World Series X-Factors: How the Phillies and Astros fit together and how they might beat each other

The Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros will begin the 2022 World Series Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The Phillies, seeking their first World Series title since 2008, had to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres to reach that point. The Astros, who last won the title in 2017, swept both the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees to hole their ticket.

On paper, the Astros appear to be the superior team. The Astros not only won 29 more games during the regular season, but also recorded a much better run differential: Houston outscored their opponents by 219 runs; Conversely, Philadelphia outplayed their opponents by just 62 runs, or nearly a run fewer per game.

The beauty of postseason baseball is that macro analysis isn’t necessarily important. After all, the Phillies have already defeated three teams that had better records in the regular season. Sometimes these streaks are decided by underlying dynamics that give a team an unexpected edge. With that in mind, CBS Sports has highlighted three X factors that could determine the outcome of this year’s World Series.

1. Four seam strength on strength

During the regular season, the Astros threw the third-highest percentage of four-seam fastballs in the majors, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. Conversely, the Phillies recorded the fifth-highest wOBA (a collective metric that weights base percentage better than OPS) against four-sailers. (The Astros themselves took first place in that category.) That series could then be decided by strength of which proves more dominant.

We will note that not all four-seam fastballs are created equal. The Astros as a staff, for example, tend to rely on “rising” action heaters thrown onto a flat plane – the combination creates a complex optical illusion that the thugs must overcome. More than a handful of Houston’s expected pitching staff had fastballs that averaged at least 18 inches of induced vertical breakage during the regular season. The Phillies did relatively well at courts of this type, finishing third in the WOBA.

While this seems to bode well for the Phillies, consider that the New York Yankees finished fifth and the Seattle Mariners finished seventh in the wOBA against four-suture fastballs with at least 18 inches of IVB. Neither managed to win a game against the Astros in their respective playoff series.

2. The indoor game

We’ve found that the Phillies hitters versus the Astros pitchers will be a matter of strength versus strength. Guess what? The same goes for the battle between the Phillies Pitchers and the Astros Hitters. Location matters this time.

The Phillies threw the second-highest percentage of pitches that were on the inside half of the plate during the regular season, behind the Miami Marlins. José Alvarado, Bailey Falter, Ranger Suárez and Zack Wheeler all beat the team average.

The Astros, on the other hand, had the sixth-highest wOBA on pitchers that were in the inside half. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Jeremy Peña and Yordan Alvarez — or essentially the top of Houston’s lineup — were all particularly good at inside shots.

As in the first section, we caution against assuming that we know which strength will prevail. Because as good as the Astros were at that point in the zone, the Braves (first) and Cardinals (second) were even better on paper. The Padres, 21st, were on the opposite end of the spectrum, suggesting they were at a major disadvantage in the NLCS.

3. Resilience

If you’re a Phillies fan, you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about your club’s defense. Still, the gap between the teams is big enough to be singled out as a potentially crucial factor in this series.

The Astros had the second-best defense in the majors during the regular season, stopping 25 runs, according to Statcast’s estimate. Center fielder Chas McCormick, shortstop Jeremy Peña, third baseman Alex Bregman, and right fielder Kyle Tucker all contributed at least four of those saves.

The Phillies, on the other hand, checked in with the second-worst defense and cost themselves 29 runs. The worst offenders were the corner defenders; Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins were responsible for five or more runs going the other way, Statcast estimates.

Defense is wild because so much of it depends on the difficulty of the opportunity. In one respect, however, we feel certain the Phillies defense will be tested more than it has been given how difficult it is to hit the Astros. Only the Cleveland Guardians stepped out less frequently as a team in the regular season. So the Astros are likely to put more balls into play than any other team the Phillies faced this October. It stands to reason that just a few of these need to have above-average difficulty to potentially swing the ending of a game and the series.

One point in the Phillies’ favour: They toppled the Cardinals and Padres, both of which were among the top 10 strikeout odds.


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