With the opening week in the books and both some incredible and some not-so-incredible pitching performances on the board for 2019, it’s time to talk a little bit about one of the more fascinating evaluation tools that we use for our beloved pitchers: Pitch Value.
pVal is somewhat indicative of how good or bad a particular pitch is for a pitcher, but it’s also somewhat random in the way that it is accumulated. Fangraphs does a pretty good job of describing pVal and how it works, but if I could simplify it as much as possible, it would go something like this:
Every situation in baseball has a run-expectancy attached to it; every baserunning scenario, every count, and the number of outs all play a role in the different permutations that create varying run expectancies from pitch to pitch. As a pitcher, the lower the run expectancy the better, so as you manipulate the situation more in your favor (ex. moving a count from 1-0 to 1-1), your pVal for the pitch you used to change the situation will accumulate positively. The opposite would be true as the situation moves in favor of the hitter. The big accumulators, however, are at-bat outcomes. A called-strike to get ahead of a batter will have marginal positive impact on a pitch’s pVal, but a double to set up a run-scoring opportunity could potentially result in a 10-fold negative impact as compared to the previous called strike. Basically, in order to have a pitch with a high pVal, it can’t just be effective and it can’t just be thrown a lot. Usually you require a combination of effectiveness and volume, and this is why you will find fastballs atop the the pVal lists every year.
So, you can see that pVal accumulation is both beautifully simplistic and a bit hard to predict, but the experts here at Pitcher List decided to give it a shot, as we sat down for a fun Best-Ball draft in which we drafted teams of individual pitches that we thought would accumulate the highest summation of pVal for the entire season. We used Pitch Info’s pitch types. Here was the criteria:
Eight rounds requiring two Fastballs (FF, FT, SI), one Slider, one Curveball, one Changeup, two Utility pitches (any pitch plus the addition of cutters, splitters, and knuckleballs), and the coup de gras, one pitch that had a NEGATIVE pVal in 2018. This draft was completed before the season, so some of the selections are no longer going to contribute as expected.
I had the first overall pick and I had to go with one of the best pitches in baseball from a pVAL (and really overall) standpoint — Nola’s curveball. It’s an amazing pitch and could get better as he continues to develop it.
I’m also happy with Richards’ changeup — a super underrated but extremely nasty pitch that I’m hopeful can continue to be developed. I also like the chances of Archer’s changeup putting up a good pVAL. It was a Money Pitch last year despite posting a negative pVAL, so I could see it getting better
For fastballs, I didn’t grab one with my first overall pick. Maybe I should have, but I focused more on breaking balls this draft. Still, I think Paxton has a very good fastball, it posted an excellent pVAL last year and I think could do it again. I also snagged Freeland’s fastball, which was solid last year and I think could improve. Or at the very least, still be a solid fastball.
I grabbed two sliders, Diaz’s and Carrasco’s. Both were somewhat late in the draft, with Carrasco’s slider as my last pick, and I’m glad I was able to get both. Diaz’s slider is one of the best around and I don’t see any reason it won’t be again. Carrasco’s is similarly awesome and I think should stay good.
I also grabbed Trivino’s cutter, one of the most-chased pitches in baseball last year, and one of the best cutters. I think he can improve this year, he’s young, and could at the very least maintain his cutter from last year if not get better.
Verlander’s four-seamer was a clear pick for me with Nola’s curveball off the board. In all drafts, I’m about productive floors in the early rounds and Verlander’s fastball is everything you want to see. I think I got a steal with Severino’s four-seamer in the sixth round, as it was a pitch that held a 16 pVal through his first 19 games last season. I’m thinking 15-20 through 2019 is very reasonable.
I didn’t expect to double up on Severino, but his slider is one of the best out there, returning 15+ pVals each of the last two years. With a 200+ IP season possible, it seemed like an easy decision in the third round.
My negative pitch was Knebel’s four-seamer, which returned a 5+ pVal alone in the month of September. Now that’s he’s fixed, I can see it becoming a staple during a phenomenal year in Milwaukee.
I had my eye on Heaney’s changeup for a while as I see its productive 2018 as a solid floor for a possible breakout in 2019. It’s the pitch that translated to double-digit strikeout games for Heaney and more consistency could come with another full season (Please stay healthy Heaney…).
After the elite curveballs left the pool, I elected to wait until the end as there were no definitively good hooks to grab. I’m a believer in a Nelson rebound, which would return a near 10 pVal for his curveball again. Hitting that ceiling would have it compete inside the top five curveballs and that works for me in the last round.
Finally, my two UTIL pitches were Kluber’s cutter and Clevinger’s slider. This draft is about a combination of SP IP volume, pitch usage, and pitch effectiveness, and I see both these pitches ticking all three boxes, pushing the 15+ pVal marks.
I kicked off my draft with Kluber’s dazzling slider which was the fifth highest among starters with a pVal of 22.1 in 2018. You may say “why select it that early if it was only 5th among all sliders?” In the last three years, it has a cumulative pVAl of 81.9. The next closest is Jhoulys Chacin at 58.6.
Next came Godley’s curveball. I’m betting on a combination of usage and success here. No one threw more curveballs than Godley in 2018 with his 40% usage rate, and since breaking into the MLB, hitters have just a .224 SLG and .222 wOBA. That’s a recipe for success.
Green’s fastball has produced 43 total pVAL over the last two years, with a 14.7 career SwStrk% and can sit 96 MPH. That’s a fastball I wanted to bet on.
For my negative pitch, I went with Strasburg’s fastball which produced a -4.2 pVal last season. The two seasons prior it had generated an 11.9 pVal and I’m betting his shoulder inflammation caused his sudden pVal drop-off.
It surprised me to see Flaherty’s slider make it back to me at the end of the 5th. Not only does he use it frequently (29.9% usage rate) but it is also nasty (83.7 EV/.169 xBA/.287 xSLG)
Sanchez had the second highest changeup pVal (9.6) in the 2nd half of 2018 ahead of the likes of Carrasco, deGrom, and Castillo.
This late in the draft I was looking for a consistent pitch. Givens’ fastball has been quietly worth 26.9 pVal over the last two seasons, so I grabbed it.
Finally, this is my dart throw of the draft: Whitley’s fastball. I’m hoping for an early call up with the uncertainty of the back end of the Astros rotation. Whitley can can touch 97 with the pitch.
With the fourth overall pick, I opted for safety with Scherzer’s fastball. It’s been a 22+ pVAL pitch in three of the last four years (including 30.9 in 2018) so I’m counting on this pitch anchoring my team in 2019.
It might seem blasphemous to go with Chacin’s slider when those of Chris Sale and Severino were still on the board, but the pitch put up a 25.9 pVAL last season, which ranked fifth of any offering. It held a 21.2 pVAL in 2017 too, since Chacin throws his slider more often than any other starting pitcher.
Betances’ curveball is his signature pitch, and he recorded the third best pVAL of any curveball last year at 13.1. There aren’t many consistent double-digit pVAL curveballs, so I was happy to grab one in the third round.
After a 19.5 pVAL 2017, Archer’s slider dropped to just 6.1 in 2018. It was a dominant pitch from 2015-17, so I’m banking on a rebound as he gets to play a full season in the most pitcher friendly environment of his career.
Unfortunately for this draft, Pitch Info breaks up Buehler’s fastballs into a four-seamer, cutter, and sinker. His four-seam fastball was still worth 9.6 pVAL in 137.1 innings last season, so I expect some growth over a whole year.
I went back and forth between Joey Lucchesi and Devenski’s changeups and ultimately settled on Devenski for his consistent dominance with the pitch, even while his overall performance declined last season.
In the penultimate round of the draft, I finally filled the negative pVAL slot with Fulmer’s sinker. It was a successful pitch from 2017-18 with 21.8 pVAL over that span, and a bounce-back season should lead to positive regression.
With my last pick, I gambled on Pineda’s slider returning to form. In his last full season, it was a 17.5 pVAL pitch and could return great dividends if he’s healthy.
We were back in the dark ages. No rankings to consult, no season previews to sift through, no sleeper list to navigate. We were on our own. That’s what made this pVal draft so unique. There were no premonitions of value. Just our own research and opinions. Drafting from the fifth position, here is why I did what I did:
For my first pitch, I wanted to have one that ranked as the best. Look no further than this beauty. Corbin’s slider was the king’s pitch commanding a 25.1 SwSt% and 27.6 pVal, tops for the bender. Oh, and he uses it A LOT. His 41% usage rate was behind only Chacin (qualified pitchers) for sliders thrown. There was no better pitch to select first.
Averaging 95 mph and occasionally touching 100 mph, Hader’s fastball is electric. Batters trying to hit it failed 36.4% of the time. It was the first pitch selected that was thrown by a reliever and it dominates. With a pVal of 19.7 in 2018, it ranked as the sixth-best fastball and best pitch thrown by a reliever.
When your favorite pitch in the game is available in the third round, you take it. Particularly if it is one as dominating as this one. Sale’s slider was good for a 19.2 pVal in 2018 despite a lighter inning load for the lanky lefty (56.1 IP less than in 2017). As noted in our pitch database, his slider was thrown 872 times and hit just 6 times. Yep, I’ll take that one, please.
The negative pVal pitch. Here’s banking on a return to form. Ray’s four-seamer had a 13.3 pVal in 2016 and 18.3 in 2017 before a sub-par -1.6 in 2018. I felt it was one of the top negative pitches in 2018 with a potential of an improvement of 15 points.
ICYMI, deGrom won a Cy Young in 2018 and that changeup was a key contributor. It was his third-best pitch with a pVal of 13.0. The pitch qualified as a Money Pitch in 2018 with a 41.9 Zone%, 40.7 O-swing%, and 16.5 SwStr% which I’m taking right to the bank in the fifth round.
Conveniently, Morton’s best pitch is the Uncle Charlie (uncertain if Morton is actually an uncle). The pitch was good for a 9.8 pVal in 2018 (seventh-best CU) after a 15.9 pVal in the preceding year.
The man that keeps adding to his pitch arsenal still relied on his 94.5 mph fastball in 36.9% of pitches thrown. Bauer’s fastball was good for a 12.5 pVal in an injury limited season. I’m predicting a higher pVal as a result of a larger body of work and a new pitch to keep hitters on their toes for the fastball.
For my last pick, I felt speculation was in order. As sliders and fastballs appear to be the biggest pVal earners, I knew that’s what I wanted to select from with my last utility pitch. In a relief role, McHugh’s slider earned a 9.8 pVal in 2018. Now a starter, his slider stands a chance to become even more valuable as volume increases. Please just stay healthy.
This a draft for the craziest of baseball minds who are tired of drafting and agonizing over whole players like Chris Sale, and instead want to draft just his slider.
I noticed right away that fastballs and sliders were the “deeper” pitches in terms of pVal. Fastballs, mostly because of volume, also dominated the high end of the pVal spectrum. Considering that many of the UTIL spots would be coming out of the slider and fastball pool, I knew I wanted to start my draft with anchors at those positions.
At pick No. 6, Cole’s fastball was an easy choice. With Verlander’s and Scherzer’s fastballs gone, Cole’s was the last remaining dominant pitch. His increased usage of his four-seamer last year was huge for his overall success.
With my second pick (19th overall) I took Kershaw’s slider. Wow do I regret this. Although I factored in the health concern with this pick, I did not expect an injury so soon (before he even started pitching!). I hate this pick and I hope that Kershaw sees the mound enough to not sink my season.
After my previous pick, three changeups flew off the board so I went after Carrasco’s. It was unspectacular last year, but in 2017 it was one of the best in the game. I am hoping it returns to its 2017 form this year.
In the fourth round I nabbed Scherzer’s slider. Like Carrasco’s changeup it was not outstanding in 2018, but in 2017 it ended with a whopping 26.4 pVal. If this pick returns something close to that, it’s the steal of the draft.
My last four picks were Strasburg’s curve, Quintana’s fastball, Duffy’s changeup, and Rodon’s slider. Out of this group I think Quintana’s fastball is underrated and could be very solid. He throws it a lot and it has seen some fabulous results in the past. He loves to attack hitters up in the zone, which is great to see with s fastball.
Without any precedence for how a draft like this ‘should’ look, I determined that the best course of action was to find pitchers who have had consistent results with a certain pitch, and have maintained their durability on the hill. pVAL is more of a counting stat than people realize, so having pitchers who are as close to surefire bets to throw plenty of pitches only increases my chances of finishing with the highest total pVAL. I was not alone in this strategy however, and ended up having to take some risks later on.
I felt like a fastball was the way to go early, and when I saw that deGrom’s heater was still around I had to have it. This pitch posted a 23.6 pVAL last season, and has been above 15 in three of the last four years, including over 20 twice. It is about as consistent of a fastball as I could find, and as long as deGrom is healthy this pitch should get me an easy 15+ pVAL to anchor my squad.
A changeup was required in this format, and it became clear that top-tier change pieces were going to go early. I got in on Mad Max’s change, giving me another high-floor offering for a pitcher that has showed no signs of slowing down. It may not be his most flashy secondary, but Scherzer’s change has been above 5.0 pVAL three of the last four years and posted a career-high 9.6 mark last year. I’ll take one of the better changeups in the game in Round 2.
I didn’t think I’d end up with a reliever pitch this early, since they obviously are limited in volume. However, Jansen’s cutter has always been a high-volume pitch, and while it took a step backward last year it has long been one of the most dominating pitches in all of baseball, as evidenced by back-to-back 20+ pVAL seasons in 2016-2017. While he may not reach those levels again, I feel confident this pitch can bring in solid results and I’m happy to have it in Round 3.
The draft format required two fastballs, and I knew that it would be crucial to get two high volume offerings. So even though I still didn’t have a breaking ball, I went with Nola’s heater in Round 4. Nola’s fastball was a negative pVAL pitch for his first three seasons, but exploded with a 13.2 mark last season, thanks to an increased swinging strike rate and a very high rate of infield fly balls. I believe my combo of deGrom and Nola’s fastballs will give me a very solid base to build this squad around.
One of my favorite aspects of this draft was the idea that we needed to draft a pitch that had been a negative pVAL pitch the year prior. I immediately knew I was going to go with Burnes’ slider, which posted a -1.4 pVAL in his first season despite being a Money Pitch (47.1 o-swing, 46.7 zone, 24.6 swStr). The pitch suffered from a trio of home runs, ballooning his HR/FB rate to 30%. A move to the rotation may take some of the zip off it, but I still believe this pitch could be money even with way more offerings.
Verlander’s curveball has long been one of my favorite pitches, and even though it has been inconsistent in the past I am happy to grab it for the potential in Round 6. He generated a 9.0 pVAL with this pitch last season, and has posted nine or higher four times in his career. That comes with a few sub-2.0 seasons sandwiched in the middle, so this pitch could make or break my team. I’m willing to bank on the Astros’ coaching staff helping him make this pitch an elite one once again, and am willing to take the risk at this stage of the draft.
Since Burnes’ slider went into my negative slot, I still hadn’t taken a pitch for my slider slot yet, and that’s when I decided to jump on Buehler’s offering. This pitch doesn’t quite fit my predraft strategy of taking high-volume pitches, but his 7.7 pVAL last season was very nice, and the pitch came very close to being a money offering. I could see him relying on this pitch a bit more next year, which could easily vault into double-digit pVAL territory – a risk I’m willing to take in Round 7.
I decided to finish this thing off with another slider that I hadn’t planned on taking, but the results last year were too tough to pass up in the final round. Boyd made dramatic changes to his slider, with much less movement and velocity than in years past. The results worked, as it generated a very nice 18.9 pVAL even though the O-swing and swinging strike numbers didn’t change much. It could have been a fluke, but I’m willing to gamble that he can at least post a double-digit pVAL, and that’s worth snagging in the final round.
This is what happens when you’re so attached to an idea that could make you look like a genius, you ignore options more likely to do so. Sure, Darvish’s slider is an elite pitch that accumulated 12.8 pVal in 2017, but there are other pitches that had rough 2018’s just as likely, if not more likely, to generate ~10 pVal in 2019 that cost much less draft capital. If I were to do it over, I would take a guaranteed 18 pVal from either Zach Wheeler’s or Chad Green’s FA. All I can do now is hope to get bailed out for my tunnel vision like Joe Maddon did in 2016.
I already sense the yawns mustering since Greinke’s name was mentioned, but I don’t care. This is about value, not excitement, and it’s hard to find a changeup available that provides more consistent value than Greinke’s. Among qualified pitchers since 2015, Greinke is the only one to have three changeups rank in the top 15. That’s right, not even the great Professor Kyle Hendricks can put that on his CV (his CH has a higher ceiling, but that’s why he was already off the board).
There are three classes of curveballs for pVal. They are…
1) Nola’s *swoon*
2) Okay, pretty solid
3) These all kinda stink huh?
There are only about three curveballs in the second tier, and Robertson has the best potential to compete with Nola’s 23.5 pVal. His curve has put up at least 9.4 pVal the last three seasons, and with usage and strikeout rates of 40%+, should easily accumulate 13+ pVal.
An anonymous PL contributor classified the movement on Treinen’s sinker as “wizard-like.” Does that mean much for pVal though? Not really, but Treinen’s go-to did generate 12.4 pVal in 2018. If he can maintain the same effectiveness with usage rates similar to 2016 and 2017, Treinen’s sinker could be looking at close to 18 pVal.
Tanaka’s famous for his splitter that falls off the table, but his slider took off in the second half of 2018, coming in at No. 2 on the pVal leaderboard behind Corbin and just ahead of Mikolas. His slider suppressed his most profound weakness, HR/FB%, better than it ever had in previous years and better than any other pitch in his repertoire. Saying he should throw his slide as frequently as Corbin does is an oversimplification, but the data suggests it would improve Tanaka’s overall effectiveness.
Everyone seems to be worried about Bumgarner’s velocity decline, and I’m not excluding myself from that population. However, that doesn’t mean I’m concerned about all of his pitches, as Bumgarner’s cutter held opposing batters to their second-lowest average in his career. I’m not betting on MadBum returning to his former place among baseball’s elite pitchers with this selection, but I am banking on the pitch’s track record of racking up 15+ pVal like it did in five of six seasons where he pitched over 150 innings.
Derek Carty would cringe at me for citing second half stats two consecutive times, but nearly all of Snell’s fastball pVal came in the second half of 2018 (8.6/9.4). Snell’s closest arsenal comp is deGrom, whose fastball racked up 23.6 pVal in 2018. Does this mean Snell’s fastball will finish with 20 pVal this upcoming season? No, but there’s reason to believe he’ll carry adjustments made to the pitch usage and location over and use it more effectively than what 9.4 pVal would indicate.
Bieber’s slider was 2018’s third-most chased pitch (52.9%), and unlike Snell, Bieber needs to focus on throwing more pitches outside the zone and/or allowing more walks. If his fastball gets knocked around less, he’ll have more opportunities for strikeouts with his money slider. Another option would be to use his slider closer to 30% of the time since it is a Money Pitch (honestly, if your primary offering is getting knocked around for a .374 wOBA, you should change your approach). Regardless of what changes in Bieber’s approach, if anything, his slider is still lethal and worth taking a chance on in the final round.
The changeup is Hendricks’ best pitch; it was worth 16.6 pVAL last season and topped out at 21.5 pVAL two years ago. Only two other changeups registered double-digit pVALs and Hendricks change was a full four points higher than the next highest one.
I didn’t want to wait on sliders too long on as there was only 13 SL over double-digit pVAL in 2018. Mikolas’ slider racked up 24.3 pVAL (third-best in 2018). I figured if I could grab a bunch of solid high-floor fastballs after this I’d be pretty set.
It’s hard to find a fastball more secure one than Happ’s., having put up at least 19 pVAL three of the last four years.
There were signs of Rodriguez’s breakout season and his fastball was a big reason why. His fastball was worth an incredible 18.2 pVAL and with a 29.8 K% and a .279 BABIP shows it wasn’t just luck either.
Greinke’s curveball is a beautiful pitch and while worth only 9.1 pVAL it was worth 2.45 pVAL/100 pitches (Ranked No. 1). It was a Money Pitch in 2018 and has improved each of the last four years.
In 2018, Price’s main pitch was worth 16.3 pVAL I’m betting that he can continue that level of production and it helps he’s surrounded by great defense.
James’ fastball was my biggest risk so far in the draft mainly because it isn’t a sure thing he has a rotation spot, but it racked up an astonishing 3.2 pVAL in just 23 innings.
Heaney’s fastball was worth -2.7 pVAL in 2018 making it a great pick. If we all expect Heaney to break out this year because of his changeup improves then I expect his fastball to benefit in some way as well from that breakout.
I knew I wanted a fastball with my first selection, as it was going to be the anchor of my roster. With deGrom’s FA unfortunately being taken halfway through the first round, I decided to take deGrom Jr.’s FA instead. Wheeler’s FA ranked sixth in hard-hit rate, and he finished as one of only 17 pitchers with a >10.0% swinging-strike rate on at least 1000 FA’s thrown. The dude is legit, and so is his favorite weapon.
Coming off the turn, knowing that more fastballs would be available later in the draft, I wanted to grab a slider, as they were the next best pVal accumulators in recent years. There were a lot of options out there, but I decided to take my favorite of the bunch: deGrom’s. He throws it in so many different ways and disguises it so well with his elite fastball that the hitter is literally playing a guessing game at the plate.
The helium is real on Marquez in 2019 and there is a lot of talk about his slider … but no one realized that it was his curveball that picked up 8.2 pVal in the second half last season (second only to Nola).
One of the more “is it legit” subjects of 2018? Foltynewicz. Grabbing his slider in the fourth round felt like grabbing Adalberto Mondesi in the fourth round. How confident am I? I don’t know. 1.4 pVal in 2017, 23.8 pVal in 2018 … fingers crossed!
I don’t know how this happened, but Snell’s changeup fell to me in the fifth round. With a 15.3% swinging-strike rate, a mere 84.3mph average exit velocity, and a .195 average-against, Snell’s change pulled out an 8.0 pVal. Who’s to say the Cy Young can’t repeat those results? Certainly not me.
Some pretty good fastballs were still on the board, but I tool a flyer on one of my favorites: Diaz’s. He was so special last year, and so much of that success stemmed from his elite four-seamer. I certainly expect him to continue riding that high 90s heater to another 40+ save campaign on a team that should be competitive throughout the season.
Into the final rounds we went, and here I was with a golden opportunity to grab a potentially HUGE comeback option with my negative 2018 pitch. I really wanted to go with a high-volume pitch to grab some serious upside here, and I think I found it in Pivetta’s FA. He throws it a ton, he throws it hard, and he’s teammates with Nola who has some of the best fastball command in all of baseball.
And bringing up the caboose is Jeffress’s curveball. It’s a Money Pitch that he threw more than any other pitch in his arsenal, and given the nature of the Brewers’ bullpen, you can expect to see plenty of him and, therefore, plenty of that curveball this season.
Why Snell’s curveball? It’s the reigning Cy Young winners deadliest pitch. The pVal on this beauty went from 1.8 in 2017 to 13.2 in 2018. I proclaim it as the eighth wonder of the world and I look forward to basking in its glow throughout the year.
When a pitcher has 387 offerings like Bauer does, it’s hard to choose one. I expect the slider to become even more effective from its 11.2 pVal 2018 with the introduction of a changeup.
Williams’ four-seamer was one of the slowest in the league, sitting at 91.7. Oddly though, it was his most-effective and most-utilized pitch by far in 2018, posting a 16.0 pVal. This improvement is largely attributed to the pairing with his sinker as both pitches generate an incredible amount of weak contact.
Only Corbin’s slider – the best one in baseball in terms of whiff % – bested Marquez’s from July through the balance of the year. Corbin’s slider went to Justin Paradis as the fifth overall selection. Marquez’s slider? 37th.
Will Reyes be healthy enough to actually give me anything worthwhile? Who knows, but the velo is easy high-90s cheese and it’s going to play up with that nasty slider. The fastball could be just as good – if not better – than Josh Hader’s offering which went 20th overall to Justin. Reyes’ four-seamer went 60th.
This was an absolute steal for my required negative pitch. Last year, old man Price increased the usage of his elite changeup (from 14% to 22%) to keep hitters from jumping on his fastball, and posted a swinging strike rate of 19%.
Things get weird at the end of drafts. Also, changeups are gross. You pretty much have Kyle Hendricks‘ and everyone else. After posting two plus seasons with the changeup, it was time to take a flier on Anderson’s, which held a 7+ pVal the past two years.
Berrios’ curveball is one of the dirtiest pitches out there, a nice way to wrap up the draft.
Graphic by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)