A Quick and Dirty Look at Cubs Starters Against Dodgers Lineup

Earlier today, I provided a breakdown of the upcoming NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers. But after looking at it a couple times, I wasn’t happy with the generic proclamation that LA hits righties pretty well and that Joe Maddon might need to have his lefty relievers at the ready. With that in mind, I performed a slightly deeper dive into the numbers regarding the Cubs starters and how they’ve fared historically against the Dodgers hitters they’ll be facing.

Keep in mind that this is based on my own manual research (thanks, Baseball Reference!), so I may have missed a tidbit here or there. On the whole, though, I think I captured pretty much all the batters of any consequence: Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Chase Utley, Chooch Ruiz, Howie Kendrick, Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Justin Turner, Kike Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, and Yasmani Grandal (Josh Toles hasn’t faced any of the Cubs starters). There are obviously some players I left out, but these are the guys who’ve gotten the most run in the playoffs thus far. I didn’t include numbers against opposing pitchers, either.

Below are a few quick snapshots of each pitcher’s performance against the group listed above, followed by some bullet-point notes on the aggregate totals.

Jon Lester

With so many lefties in the Dodgers lineup, it’s expected that Lester will really get a chance to show out in the NLCS. That’s exactly what he’s done when facing these particular hitters, holding them to a .156/.193/.234 (.427 OPS) slash line with 35 strikeouts and only 6 walks in 135 plate appearances. Not bad, right? But you wanna hear something borderline insane about those numbers? They get even better when you remove Kendrick, who’s 7-for-40 with 4 doubles and a pair of walks.

Absent Kendrick’s performance, the remaining Dodgers slump to .148/.183/.216 (.399 OPS) with a Yasmani Grandal double and a triple and homer from Kiké Hernandez representing the only extra-base hits in 88 at-bats. They’ve also got a 6.75 K/BB ratio and have driven in exactly zero runs. Those numbers are so aberrant that you almost want to assume Lester’s due for regression. Even so, it’d take a huge swing back toward the mean for them to put together anything even approaching good numbers against the ace.

Kyle Hendricks

Go ahead and back up the salt truck here because we’re only looking at about a game’s worth of data. Hendricks has held the Dodgers to a .194/.286/.361 (.647 OPS) slash that’s marred somewhat by 5 walks against only 6 strikeouts. They’ve tagged him for two extra-base hits, both homers, neither of which came this season. You may remember that he gave up a home run to the Dodgers on June 2 of this year, but that was to Trayce Thompson, who’s now in place (the 60-day DL) where he can’t hurt Hendricks or the Cubs.

It’s important to note here that Hendricks is a different pitcher from the one who’s faced these hitters in the past. He’s relying more on his secondary stuff and changing things up to keep hitters guessing. I’m very interested to see how his propensity to dictate soft contact goes over against a team that generally hits the ball hard.

Jake Arrieta

It’s been a while, but you may recall Arrieta tossing a little something called a no-hitter against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine last season. Outside of that, though, he hasn’t been particularly great against his NLCS opponents. Not bad, mind you, just not dominant. A .224/.298/.355 (.653 OPS) line with six XBH’s (4 doubles, 2 homers), 20 strikeouts, and 8 walks is certainly good enough to get the job done if the Cubs can provide some run support.

The key for Arrieta, as has long been the case, is to avoid letting his mechanics slip. If he remains upright and doesn’t over-rotate during his windup, he should be able to locate his fastball and ensure that his slider can still entice swings and misses. Much has been made about his lean mass, but he gets into trouble when he lets his mass lean. That’s something to keep an eye on when he takes the mound next.

John Lackey

There’s been a lot of chatter about this fourth spot in the rotation, both because of Lackey’s sub-par start in San Francisco and the presence of Mike Montgomery on the roster. The thought is that the southpaw could better leverage the Dodgers’ .620 team OPS against lefties, while Lackey could be victimized by their lefty-laden lineup. However, the numbers show that the crusty veteran has actually pitched really well against the group in question.

Over 93 plate appearances, Lackey has allowed a .231/.282/.301 (.583 OPS) line with only four extra-base hits (2 doubles, 2 triples) and 23 strikeouts to 8 walks. Adrian Gonzalez is responsible for much of the success, as he’s 7-for-23 with a double and a walk. Kendrick has a handful of hits against Lackey as well. It sounds trite, but continuing to avoid the longball is going to be a top priority for Big John

Staff as a whole

  • .199/.256/.288 slash
  • .544 OPS
  • 24.1% K rate
  • 7.3% BB rate
  • 3.04 K/BB
  • 15 XBH (5 HR)

Righties only

  • .219/.283/.316 slash
  • .599 OPS
  • 21.5% K rate
  • 8.4% BB rate
  • 2.33 K/BB
  • 12 XBH (4 HR)

That’s some really good stuff, particularly seeing that the rotation outside of Lester has allowed an OPS that is 21 points lower than what the Dodgers usually collect against lefties and 173 points lower than they have against right-handed pitching. And should they encounter any trouble, they’ve got Mike Montgomery, Travis Wood, and maybe Rob Zastryzny waiting in the wings.

Again, these are relatively small samples when taken individually and they need to be treated as the imperfect analytical tools they are. At the same time, 344 total plate appearances provide enough data for us to make the reasonable conclusion that we should expect these Cubs pitchers to fare well against the Dodgers. Personally, I think they’ll go out and toss four straight shutouts to get to the World Series.

Okay, you got me, I don’t really believe that. But I do believe the Cubs can handle this Dodgers offense and that they won’t need to return home in order to close this thing out. On the other hand, I’ll be in Chicago during those potential Games 6 and 7 and would really love the chance to celebrate in person. We’ll see.

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