Each of the last two weeks, I’ve looked at pitchers who changed something in their repertoire. The first change I looked at was my opinion of starters – Take that for data! – before that exact trio started generating substantial buzz (Corbin, Bundy, Lucchesi). I then navigated to velocity changes on two arms I was particularly intrigued by (Berrios, Castillo). Now to complete the trinity, I wanted to look at what I consider “hipster pitchers.”
Said in layman’s terms – are hipsters layman now? – these arms are following the breaking-ball trend that has taken over the game, buoyed by the philosophy that your best pitch should be thrown more than the past would suggest. Breaking balls are the most successful pitch at inducing whiffs for the majority of pitchers, that’s why the majority of starters, when broken down by pitch usage and count, will tend to utilize breaking balls with two strikes (duh!). They’re also the most fun to gif up – just ask one of the most popular baseball accounts on Twitter, @PitchingNinja.
Speaking of pitchers, if you like the sound of my voice, which you can judge for yourself weekly on the Razzball Prospect Podcast I co-host with Ralph, I’m doing also doing a weekly “Pitcher Thoughts” podcast. It’s available on the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, Spotify, and Soundcloud. Shameless plug!
Nick Pivetta, curveball +11%
Drafted as the fifth Phillies arm in NFBC leagues, Pivetta has done everything to solidify himself in the Phillies rotation and on the roster of most teams. He’s dual breaking ball arm, hurling a slider and curveball, with the most apparent change coming on his curveball usage. The uptick likely comes from a refined comfort with the pitch, as most of the quality metrics we baseline curveballs off have ringing praise for the offering.
The horizontal (think lateral bend) and vertical movement (think depth) of the pitch both sit inside the 90th percentile among all curveballs in the league. Pivetta has kept the pitch on the ground exceptionally well too, likely a factor tied a hitter’s tendency to top the ball into the ground.
How much Pivetta has thrown inside the zone stands out, sitting above the 95th percentile in the league (around 50%). Whether Pivetta intended to attack hitters more this year – which I bet is the case – his ability to do so and generate whiffs at an exceptional rate is impressive with how much downward break the curve has.
He’s flipped the handedness of hitter he dominates this year as well back to a natural righty-lefty split. Targeting left-handed hitters and seeing where his changeup usage moves to as the season progresses is something I’ll be closely watching and adjusting my buy-in accordingly.
We at Razzball have Pivetta as starter number 86 on our rest-of-season Player Rater, but I’d happily rank him higher based on what I’m seeing developmentally. Boosting him about 20 spots to just outside of SP5 territory, near names like Sean Manaea and Miles Mikolas, is where he fits. There is room for growth as well.
Here’s the hook making Inciarte look foolish.
Ben Lively, curveball up 13%
More Phillies! More Phillies that profile almost one-for-one to Pivetta! Gabe Kapler would be proud.
Kapler is also sitting on three pitchers in baseball with jumps north in curveball usage (Vince Velasquez being the third, along with Pivetta and Lively). You can even consider Nola the fourth as he has nowhere else to go in terms of curveball usage, already sitting above 30 percent. Side note: I wonder if this was a philosophical thing in camp for the Phillies this season.
I’ll qualify this blurb by saying the Player Rater absolutely hates Lively, and I’m not expecting you to go out and add him in many leagues at all, but sometimes deep-leagues get no love.
Lively’s curve is little “slurvey-er” than the hook possessed by Pivetta, with a noticeable hump and spin that isn’t as tight. HHis usage of the pitch has spiked regardless, with his swinging strike rate and overall strikeout rate following suit.
The issue with Lively stems from where the usage of his other pitches land, particularly with how poor his sinker has faired in the early going, failing to produce one swing and miss through his first two starts. This sinker is a pitch he uses against left-handed hitters early before moving to his curveball and failing to use the pitch effectively puts him at a supreme disadvantage early in counts.
My reservation of hope comes from the looks I got at another pitch he throws: a slider. Decent bend both horizontally and vertically is backed up by good command of the pitch and a whiff per swing rate right around the 80th percentile in the league. I’d like to see this slider thrown more to both handedness of hitters and observe the resulting output. His curveball is good, and he’s properly focused on throwing it more, but unlike a lot of pitchers, Lively is having trouble with the effectiveness of his fastballs.
Let’s hope for three things: continued curveball usage, more slider usage, and refinement of his fastball. Too much to ask? We’ll soon find out.
I’ll leave you with a look at his curveball.
Quick Hit: Matt Boyd slider up 21%
Still heavily under the radar, Boyd has gone deep in two games with his strong elevation of slider usage. The reason he remains relatively unknown comes from the lack of strikeouts and the weakness of his team. His swinging strike suggests a K/9 around 8 is more fitting than the 3.46 he currently has. On top of that, the small sample we have of his elevated command suggests even more positive results. I’m keeping an eye on Boyd, with the expectation that he lines up as a prime streaming option more than once this season given his weak division.
Here’s his slider…
Quick Hit: Trevor Bauer, slider up 16%
I’ve written about Bauer in the past and Grey is a fan as well. This pitch emerged at the end of last season, with Bauer citing his want for a pitch that moves laterally to counteract the vertical movement of his curveball. His slider increase is slightly deceptive because the pitch was being used at an elevated rate after August of last season. It’s become even more of a key offering against both handedness of hitters and his peripherals support the jump in strikeouts. The floor is high because of how good these two breaking balls (slider-curveball) are, leaving him with other options if one pitch is off on a given night. Our ranking of Bauer as the 29th SP might even be slightly low.
Here’s the pitch Bauer has been leaning in comparison to his curveball…
Sean Newcomb, changeup up 11.4%
Here’s an arm the Player Rater is buying into more than I expected, ranking him above Pivetta, as Newcomb holds the 75th overall starter slot.
Changeup philosophy has always fascinated me. I feel like I work something about the topic into every pitcher-centric post and for good reason.
Newcomb sits primarily fastball-curveball to lefties and has now evolved into a true three-pitch arm versus right-handed bats (fastball-curveball-changeup). The interesting point is that even with this elevation of changeup usage, the only thing that stands out is how well he’s been able to keep the ball on the ground. I’d almost consider the pitch a glorified two-seamer, with a velocity differential off his fastball of only 5 mph. This falls outside of the ideal window between 7-10 mph, with the lower end of that window (7 mph) conducive to grounders and the upper end (10 mph) leading to more whiffs.
Newcomb’s changeup hasn’t been particularly effective either, which makes sense given what we know about changeups and this velocity phenomenon. In a rudimentary sense, the pitch doesn’t possess enough depth in either direction to be effective with the minimal velocity difference off his fastball.
The uptick in this pitch is actually overshadowing why he has been more effective: curveball improvement. Newcomb has slowed his curve down slightly, and while he’s not missing bats like Pivetta has, he’s again, keeping the ball on the ground with the pitch better than most.
Summing Newcomb up leaves me perplexed. I don’t by the 30+ percent strikeout rate, his command is still relatively poor, but his second start of the season (6 IP, 9 K, o BB) showed how well he is able to elevate his fastball and use that eye-level change to let his offspeed pitches go to work below the zone. Whether this fastball elevation continues, or we see any tweak in this changeup, are the two points I’m focused on. I consider myself on the fence with Newcomb and hope to update my opinion with a larger sample of outings.
This extremely fuzzy gif is one of the most devastating changeups Newcomb has thrown (just trust me)…