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 metric—which stands for pitch value—is 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|
Before we get a bit more specific with that data, there’s a few things to break down:
- 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.
- 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.
- pVAL (as aptly noted in this fantastic piece by Alex Chamberlain of Rotographs) is not predictive—though 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*|
*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:
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):
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 period—from .272 to .310—his 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 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 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 respectively—hint 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 up—on a likely one-year deal—Buchholz could be an interesting last round grab.
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 fastball—and what an insane fastball it was—Jeffress 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).
|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-Swing—and 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.
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 pitch—the changeup—was 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 legit—he 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)