The Astros won the World Series using 11 pitchers. Only one of them—Lance McCullers Jr.—was drafted and developed by Houston, and he gave up seven of the 17 earned runs the team allowed. Houston built the rest of its staff through international free agency (5, signed for a combined $180,000, or less than a year’s supply of baseballs for a team), trades (3) and lower-tier free agency (2).
Mostly all of Houston’s World Series pitchers throw fastballs with elite ride and breaking pitches with elite spin. Of all pitchers who threw at least 100 curveballs this year, the Astros had six of the top 23 spin rates.
The results were easy to see, as the Phillies hit .121 against the Astros’ high fastballs (4-for-33) and .154 against their spin (10-for-65). That was the story of the 2022 World Series: the Astros had more and better pitching options than did the Phillies. How they acquired them—scouting for athleticism, arm action and natural pitch properties—is a lesson for the rest of baseball.
Here’s what else we learned from the World Series:
1. Defense Matters
Games in this series sometimes turned on plays made or not made, such as the Chas McCormick wall-climbing catch, the Rhys Hoskins bobble with a runner at third, the Brandon Marsh error on a leadoff double and the Edmundo Sosa throwing error.
The Phillies were not a good defensive team, and they knew it. They also knew they had to slug to overcome that weakness. It didn’t happen enough. Since 2008, there has never been a World Series when the defensive difference was so stark, at least measured by batting average on balls in play (which is also due to the Astros’ pitchers keeping the ball off the barrel).
2022 World Series Batting Average Allowed on Balls in Play
Only the 2012 Giants were better than Houston at limiting average on balls in play (.195).
The Phillies ranked 24th this year in Defensive Efficiency, a measurement of turning batted balls into outs. In the past decade, nine of 10 world champions ranked above average in Defensive Efficiency, including three straight who ranked in the top four.
World Series Winners’ Defensive Efficiency
2. Velocity Keeps Rising, but There Is Less of It
The 2022 World Series set a record for fastest average velocity on fastballs: 95.5 mph. That’s up from 91.6 in just 10 years. However, pitchers in this series threw fastballs less than 48% of the time.
Highest Average Fastball Velocity, World Series 2008-22
3. Spin Is in
Hitters have adjusted to the increase in velocity, which is why teams spin the ball now more than ever. Across the postseason, fastballs (not including cutters) accounted for 49% of the pitches—but they also accounted for 54% of home runs and a batting average 45 points higher.
Type of Pitches, 2022 Postseason
Most Breaking Pitches, 2022 Postseason
4. Contact Matters
As with their defense, the Phillies and Astros were vastly different when it came to hitting with two strikes. That’s not just a reflection on the hitters. Again, Houston had more put-away stuff on the mound than did Philadelphia.
Lowest Two-Strike Batting Average, World Series 2008-22
The Astros hit .213 with two strikes. Among the past 30 teams in the World Series, only the 2014 Giants were better with two strikes (.238).
5. The Astros Are a Better Postseason Team Than the Dodgers
The Dodgers have been a better regular season team than Houston since 2017. But the Astros have two World Series titles to the Dodgers’ one in that time, and Houston has the better postseason winning percentage (53—33, .616) than Los Angeles (40—30, .571).
Why are the Astros better than the Dodgers in postseason play?
1. They strike out less. Their offenses are similar, but Houston puts more balls in play:
Batting, Postseason 2017-22
2. The Astros’ pitchers go deeper into games more often: