Going Deep: Pitchers With 4 or More Positive pVAL Offerings

If you’ve ever listened to an episode of On The Corner with Nick and me, you are likely familiar with pVAL. The metricwhich stands for pitch valueis one that we frequently look at to help us gauge whether or not a pitcher is having success with a pitch. For a more in-depth description on how pVAL is calculated, I would check out this article. The TL;DR of pVAL is that the higher the pVAL of a pitch the more success a pitcher had with it, and the lower the pVAL the less success a pitcher had.  With the help of Colin Charles, I took a look at pVAL data for every pitcher in the 2018 season and sorted to see who had the most positive pVAL pitches (min 150 thrown). The results looked like this:

# of + pVAL Pitches # of SP’s
5 6
4 21
3 55
2 116
1 110

Before we get a bit more specific with that data, there’s a few things to break down:

  1. Having more positive pVAL offerings doesn’t inherently make you a “better” pitcher. There are plenty of pitchers who had three (Justin Verlander, Chris Sale) or even two (Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino) plus pVAL offerings that are fantastic pitchers.
  2. pVAL is no different than any other metric in baseball in that it should not be viewed without context. If Nick and I bring up pVAL, it is likely paired with metrics such as O-Swing, Z-Swing, Zone%, SwSt% and more.
  3. pVAL (as aptly noted in this fantastic piece by Alex Chamberlain of Rotographs) is not predictivethough making it so is something we’re working on at PitcherList.

With all of that aside, pVAL is still a good way to see who had success with their arsenal. Let’s take a look at those who had 4 or more positive pVAL offerings:

Name # of + pVAL Pitches Total pVAL*
Jacob deGrom 5 59.1
Trevor Bauer 5 33.3
Walker Buehler 5 27.1
Noah Syndergaard 5 14.1
Dereck Rodriguez 5 12.1
Carlos Martinez 5 10.1
Max Scherzer 4 51.2
Aaron Nola 4 44.8
Blake Snell 4 42.1
Corey Kluber 4 41.1
Patrick Corbin 4 39.8
Mike Foltynewicz 4 36.4
Zack Wheeler 4 32.8
Jameson Taillon 4 24.2
Kyle Freeland 4 22.8
Mike Clevinger 4 22.6
Jack Flaherty 4 21.4
Jeremy Jeffress 4 21.1
Charlie Morton 4 19.6
Clay Buchholz 4 19.1
Carlos Carrasco 4 15.7
Wade LeBlanc 4 14.8
Yusmeiro Petit 4 12.1
Robbie Erlin 4 10.3
Marco Gonzales 4 9.8
Daniel Mengden 4 8.5
Roenis Elias 4 5.8

*Total pVAL is apropos of nothing and was only used as a means of sorting the list.


There are a lot of names on that list that make sense. pVAL is closely associated with ERA, so names like Jacob DeGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, and Blake Snell should not come as a surprise. Some can also be written off as having barely made the cut: pitchers like Roenis Elias technically qualified but three of his four pitches had a pVAL below 1. So let’s make this list even MORE specific. Rather than making the minimum 0 for pVAL, let’s bring that up to 1 and see what we get:

Name Total
Trevor Bauer 5
Walker Buehler 5
Jacob deGrom 4
Patrick Corbin 4
Aaron Nola 4
Corey Kluber 4
Blake Snell 4
Mike Clevinger 4
Kyle Freeland 4
Zack Wheeler 4
Mike Foltynewicz 4
Jameson Taillon 4
Charlie Morton 4
Carlos Martinez 4
Clay Buchholz 4
Jeremy Jeffress 4
Robbie Erlin 4

As you’d expect, ERA leaders are still on the list. We’ve lost Dereck Rodriguez (0.8 SI, 0.2 SL), Jack Flaherty (0.2 pVal on his CB) and nine others. Even with those pitchers removed, there are quite a few interesting names on this list. Let’s take a look at a few focusing on those who may have a “fuller” arsenal in that they don’t rely on just one pitch for all their pVAL (so no Zack Wheeler, or Patrick Corbin):

 

Jameson Taillon

Sinker

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
35.9 44.1 7.0 10

Slider

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
49.8 47.1 13.7 6.4

Curveball

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
34.3 34.9 13.9 4.2

Four-seam

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
25.7 58.4 10.8 3.6

Summary

 

While I’m not surprised to find Jameson Taillon on this list, I am a little shocked at the even nature of his repertoire in terms of pVAL. I thought perhaps his sinker would be far and away his best pitch but the other pitches really aren’t that far behind making Taillon that much better to own. A change happened for Taillon over the All-Star break: he started throwing a lot more sliders. Before the break, Taillon was only throwing his slider 12.5% of the time, relying more on a mix of his four-seam and changeup. The righty was also primarily throwing the pitch to RHH, too. Post-July 17th however, Taillon started going to his slider 26%, throwing it to LHH 13% more and using it to get a lot more K’s. While his four-seam usage dropped in the second half, so did the pitch’s wOBA, decreasing from .333 to .299. Though the wOBA on Taillon’s sinker actually increased in that time periodfrom .272 to .310his pVAL/C (pVAL weighted per 100 thrown) actually saw a slight increase in that time. In 2018, Taillon took some big strides in terms of ERA, BB/9 and most importantly IP. If he stays healthy in 2019, and begins the year with the same increased slider usage, I don’t see why he can’t maintain his low 3 ERA and mid 8 K/9.

 

Charlie Morton

 

Curveball

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
37.8 39.5 18.9 9.8

Sinker

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
31.0 54.6 6.9 6.7

Four-seam

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
21.4 56.3 9.3 1.7

Splitter

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
24.0 40.4 8.7 1.4

Summary

 

Charlie Morton has a really interesting and almost Darvish-like arsenal in how abundant it is. In 2018, according to Fangraphs, Morton threw seven different pitches: curveball (787 times thrown), four-seam (783), sinker (781), splitter (161), cutter (140), slider (28) and changeup (6). Even if those changeups were miscategorized, that’s still a six-pitch arsenal. This list only took into account those pitches Morton threw over 150 times, which is good because all those he threw fewer than that had negative pVAL’s. The four featured above showcase some really nasty stuff though (the nod Max Stassi gives Morton after that four-seamer is all of us). The pitch that has me most curious, however, is Morton’s splitter. Morton has thrown the pitch over 200 times once in his 8+ year career but has never eschewed the pitch all-together. In 2018, the pitch seemed to have a breakthrough. It had a sub .200 BAA for the first time when thrown over 100 times (.167), its first 40+% Zone rate and it’s lowest wOBA at .262. The SwSt rate leaves a lot to be desired and the .158 BABIP on the pitch certainly seems to indicate some luck considering the career .302 BABIP. Splitter aside, Morton’s sinker got a lot more whiffs out of the zone and increased its pVAL from 2017 by 10 points, his four-seam increased its zone rate by 7% and his curveball continued to be a great pitch for him. If he stays healthy in 2019, he could have another fantastic campaign.

Clay Buchholz

 

Cutter

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
46.6 49.0 17.2 7.1

Changeup

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
36.6 48.8 19.2 5.7

Four-seam

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
16.9 60.9 2.3 5.0

Sinker

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
24.6 50.4 4.2 1.3

Summary

 

Clay Buchholz is the first real surprise for me on this list. He’s also the only free agent on this list. It’s safe to say that most people knew Buchholz was having success with his cutter in ’18. While this is the best cutter by pVAL Buchholz has put up since 2013, it’s always been a plus pitch for him when he can stay healthy. What’s worth noting is that the pitch had the best SwSt rate, O-Swing, and wOBA of his career. The .333 BABIP on the pitch only proves it was actually that good. Like I said though, the cutter wasn’t the real surprise: that was the fact that Buchholz had two other + 5 pVAL pitches: his changeup and four-seamer. Unlike the cutter, the BABIP for each pitch.179 and .206 respectivelyhint at regression in 2019. Pair that .206 BABIP on his fastball with a career-high 94.2% Contact rate and the 5.0 pVAL (his highest in 5 years) looks like it won’t be so high in ’19. The peripherals on the changeup are a bit more encouraging as they resemble those of 2016 when Buchholz’s changeup had a 6.7 pVAL. It would make more sense to see Buchholz have success with his changeup moving forward than his fastball. At the end of the day, the biggest issue with Buchholz has always been and will always be his health. While the 2018 campaign ended with him suffering a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, Buchholz did not require surgery instead opting for a PRP injection. Depending on where he ends upon a likely one-year dealBuchholz could be an interesting last round grab.

Jeremy Jeffress

 

Curveball

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
41.9 42.4 18.5 8.7

Splitter

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
46.2 45.6 15.2 5.6

Sinker

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
26.9 45.6 7.9 4.7

Four-seam

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
16.8 56.6 12.9 2.1

Summary

 

If Clay Buchholz was a surprise, Jeremy Jeffress was a well-called game by Angel Hernandez. The Brewers righty spent a lot of 2018 being the 2nd best RP in Milwaukee’s pen. While Josh Hader was all fastballand what an insane fastball it wasJeffress actually had the more well-rounded arsenal. Here is a list of all the pitchers with two money pitches in 2018 (a money pitch is one with a 40+% O-Swing, a 40%+ Zone rate and a 15+% SwSt rate).

Name Pitches
Max Scherzer  SL, FC
Corey Kluber  SL, FC
Chris Archer  SL, CH
Joe Musgrove  SL, CH
Jeremy Jeffress  CB, FS
Domingo German  CB, CH

*For more on those other pitchers, check out Ben Palmer’s fantastic article

As if being on that list isn’t impressive enough, you may have noticed that Jeffress is the only reliever. Jeffress has had success with his curveball before but never to this extent as this is the first time it was a money pitch. The 18.5% SwSt rate is his highest since 2015 and the 373 times thrown is far and away a career high. The splitter is a bit of a different story. Added to his arsenal in 2015, Jeffress threw the pitch over 100 times for the first time last year. He finished 2017 with 175 thrown, the pitch had a .220 BAA, and a 20.6% SwSt rate. While that dropped 5% in 2018, the Zone rate on the pitch went from 29.1% in 2017 to 45.6%which would explain the 7% drop in O-Swingand had a .188 BAA. Though Jeffress’s sinker and four-seam weren’t money pitches, they were both very good. While the fastball has a .214 BABIP, it also has an xwOBA slightly lower than its wOBA and though the sinker only had a 7.9 SwSt rate, the pitch has only exceeded that number once in his career, when he’s thrown it over 150 times. Overall, I don’t see any reason why Jeffress can’t continue to dominate in 2019.

Robbie Erlin

 

Changeup

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
42.5 43.2 15.6 4.1

Curveball

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
26.9 39.5 11.8 2.6

Four-seam

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
29.2 55.0 7.6 2.4

Sinker

 

O-Swing Zone% SwSt% pVAL
28.3 61.8 5.8 1.2

Summary

 

No matter how many times I tried to filter this list, Robbie Erlin just wouldn’t go away. Add that to the fact that he’s been the topic of some conversation on Twitter recently and I figured he merited a deeper look.  While no pitch of Erlin’s has a pVAL lower than 1, they also don’t have a pVAL higher than 5. His highest pVAL rated pitchthe changeupwas a money pitch in 2018 which actually isn’t surprising: Erlin’s CH has been a money pitch every time he’s thrown it over 150 times. The issue is Erlin has only thrown his changeup over 150 times twice because a Tommy John surgery kept him sidelined most of ’16 and ’17. This makes any season-by-season comparisons a bit moot as Erlin hasn’t thrown more than 50 IP at the big league level since 2014. With that said, there is a lot to unpack from his ’18 metrics. For example, while the .268 BABIP on Erlin’s change-up is in line with what he’s done in his career, the 50 point difference between his .299 xwOBA and .249 wOBA hint at some regression. That same metric, however, shows that the success Erlin had with his curveball may be legithe had a .186 wOBA on the pitch with a .190 xwOBA. While the curve has below league average horizontal and vertical movement, it doesn’t matter when you’re putting up a .186 BAA bolstered by a .188 xBAA. Overall, the major concern I have with Erlin lies in his splits data. Erlin had a 3.81 ERA his first time through the order as an SP (26.0 IP) but a 7.99 ERA on his second time through the order (23.2 IP). There were some rumblings that Erlin could be utilized with an “opener” and if that’s the case, he becomes a very attract buy-low candidate. If the Padres do choose to deploy him as a starter though, I may be wary until he can prove he can get through the order a bit more consistently.

(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire)

Alex Fast

Alex Fast is Head of Operations at Pitcher List. Co-host of On The Corner, and host of the weekend edition of First Pitch, Alex received his masters in interactive telecommunications from NYU's ITP. He dedicated his time there on bringing new, interactive tech to the game of baseball and created a thesis about how the sport is under-utilizing data visualization. All opinions are Alex's and Alex's alone. A die-hard Orioles fan, Alex is well versed in futility and broken pitching prospects.

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Comments


cutchamin

Hi All – I need some advice. (Hope this is an OK place to post this) –
I’m in a 12 team roto league. We can keep 2 players from last year. They have to have been either (1) drafted in the 16th through 31st rounds last year – in which case you lose the same pick this year, or (2) picked up on waivers – in which case you lose a 14th round pick. My choices are:
Gallo – would lose my 30th round pick.
Chapman – would lose my 26th round pick.
Mikolas – would lose my 23rd round pick.
Mondesi – would lose my 14th round pick.
Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Daniel

Loved the article. Surprised to see Folty so high on the first list as even as a Braves fan – I was unaware his pitchers were that different.

Do you see him as a name you’d like to trade for in a dynasty league?

Alex Fast

Thanks for the kind words. In terms of Folty, he resembles Wheeler and Corbin in that he had one pitch that had a lot of pVAL (his SL had – I believe – a top 5 23.8) and the rest of his arsenal was either very good (7.6 pVAL on fastball) or above average (2.9 CB or 2.1 CH).

In terms of trading for a dynasty league it would certainly depend on the price. This was pretty out of nowhere for Folty. Even Eno Sarris said Folty was the pitcher who caught him most off guard in 2018. I’m projecting him to be a more mid 3 ERA guy with a mid 9 K/9.

Kris

Nice article Alex! Really hoping all this Taillon talk I’ve been seeing this offseason doesn’t completely inflate his price this spring. Love the use of gifs too to help us see just how nasty some of these pitches were. Keep up the good work man!

Alex Fast

Thanks a lot for the kind words! And I hear you re: Taillon for sure. The lone downside to writing about fantasy is your league-mates know what you’re thinking.

bbboston

Alex,

This is one of my favorite articles over the last several years. Very instructive and thought provoking. The list winnowed down sure seems predictive at some level to me. A few general thoughts:
1) I suspect having one pitch with a Pval above a certain level to build around could be predictive.
2) I suspect command plays strongly into relative efficacy with Pval + arsenals, especially when you have less than three positive Pval pitches and thus can change your mix when you lose a pitch. For various examples of my point, see Severino, Buchholz or Pineda.
3) I think having 1 stellar pitch above ____ level to build around and two others plus pitches above _____ would absolutely be predictive.

I would love to see “3”. Thanks!

Alex Fast

Man, that is such an incredibly kind thing to say. I was scared this wasn’t going to turn out well so I really, really appreciate that feedback. In terms of the 3 very apt points you’ve brought up: I’ve started to dig in into how we can make pVAL predictive by taking the xwOBA and wOBA from each pitch, subtracting the two, applying them to a prior years pVAL and seeing if there was a correlation.

For example, lets say Pitcher A has a 2.1 pVAL on his SL BUT his xwOBA is .390 and his woba is .250. One would think he’d be in line for some regression. Unfortunately, the analysis didn’t show a TON of correlation but we’re on the right track. Setting a pVAL min as you suggested could be a good starting place.

In terms of your second, once again very apt, point – command could be something we take a look into as well; don’t want to give up all of our secrets.

I’ll take a deeper dive into what you’ve suggested and incorporate it into the article I hope to write once we have sufficient enough results.

Thanks so much for taking the time to both read the article and send me your thoughts!

bbboston

Alex,

One last LONG comment: THIS ARTICLE subtly suggests what baseball players already know. Pitching is an idiosyncratic art. You can be a great pitcher for several reasons, but it almost always starts with having at least one great pitch. That said, being a great pitcher more often than not, includes being able to mix your repertoire up effectively, in a manner that keeps batters off balance or lessons their ability to barrel up a pitch. Command is why there are some pitchers who have truly marginal repertoire, but end of in the W column an awful lot, or conversely have a number of high pVAL pitches and yet still have too many cherry bomb games (Buchholz). In the MLB, there are too many batters who can punish a lost pitch…one that sneaks into the middle of the plate (Pineda).

All that said, from a batters perspective, what makes a good pitch?

It begins and ends with pitch recognition and timing> If you can’t recognize what’s coming quickly through delivery angle, ball exposure, tight spin or pitch mix, your more apt to be surprised. This is why pitchers with cross body deliveries (Weaver, Sale), consistent pitch windows (Palmer), tight spin (Kluber, Verlander) or mix skills (Catfish, Clevinger, T. Bauer) are all tough to read. Similarly, a change-up can be a devastating pitch.

Charles Stevens

What a fantastic article. Thank you for taking the time to compile all the stats and gifs.

I’m in a strat baseball league(24 teams, 40 man rosters) where I have to compile a full baseball team. Would Robbie Erlin be someone worth targeting? He’s a free agent and I could probably pick him up for cheap. Should I grab him?

thank you!

Alex Fast

Thank you for taking the time to read it! If you can get him at minimal cost, then I would say he’s worth having. I’d keep a close eye on him in ST to see how they utilize him though. While the upside is there, he still needs to show he can get thru the order twice consistently before I feel I can really get behind him. Considering he’s be cheap though and the crazy depth of your league, I imagine he’d be a good pickup.

GLaw

Fantastic article, Alex. You guys here at Pitcher List never cease to provide amazing insight and data. Thank you for your time on this…we baseball nerds LOVE it!

I am curious to hear your thoughts on the “opener” strategy. With the Rays applying this strategy, do you think they shy away from it this year with Morton now around and eventually getting Honeywell back? They have the pieces to put together a good rotation or do they still apply this strategy, just less often? I get why they do it, but it just stink for fantasy!

Alex Fast

Hey! Thank you so much for the kind words and for taking the time to read the article. I personally am a big fan of the opener strategy. I think as long as the 10 day DL is a thing and managers are easily able to manipulate their RP usage, it can be a really successful methodology for organizations. Specifically organizations who may be reticent to spend money on big name free agents. While I do think the Rays will use Snell, Morton and Glasnow primarily as starters, I think the backend of their rotation will still deploy the “opener” strategy.

If you listen to my episode of On The List with Austin Bristow, I go into this in a little bit more depth. Thanks again!

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