David Ortiz who wears out right-handed changeups, no one stands out as hitting the pitch particularly well. So if Wacha has the changeup working early, he could be on his way to another dominant performance in Game 2.
"It's clear that in a very short period of time, he's not feared the environment," said Red Sox manager John Farrell of Wacha in an MLB.com video. "He's a strike-thrower with two premium pitches...from the physical side of things, when you get guys in their first full year of pro baseball, to be able to maintain this kind of stuff this late in October, it's remarkable."
Not too terribly long ago, it was Lackey who was the young phenom making a name for himself in the postseason. He took the ball in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a 23-year-old rookie and earned the victory.
Now 35, Lackey has evolved as a pitcher of the years. While he still brings a five-pitch repertoire to the table, he relies mostly on his fastball/slider combination.
|Pitch Type||Frequency||Average Velocity||Whiff/Swing||BAA||BB/K|
|Fastball||48.8%||92.4 MPH||17.9 %||.242||23/82|
|Slider||30.1%||86.1 MPH||32.5 %||.233||14/64|
So far this postseason, Lackey has thrown the slider 57 times and surrendered just two hits with it. It's not necessarily his strikeout pitch, as he's actually struck more hitters out with the fastball, but it will be the key to his success.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how the Cardinals' projected lineup did against right-handed sliders on the season.
|2B Matt Carpenter||171||.250||11||2||23.5%||14|
|RF Carlos Beltran||204||.203||12||3||29.7%||17|
|LF Matt Holliday||247||.328||21||4||25.2%||10|
|DH Allen Craig||288||.250||18||1||21.1%||12|
|C Yadier Molina||292||.267||20||1||25.8%||12|
|1B Matt Adams||161||.270||10||1||31.8%||14|
|3B David Freese||309||.208||16||3||34.7%||24|
|CF Jon Jay||178||.192||9||0||28.0%||16|
|SS Pete Kozma||191||.167||8||0||37.7%||18|
That right-handed-hitting trio in the middle of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina have all had some level of success against what is generally a tough pitch for righties to handle. Holliday in particular has feasted on sliders, so that will certainly be something worth watching.
With neither lineup having seen much (or any) of the opposing hurler, this would seem to have all the makings of a pitcher's duel, given that unfamiliarity generally favors the pitcher.
Which starting pitcher has the advantage in Game 2 of the World Series?
Wacha has been huge for the Cardinals so far this postseason. And after Wainwright struggled in Game 1, the team will now be looking to the youngster to even things up heading back to St. Louis. It was a tough opening game for the Cardinals, but if they can escape Boston with the series knotted up, they'd no doubt be pleased with that result.
Lackey will do everything he can to prevent that as he looks to continue his stellar play at Fenway Park and add to a postseason legacy that already includes some huge starts.
Game 1 did not deliver the pitcher's duel that many expected, which just goes to show it's virtually impossible to predict what happens in October. That said, this Game 2 matchup has all the makings of a low-scoring affair as well. We shall see if that's the case come Thursday night.
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