Chicago Cubs analysis: Mets starting pitchers used secondary pitches effectively to silence Cubs hitters


On Wednesday evening, the New York Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 8-3 to complete their four-game National League Championship Series sweep of the Cubs and advance to the World Series. For the Chicago Cubs, the championship drought that currently spans 107 years continues and Cubs fans are left waiting for next year….again. The most puzzling aspect of the Cubs performance in this series was the hitting struggles. How did the New York Mets pitchers, particularly the starters, shutdown the Chicago Cubs star-studded lineup?

In the National League Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs hitters blasted ten home runs in four games while recording a collective batting average and on-base percentage of .242 and .324 respectively. In their series against the Mets, the Cubs hitting numbers were decidedly different from their series with the Cardinals. In four games against the Mets, the Cubs managed only four home runs, a .164 batting average and a .225 on-base percentage.

The first three Mets starters that the Cubs faced in the NLCS boasted some of the highest average velocities among pitchers in the 2015 postseason. According to, Game 1 starter Matt Harvey had a postseason average of 95.7 MPH on his two-seam fastball,  while young gun Noah Syndergaard averaged 98.5 MPH on his four-seam fastball/98.1 MPH on his sinker and Jacob deGrom averaged 96.3 MPH on his four-seam fastball. Game 4 starter Steven Matz also had plus-velocity on his fastball as he averaged 94.4 MPH on his sinker throughout the duration of the postseason.

Five Thirty Eight writer Rob Arthur published an article Wednesday afternoon that showed statistically that the Chicago Cubs hitters have had trouble hitting high-velocity fastballs all season. The author cited a graph that showed that the amount of times the Chicago Cubs hitters swing and miss hovers further and further above league average as pitch velocities increase. While this data is certainly correct and the basic principle of what the author concluded held true in the NLCS, it isn’t the whole story. The powerful fastballs of the Met’s pitchers combined with deceptive secondary pitches to lead to the Chicago Cubs offensive woes.

October 20, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Starlin Castro (13) loses his helmet swinging in the eighth inning against the New York Mets in game four of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Although the New York Mets starting pitchers have tremendous velocity on their fastballs, their secondary pitches caused the Chicago Cubs hitters fits and may have been more effective statistically.

In Game 1 of the NLCS, Matt Harvey pitched 7.2 innings of four hit, two run baseball to help lead the New York Mets to a 4-2 victory. Harvey relied heavily on his fastball and sinker (a combined 49 percent of his total pitches) to get Cubs hitters out. However, the percentage of his total pitches that were either fastballs or sinkers were much lower than his career average percentage of these two pitches (59 percent). Harvey used secondary pitches to keep the Cubs hitters guessing and further improve the effectiveness of his fastballs. He had a whiff (swing-and-miss percentage) of 36.4 percent on his change-up and 20 percent on his curveball and surrendered no hits on these two pitches. His changeup was particularly effective. He threw 81 percent of his changeups for a strike and the Cubs hitters only put one of these changeups into play. Kyle Schwarber’s home run off of Harvey in the eighth inning came on a misplaced fastball.

In Game 2, Noah Syndergaard received the most publicity for the velocity on his fastball; however, his secondary pitches allowed him to have success against the Cubs hitters. In 5.2 innings, he surrendered one run on three hits. While Syndergaard relied heavily on a high velocity fastball, sinker combination (60 percent of total pitches), his secondary pitches (slider, changeup, curveball) yielded zero total balls in play. His changeup resulted in his highest whiff percentage (33.3 percent) of any pitch. Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant’s RBI double, which accounted for the only run of the game, came on a 98 MPH sinker on the outside portion of the plate.

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In Game 3, Jacob deGrom used his complete repertoire of pitches at similar percentages to confuse Cubs hitters. Among his 100 pitches, DeGrom used 23 fastballs, 20 sinkers, 24 changeups, 8 sliders and 25 curveballs. His changeup (29.2 percent) and slider (25 percent) had the highest whiff percentages among all of his pitches. It is also worth noting, that all four hits that DeGrom surrendered were off sinkers that averaged 95.7 MPH.

Game 4 starter Stephen Matz followed a similar pattern as his teammates to pitch effectively in Game 4. Although almost 2/3 of his pitchers categorized as fastballs, his changeup and curveballs were extremely effective as well yielding whiff percentages of 16.7 and 15.4 percent respectively.

(The statistics used in the previous four paragraphs are courtesy of 

So what is the overall takeaway from the above stats? All four Mets starters during this series recorded their highest whiff percentage on secondary pitches. Harvey surrendered his two runs on a misplaced fastball and a slider. Syndergaard’s only charged run was a home run by Schwarber that came on a sinker. The only pitches that the Cubs could hit off of deGrom were sinkers. Matz gave up five hits, four of which were on fastballs. While all four pitchers had effective fastballs in this series, their secondary pitchers fooled the Chicago Cubs hitters and this was a major reason for their offensive collapse.

October 20, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) hits a single in the first inning against the New York Mets in game three of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

According to data from Fangraph’s website, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Miguel Montero, Chris Coghlan and Jorge Soler all had their highest pitch value (sabermetric statistic that measures hitter effectiveness hitting a certain pitch type) on fastballs. That is a substantial number of major playoff contributors who were most effective hitting fastballs during the regular season. The Mets made the adjustment of mixing-up pitches to keep the hitters guessing which in-turn increased the effectiveness of their fastballs in this series. An example that illustrated this point was deGrom, who used four of his pitches between 20 and 25 percent of the time in his start in Game 3.

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  • The good news is that the Chicago Cubs have an entire offseason to rectify the mistakes they made in the NLCS and figure out how to hit secondary pitches more effectively. Chicago Cubs hitting instructor Manny Ramirez in collaboration with hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske have produced some impressive results in 2015. According to baseball reference, Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell had better hitting lines the second half of the season after undergoing swing, stance or approach adjustments. Castro had a .295 batting average in the second half of the season (.247 first half), Kris Bryant improved his batting average from .269 in the first half to .282 in the second half, and Addison Russell improved from .226 in the first half to .259 in the second half this season.

    The New York Mets starting pitchers used a lethal repertoire of high-velocity fastballs and a mix of highly effective secondary pitches to keep the Cubs hitters guessing the entire series. Like anything, practice can help this Chicago Cubs team learn how to hit these secondary pitches more effectively and their result in the playoffs next season may differ dramatically if this happens.

    For the first time in a while, the phrase “there is always next year” carries meaning. How many days until Opening Day 2016?

    Next: What happens to Dexter Fowler?

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