Plate Discipline (for Pitchers) – Update #1

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Last week I laid out the basic principles behind using “Plate Discipline” (PD) metrics to analyze starting pitchers. Now, we can start putting this information into practice! Let’s begin by taking a look at some fan favorites, through the lens of PD metrics. All stats in this article are updated through Tuesday’s games (04/24/2018)

PLAYER UPDATES

Corey Kluber
Last year’s #1 pitcher by the metrics (and by everything else), Kluber has a reputation for stinking it up in April, so I thought it might be a useful exercise to check in on him. Lo and behold – he actually is having his usual bad April, you just have to squint through some plate-discipline-colored-glasses to see it. His ERA and FIP are excellent, but his PD metrics are all fairly mediocre compared to his usual self. Overall he’s currently sitting at a B-minus grade. Kluber owners should consider themselves lucky that his (relative) struggles have not hurt their ratios like they usually do in April. Full steam ahead though. That’s just his thing.

Verdict = HOLD

Patrick Corbin
What’s to say about Corbin? He’s simply been flat-out dominant so far this year, leading MLB in K% with a mark near 40, and also topping my PD-metric-based ranking system at this point. His metrics fully support that crazy rate, and he’s been consistent as well. Each of his five starts has been similarly dominant; batters are simply unable to make contact against him right now. The main reason for concern would be his relatively weak schedule so far. He has only played against NL West rivals, and has not pitched against a single team with an wRC+ over 100 yet. There’s a non-zero chance this could end up being a great sell-high opportunity, but, given the utter dominance thus far, I’d probably be more inclined to ride it out.

Verdict = HOLD

Gerrit Cole
Like Corbin, Cole has managed to put up a ridiculous K% near 40 in the early goings. But unlike Corbin, that gaudy rate is not backed up entirely. The metrics suggest he is currently pitching like more of a 30% K guy rather than 40%. This is still very, very good of course, and Cole does look like an ace.  But 10% is a significant discrepancy, and it seems likely that his strikeouts will be reduced going forward.  Also, he’s currently sporting some very unsustainable LOB% and BABIP numbers.  This one is a tough call, because despite the signs of incoming regression, he is clearly someone you still want on your staff.  It’s a bummer for Pirates fan, but whatever he’s doing in Houston is working.  Just not quite as well as it may seem.

Verdict = HOLD

Dylan Bundy
This is what a breakout looks like.  Last year, he made very real improvements in his PD metrics, at the age of 24, but it didn’t really show up in the results.  This year he is building on those improvements and taking them to the next level, as he is currently sporting an A+ grade and has the third-best overall score, behind only Corbin and Max Scherzer. Surely he won’t keep at this pace all season, but there’s actually not a single red flag in the metrics. He’s been dominant in each of his five starts, against good teams, and across each of the “Big Three” metrics. I’d be looking to find an owner thinking he’s selling high to take advantage of.  Don’t get me wrong, eventually he’ll give up some homers in the AL east. That miniscule HR/9 rate seems very unsustainable. But I think the inevitable correction could end up being much more gentle than expected. It should really help to limit the number of baserunners that score on homers, when you’re striking out 30% of batters.

Verdict = BUY

Shohei Ohtani
After two starts against Oakland, Ohtani sat atop the PD metric rankings and it wasn’t even close.  But then his next two starts were…not the same. This is a good lesson in small sample sizes, and magnified by playing against the same team in his first two starts. Thanks to those two dominant starts, his overall numbers are actually still VERY good, current sporting an A+ grade.  But this is why I would always recommend looking at the plate discipline game logs on Fangraphs for context. From that, it’s easy to see that the dominance all came from those two starts, and his starts against better teams were very lackluster in comparison. Also, his other two starts were shorter outings, so the majority of his data is all against the A’s.  Furthermore, he has only pitched 20 innings overall, while most SP are well over 30 by now.  Because of this small sample, against mostly just one team, I think it’s too difficult pin a value on him right now.  We have no choice but to wait and see.

Verdict = HOLD

Luke Weaver
If you recall, Weaver stood out to me in last year’s numbers as being the recipient of excellent luck on his K rate. The metrics suggested a rate near 20%, but he managed to put up 29% instead, for one of the largest discrepancies I could find. So far in 2018, his metrics are essentially unchanged from last year, so what’s his K% sitting at? Sorry to break it to you Weaver owners, but that 21.6% mark is right in line with expectations. Going forward, unless he makes some changes, we should expect something closer to this result rather than last year’s performance. His value isn’t exactly the highest right now, but maybe you could try to take advantage of a more “savvy” owner expecting him to rebound based on last year’s FIP or something.

Verdict = SELL

Masahiro Tanaka
It’s always fun to check on Tanaka, the PD metrics darling. Last year, he graded out as the #2 pitcher in all of MLB when quality-of-contact is omitted. So how’s he doing so far in 2018? Well, it’s basically more of the same story. His metrics are still elite and suggest a 30% K rate, though he’s down slightly from last year.  And he’s been hurt by home runs in those tough AL East parks. It’s really a shame he doesn’t play in the NL West or something. I still like him a lot, but you should expect some bumps in the road.

Verdict = HOLD

Luis Castillo
People are freaking out because his velocity is down a couple ticks, but for whatever reason, so far this hasn’t affected Castillo’s ability to continue putting up elite PD metrics. Typically, it does (see Danny Duffy or Felix Hernandez). Contact% and SwStr% still both see him as the same 30% K-rate guy he was last year; in fact his metrics are slightly up. But somehow, this year so far he’s only striking out 20% of hitters. So it does seem he’s been unlucky with umpires and foul balls not going his way. Normally this would be a very strong “Buy Low” indicator, but, there is also something going on with his “quality of contact” management. How’s this for whatever the opposite of a “fun fact” is called: In 2017, Castillo gave up eight barrels all year, in 89 innings. This year, in just 27 innings he has already given up the same eight barrels. Either the reduced velocity is making it easier for batters to square up his pitches, or, it’s just random fluctuation. Who knows, really. But in the end, I’m going to stick with my process. Quality of contact fluctuates a lot, while strikeouts are supposed to be more reliable, and his metrics still look fantastic, suggesting a lot more strikeouts to come.

Verdict = BUY

Aaron Nola
The metrics say Nola has not been as dominant so far this year as the results may suggest (ERA = 2.3). He’s striking out just 20% of batters so far compared to 25% for his career, and the metrics support this drop. SwStr% is down and Contact% is up by about the right amounts. Nola typically beats his SwStr%, but so far this year has not shown that ability. So honestly, this is a little concerning despite the pristine ERA. His SIERRA is over four now thanks to that reduction in strikeouts. It seems his success so far is primarily from the quality-of-contact realm. He has done very well there, only giving up 2 barrels on the season. But relying on this always makes me a bit nervous. From scanning Nola’s PD Game Logs, we see: two good games, two bad games, and one average game. So it’s certainly been a mixed bag for him so far, and overall his grade has dropped from the B level to C level. On it’s own, this information might suggest a SELL HIGH situation. However his last start vs the Pirates was the best, by far, of his young season. So I think I’d like to see what happens in his next couple starts. If he reverts back to putting up good ERAs with bad metrics, he might be a “sell high” at that time. But it seems more likely this is just a blip and he will be fine.

Verdict = HOLD

Sean Manaea
I’d be remiss not to mention the guy who just threw a no-hitter against one of the best offenses in baseball. He’s clearly capable of dominance, as was on display against the Red Sox. Also, his first start of the year vs. the Angels was very strong. However I’m not really sold that he’s turned some corner or something. The three starts in between were mediocre, and as a result his metrics for the whole season are incredibly close to last year’s, and his career numbers (B-minus grade). He’s an above-average pitcher, but there’s simply nothing to really indicate a major breakout. He’s also sporting a 100% LOB and .135 BABIP, both highly unsustainable. He should be a useful fantasy arm pitching in Oakland, but his value is unlikely to ever be higher than it is right now.

Verdict = SELL

K-Rate Discrepancy Outliers

Next up, I’ll present some raw data that should help with players that didn’t make the “fan favorites” cut. Below, I have provided tables showing the biggest under-performers and over-performers on their K-rate so far in 2018. I left the IP threshold rather low here (10 IP) to catch any interesting players.

The methodology I used is as follows:
1) Calculate predicted K% from SwStr% and Contact% using the two rules from the guide
2) Take the average of these two values
3) Subtract the actual K% from this to find the discrepancies

From last week’s guide, we know that some pitchers have demonstrated a consistent ability to beat their metrics by about 4-5 points. So for these lists, I have included all the pitchers with a discrepancy of 5 points or more, as these are most unlikely to be sustainable.

K% Over-performers (luckiest pitchers)

Rank Name Predicted K% Actual K% Difference
1 Steven Matz 17.1% 30.7% +13.6%
2 Derek Holland 13.9% 25.0% +11.2%
3 Gerrit Cole 30.6% 38.0% +7.4%
4 Mike Foltynewicz 22.6% 29.7% +7.1%
5 Marco Gonzales 20.7% 27.6% +7.0%
6 Carlos Martinez 20.9% 27.8% +7.0%
7 Jose Berrios 23.3% 30.0% +6.7%
8 Robbie Ray 29.8% 36.1% +6.4%
9 Hyun-Jin Ryu 24.5% 30.7% +6.2%
10 Rich Hill 18.3% 24.2% +6.0%
11 Jaime Garcia 19.5% 25.3% +5.9%
12 Rick Porcello 19.3% 25.0% +5.7%
13 Jameson Taillon 18.6% 24.1% +5.6%
14 Jake Arrieta 17.7% 23.2% +5.6%
15 Caleb Smith 27.2% 32.7% +5.5%
16 Junior Guerra 18.4% 23.4% +5.0%

K% Under-performers (unluckiest pitchers)

Rank Name Predicted K% Actual K% Difference
1 Josh Tomlin 23.6% 12.1% -11.45%
2 Luis Castillo 29.8% 20.0% -9.80%
3 Mike Fiers 22.1% 13.2% -8.85%
4 Steven Brault 21.6% 13.5% -8.10%
5 Lucas Giolito 17.1% 9.1% -7.95%
6 Miguel Gonzalez 15.5% 7.6% -7.85%
7 Matt Boyd 23.3% 15.5% -7.80%
8 James Shields 17.9% 10.7% -7.15%
9 Aaron Sanchez 20.8% 13.8% -7.00%
10 CC Sabathia 20.5% 15.0% -5.50%
11 Masahiro Tanaka 28.6% 23.3% -5.30%
12 Tyler Anderson 30.1% 24.8% -5.25%
13 Carlos Carrasco 26.7% 21.5% -5.20%

 

2018 PD Grades (through 04/24)

Lastly, the table below shows the scores and grades for all SP who have thrown over 10 innings this year.  Since that threshold is so low, I included the innings in the table as well for reference.  The smallest samples (under 20 IP) are highlighted in red.  The methodology for the grades was exactly the same as previously in the guide, but to recap it’s basically a combination of metrics weighted as follows:

  • 3 Points:  O-Swing%
  • 3 Points:  Contact%
  • 3 Points:  SwStr%
  • 1 Point:  F-Strike%
Name IP PD Score PD Grade
Patrick Corbin 33.1 117.8% A+
Max Scherzer 33 111.7% A+
Dylan Bundy 31.2 110.8% A+
Noah Syndergaard 27.1 103.8% A+
Chris Sale 29 102.4% A+
Trevor Cahill 12 102.0% A+
Shohei Ohtani 20.1 100.6% A+
Eduardo Rodriguez 15.2 100.0% A+
Masahiro Tanaka 29 99.0% A
Lance McCullers Jr. 27 97.1% A
Jacob deGrom 32 97.0% A
Zack Greinke 24 96.8% A
Gerrit Cole 35 96.4% A
Charlie Morton 29 95.9% A
Carlos Carrasco 35 95.5% A
Luis Castillo 27.2 95.4% A
Justin Verlander 32.2 94.6% A
Kenta Maeda 19.1 93.7% A
J.A. Happ 29 93.6% A
Julio Teheran 27 92.8% A-
Lance Lynn 15 92.0% A-
Blake Snell 28.1 92.0% A-
Joey Lucchesi 26.2 91.6% A-
Luis Severino 31 91.6% A-
Tyler Anderson 25 91.5% A-
Hector Velazquez 10.2 91.4% A-
Chris Archer 27.1 90.9% A-
Robbie Ray 26.1 90.7% A-
Alex Wood 29 90.5% A-
Caleb Smith 21.2 89.8% B+
Cole Hamels 34.2 88.9% B+
Anibal Sanchez 11 88.6% B+
Zack Godley 23.1 88.4% B+
Clayton Kershaw 33 88.2% B+
Jon Lester 20.1 87.3% B+
James Paxton 25.2 85.3% B
Kyle Gibson 21 85.0% B
Jose Berrios 31.2 84.2% B
Jordan Zimmermann 16.1 83.6% B
Tyler Mahle 27 83.4% B
Josh Tomlin 11.2 83.3% B
Kevin Gausman 29 83.2% B
Garrett Richards 26 83.0% B
Jordan Montgomery 21.1 83.0% B-
Stephen Strasburg 33.1 82.9% B-
Sean Manaea 36.2 82.6% B-
Matt Boyd 19.1 82.6% B-
Tyler Skaggs 27.1 82.2% B-
Nick Pivetta 28 82.0% B-
Hyun-Jin Ryu 22.2 82.0% B-
Mike Minor 21 81.8% B-
Trevor Bauer 27 81.8% B-
Corey Kluber 36.2 81.7% B-
Marco Estrada 22 81.4% B-
Mike Fiers 17 81.3% B-
Jose Urena 26 80.2% B-
Sean Newcomb 21.2 80.1% B-
Jeremy Hellickson 10 80.0% C+
Gio Gonzalez 26.2 79.6% C+
Tyson Ross 25.2 79.5% C+
Miles Mikolas 26 78.6% C+
CC Sabathia 19.1 78.6% C+
Marco Gonzales 22.2 77.9% C+
Jason Hammel 25.1 77.7% C+
Nick Tropeano 12 77.5% C+
Vince Velasquez 26 77.4% C+
Ivan Nova 30 77.2% C+
Rick Porcello 32.2 76.9% C
Yonny Chirinos 20.2 76.9% C
Johnny Cueto 26 76.8% C
Mike Clevinger 25.2 76.7% C
Tanner Roark 31 76.3% C
Jakob Junis 26.2 75.8% C
Aaron Nola 31.1 75.6% C
Jake Odorizzi 26 75.6% C
Carlos Martinez 31.2 75.2% C
Marcus Stroman 20 75.1% C
Daniel Mengden 30.1 74.8% C
Francisco Liriano 23 74.7% C
Jake Arrieta 17.2 74.7% C
Jon Gray 26.2 74.3% C
Mike Foltynewicz 26 73.9% C
German Marquez 22 73.8% C
Aaron Sanchez 25.2 73.5% C
Steven Brault 21.1 73.4% C
Brent Suter 25.1 73.4% C
Andrew Triggs 23 72.0% C-
David Price 27.2 72.0% C-
Dallas Keuchel 29 71.9% C-
Reynaldo Lopez 24 71.6% C-
Zach Davies 28.1 71.4% C-
Kyle Freeland 27 70.8% C-
Trevor Richards 19 70.7% C-
Jaime Garcia 21.2 70.7% C-
Luke Weaver 26 70.5% C-
Sonny Gray 16.1 70.3% C-
Jarlin Garcia 17 70.3% C-
Matt Moore 24.1 70.2% C-
Jameson Taillon 22 70.0% D+
Chris Stratton 31 69.9% D+
Chad Bettis 30 68.7% D+
Tyler Chatwood 21.2 68.7% D+
Yu Darvish 19.2 68.7% D+
Clayton Richard 27 68.6% D+
Luis Perdomo 14 68.5% D+
Eric Skoglund 14.2 67.6% D+
Zack Wheeler 17 67.5% D+
Ian Kennedy 26 67.0% D+
Danny Duffy 25.2 67.0% D
Jose Quintana 19.2 66.9% D
Michael Fulmer 23.1 66.4% D
Miguel Gonzalez 12.1 66.3% D
Felix Hernandez 26.2 66.2% D
Andrew Cashner 30 66.1% D
Ben Lively 21.1 66.0% D
Kyle Hendricks 22 65.7% D
Junior Guerra 16 65.2% D
Homer Bailey 29.1 64.5% D
Doug Fister 13.2 64.4% D
Chase Anderson 27.2 64.4% D
Mike Leake 27.1 64.1% D
Kendall Graveman 22.1 63.8% D
James Shields 22.2 63.6% D
Rich Hill 15 63.2% D
Michael Wacha 21.1 62.6% D-
Jake Faria 17 62.5% D-
Dillon Peters 24.2 62.0% D-
Matt Harvey 21 61.7% D-
Adam Wainwright 15.2 61.1% D-
Bartolo Colon 19.1 61.0% D-
Chad Kuhl 21.2 59.9% F
Trevor Williams 29.1 59.8% F
Steven Matz 18.1 59.6% F
Derek Holland 21.2 58.6% F
Jhoulys Chacin 23.2 57.7% F
Taijuan Walker 13 57.6% F
Ty Blach 31.1 57.6% F
Lucas Giolito 20 56.8% F
Brandon McCarthy 26.2 54.4% F
Sal Romano 26.1 53.6% F
Carson Fulmer 16.2 53.2% F
Martin Perez 18.1 51.7% F
Chris Tillman 17.1 47.9% F
Bryan Mitchell 25 42.2% F
Chaz Steinberg http://reddit.com/u/chazzy_cat

Third generation Giants fan, begrudging Kershaw admirer, and lover of Taco Bell

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