Prior editions of our “PLV All-Stars” series have focused more on hitters since we followed a lineup format. This month, we decided to change it up a bit and give more love to the pitchers. Thus, we created an all-PLV rotation and a mini-bullpen, including two setup men (one righty and one lefty) and a closer. The only criteria were pitches thrown, which we cut off at 1,400 for starters and 500 for relievers.
Below is our staff, with statistics through July. We based our selections on PLA, which is on the same scale as ERA and thus easier to compare than PLV, but that only affected the rotation order. If you are new to this series or need a refresher on PLV, check out the What is PLV? primer before reading further.
SP #1: Bailey Ober
Bailey Ober began the season in Triple-A despite performing well over 11 starts in 2022. The Twins called him up only a few weeks into the season as injuries ravaged their rotation, and he’s been a mainstay since. Ober doesn’t generate as many strikeouts as the pitchers in our rotation, but he gets by with impeccable control and by limiting hard contact. Ober’s 4.6% BB% is among the best in MLB, as is his 23.3% HC%.
Ober’s bread-and-butter pitch is his changeup, which ranks as one of the best in the league. He generates strikes on the pitch 69% of the time, putting it in the 93rd percentile among MLB pitchers. Ober couples the change with a well above-average four-seamer, which is usually up in the zone, leading to a ton of pop-ups and easy flyball outs. Despite being an extreme flyball pitcher, Ober is excellent at keeping the ball in the yard with a low 10.1% HR/FB%. Ober has two more pitches in his arsenal, a solid slider and a nasty curveball that has limited batters to a .161 average.
SP #2: Zack Wheeler
Despite not making the actual team, Zack Wheeler was PLV’s choice as the NL All-Star starter last month. He did little to dissuade us in July, lowering his numbers after posting a 3.41 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over five starts. Wheeler’s been bitten by bad luck this season, with a .315 BABIP and 68.9% LOB%, but leads MLB in fWAR.
Wheeler throws four pitches, led by a dominant four-seamer and slider. He generates a 15.7% SwStr% on his FF, which ranks in the 94th percentile. His slider averages 88.3 mph, making it faster than most, forcing opposite-field contact over 30% of the time. Wheeler’s sinker and curveball also rank above average and generate a lot of swings on offerings out of the zone.
SP #3: Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole is a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young, so seeing him in our rotation is no surprise. PLV supports Cole’s stellar season-to-date statistics, which rank in the 90th percentile in several categories, including innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, quality starts, and batting average against.
A 97 mph four-seam fastball and a wipeout slider drive Cole’s success. He relies on these two pitches over 80% of the time, adding an average curveball and below-average changeup to keep batters off balance. The opposition hits only .204 against his fastball, and his 24.1% putaway rate on the pitch is among the best in MLB. Cole’s slider averages 89.3 mph, making it one of the fastest in the game. His 56% QP% (quality pitch) on the slider ranks in the 95th percentile and keeps batters from squaring it up, evidenced by a low 2.5% barrel rate.
SP #4: Spencer Strider
Spencer Strider’s ERA is misleading. His FIP is nearly a run lower, and his xERA is around 3.00. A high BABIP and HR/FB% have victimized Strider, who leads the league in strikeouts by a substantial margin. Strider’s 39.6% K% is over six percentage points higher than the second-best rate by qualified starters – Kevin Gausman at 33%.
Strider is driven by arguably the best four-seamer in baseball. His 5.60 PLV on the pitch is nearly off the chart, and he generates an insane 17% SwStr% off it. It’s fast; it moves, and it’s nasty. The opposition whiffs 30.5% of the time they swing. Strider’s other two offerings, a slider, and a changeup, leave more to be desired. The slider is solid, though not spectacular, in terms of PLV. However, it has been effective for him as his CSW% on the pitch is a stellar 43.8%. His changeup is still a work in progress, but it’s a nice compliment to his 97 mph heater.
SP #5: Pablo López
Like Spencer Strider, Pablo López’s ERA is misleading. His FIP and xERA are much lower, and his 30.2% K% and 31.4% CSW% are among the best in baseball. López is having his finest season despite the elevated ERA and has been a workhorse, ranking 13th in innings pitched through July.
López introduced a new pitch this season, the “sweeper,” represented in the chart below under “SL”. The sweeper has made a massive difference for him and has been his best pitch in PLV terms. Despite it being a new pitch, López simply doesn’t miss with it. His BP% (bad pitch) on the sweeper is 0.0%, meaning it has ranked above a 4.50 PLV every time he’s thrown it. Coming into 2023, López was effective as primarily a fastball/changeup pitcher. The sweeper has added another dimension to his game and made him a more dangerous hurler to face.
RH Setup: Yennier Cano
Yennier Cano gave up his first earned run of the season on May 19th and has allowed more than one earned run in an inning only once this season, when he allowed two. The 29-year-old second-year player has come out of nowhere to become one of the best setup men in the league this year. His 25 holds through July were second in baseball to Erik Swanson’s 26, and his 4.5% BB% ranks in the 95th percentile.
Cano throws a hard sinker, which averages 96 mph, and change-up 90% of the time. This combination has been deadly to the opposition. He has immaculate control with his sinker, throwing it in the zone on 62.7% of his offerings and generating strikes on 72.8%. The sinker sets up his changeup, which has a 30.8% putaway rate thanks in part to one of the highest horizontal breaks in the game. Cano’s QP% (Quality Pitch rate) on the change ranks in the 96th percentile at 57%.
LH Setup: Matt Strahm
Matt Strahm had started only one game since 2019 when the injury-depleted Phillies slid him into the rotation in April. Strahm held his own over nine starts, accumulating a 4.18 ERA and 1.05 WHIP and winning two games. He’s been even better since returning to the bullpen, with an ERA of 2.81, WHIP of 1.03, and a 30.7% K-rate. Strahm isn’t a typical one-inning reliever. Philadelphia deploys him in various ways throughout the game, and he’s come through for them more often than not.
Strahm has four excellent pitches in his repertoire. His four-seamer, slider, and sinker all carry a high PLV, and his cutter is above average. Strahm generates swinging strikes on his four-seamer nearly 15% of the time and puts batters away at a 28% clip. He controls his slider well, carrying a 47.9% Zone% on the pitch, which results in a 65.2% strike rate. Strahm’s sinker has also been excellent, with a 55.3% QP% and a 28.1% BP%, both in the 90th percentile. Strahm’s contribution to the Phillies this season has been underrated. He’s been one of the top lefty relievers in the game this year.
Closer: Paul Sewald
The Diamondbacks got a good one when they traded for Paul Sewald at the deadline. Sewald saved 21 games in 24 attempts for the Mariners this season and may be better than his 2.93 ERA, and 1.02 WHIP indicate. Sewald’s xERA on the season is 2.50, and his 5.49 PLV is among the best in baseball. Despite a fastball that averages only 92 mph, Sewald generates plenty of strikeouts. His 35.5% K% is in the 96th percentile among all relievers.
Sewald only throws two pitches and excels with both. The spin rate on his four-seamer leads to a high degree of horizontal movement, which keeps hitters from squaring up the pitch despite the relatively low velocity. Batters have a hard contact rate of only 12.6% on his FF and have only taken him deep once this season. The pitch also generates a ton of swing and miss, exemplified by his 17.3% SwStr%. Sewald’s slider is likewise effective. Like López’s sweeper, Sewald has a 0.0% BP% with the pitch. The combination of the two quality pitches has kept batters off balance and limited them to a .196 average against Sewald this season.