(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
Welcome back – this week we return to the topic of starting pitchers. Let’s just dive right into the updated rankings. I’ve made one small change this time, showing how the players’ rank has changed since the last update, as opposed to how their pitcher score has changed. Because the scores are cumulative, they are moving less as more time goes by, so using the ranks instead should just make it much easier to see who is making big jumps.
ALL QUALIFIED SP
Not a whole lot has changed in the top 10 in the past two weeks. Max Scherzer & Jacob DeGrom continue battling for the top spot, and are basically neck & neck. Noah Syndergaard is injured and no longer qualifies, which sounds familiar. Several pitchers have moved up one spot accordingly. Chris Sale has been his usual fantastic self, getting his score back over 100. Trevor Bauer has muscled his way all the way up to #6 from #11, which brings me to my first player blurb:
Trevor Bauer (SP, Cleveland Indians)
Yes, I covered Bauer two weeks ago, but he is pitching so phenomenally that he deserves the consecutive writeups. He’s been even better since that update, as I mentioned moving all the way up to the #6 overall ranked pitcher. Part of this is absolutely related to his schedule, having faced the Tigers once and White Sox twice since then. Both of these teams are below average offensively, but not terrible.
Last time I gave a lot of credit to increasing the slider usage, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Actually his curveball deserves a lot of credit for his success, as well as just his complete arsenal in general. For starters on that curveball, looking at the pitch movement numbers, it’s getting the best vertical drop this year of his whole career. That curveball now ranks in the top 30 best in MLB in terms of pitch value. His changeup is similarly ranked as well, and both pitches are getting excellent results this year (wRC+ of 52 and 69, respectively). With the fastball and slider, he boasts four solidly above average pitches, with one elite pitch. That slider continues to look simply amazing. Overall it’s ranked 2nd in MLB in terms of value per 100 thrown. It’s generating an wRC+ of -31, and he hasn’t walked a single batter on a slider.
Mike Clevinger (SP, Cleveland Indians)
Bauer’s teammate has also been pitching extremely well lately, jumping ten spots up the rankings and now cracking the top 20. Clevinger is also a fan favorite here at PitcherList, and part of the reason I won my championship last year thanks to reading this site. But looking at the plate discipline metrics from last year, at first glance I’m actually surprised that he is doing so well this year. His metrics are down from last year, indicating a K-rate about five points lower. And his actual K% is…five points lower. But it seems he’s made major improvements on the walk side, cutting his walk rate significantly, which is great. Normally I don’t even talk about Zone%, because it doesn’t correlate at all with anything. But this is one case where it’s probably making a difference. Clevinger’s Zone% is up almost ten points from last year, from 40 to 50. For a change that large, there’s no way it’s not related to his falling walk and strikeout rates. It seems like he’s made an adjustment to his approach, attacking hitters more aggressively and trusting his defense.
The main thing that stands out in his arsenal to me is that his fastball just isn’t great. His breaking stuff is simply much better, and not just in the usual way that breaking pitches tend to have better numbers. For example, on the fastball his K-BB% is just about 8 percent, whereas with the breaking pitches it’s about 30%. Sure, fastballs are easier to command, and in his case it does have the highest Zone% of his pitches (barely). But when he does miss, that’s an automatic ball, because no one ever swings. His O-Swing% on fastballs is just 17%, again compared to the breaking pitches at over 40%. In terms of results, the fastball allows an wRC+ of 143. All his other pitches are under forty. If there was one guy I’d pick to employ a Tanaka-like approach (i.e. minimal fastballs), it might be Clevinger.
Sean Newcomb (SP, Atlanta Braves)
Newcomb wasn’t a big riser or faller in this update, but is still deserving of some attention. Having not followed him super closely this year, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed he was top 15 on anyone’s list. But there’s no denying he’s been successful this year so far, by several measures. His ERA currently sits at 2.7 for starters. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and his contact management has been elite (xSLG is 3rd best in MLB). But looking at the plate discipline metrics, there are some reasons to be concerned. His K% discrepancy is small, so in a vacuum his K% is believable, but it’s always good to also compare the metrics to last year. In Newcomb’s case, all three of the important metrics are down this year compared to last. If all the metrics are pointing towards a worse K/BB ratio, but it’s actually improving, something doesn’t add up. The differences in Contact% and SwStr% are fairly small, but his O-Swing% is down significantly, and is now 12th-worst in MLB. This has me especially worried about his ability to keep the walks down. Most of his success is coming from the contact management side, which is also more prone to luck-based swings. His BABIP is 70 points lower than last year, another indication that he could be in for some regression. I would be looking to sell Newcomb if you can get good value in return.
Mike Foltynewicz (SP, Atlanta Braves)
I didn’t intend to write about teammates in pairs, but that seems to be what’s happening, so let’s roll with it. Folty was the overall biggest riser in this update, jumping up 14 spots all the way to #26. Like Newcomb, I wouldn’t have guessed he would be near the top of any rankings. Let’s look at what he’s doing to get up that far. For starters, it’s easy to see that his schedule has been a big part. He had two starts since the last update, against the Padres and Mets. The Padres are dreadful offensively and the Mets also below average. He did extremely well to take advantage of those matchups, with 14 strikeouts in 10 innings.
Wondering why he’s so high on these rankings is not the only thing he has in common with his teammate. Like Newcomb, Foltynewicz has a real problem with his O-Swing%. His is even worse, actually the worst in all of MLB! This seems like a glaring weakness that would prevent him from being considered an elite pitcher, or maybe even a good one. Walks will continue to be an issue for him, no doubt. But I’m almost more concerned about his strikeout rate, which is way out of whack with the metrics. His K% discrepancy is second highest in MLB. Pitchers simply don’t strike out 30% of batters with a SwStr% under ten. He’s essentially the same pitcher he was last year, just getting a lot better luck with umpires and foul balls. And that’s not the only red flag in his profile…his BABIP is 40 points under his career number. When all the signs are pointing the same direction, well, this one is an easy “SELL” for me.
Zack Godley (SP, Arizona D-Backs)
I’ve written about Godley’s teammate Patrick Corbin so many times it almost counts as a continuation of the theme. Godley has risen ten spots since the last update, which is great, because overall he has been incredibly disappointing for a lot of owners this year, coming nowhere near last year’s stellar performance. As for that breakout year, for the record, the metrics totally supported it. Actually, they suggested even more strikeout upside, predicting a 30% K-rate compared to his actual 26%. So I was certainly on board with his high draft value this year; it didn’t seem like a one-hit-wonder at all.
But this year everything is just down. Five points of O-Swing%. Three points of Contact%. Two points of SwStr%. This is not normal for a healthy 28-year-old pitcher. When something like that happens, I like to look at two things for an explanation – pitch mix, and velocity. Pitch mix does not seem to be a big factor, as it’s fairly close to last year all around. But looking at the velocity is a bit startling. He is clearly down a couple ticks from last year, across all his pitches. That is not good. It could help explain though, why all of his pitches this year are getting poorer results. Last year his curveball was dominant, and his other three pitches average-ish. This year his curveball is just “good”, and all the other pitches are getting crushed.
I do see some signs of hope for Godley. For starters, his schedule has been pretty brutal so far. He’s drawn the Dodgers and Giants six times, compared to the the Padres and Rockies just twice, which is about as bad as your luck can get in the NL West. His one matchup against the Rockies was in Coors, of course. But other than the schedule, there is also the strikeout rate. His Contact% would suggest a strikeout rate closer to 30 than 20, indicating some pretty poor luck on foul balls. Overall the metrics do point towards a more useful pitcher than he has been so far this year, and the last couple starts are hopeful as well. Unfortunately it’s hard to say precisely how much of his struggle is due to the reduced velocity, versus the schedule. Overall I would definitely consider buying, for the right price, but not expecting last year’s performance.
10 IP Minimum (Non-Qualified)