Last second I changed the title from “Having a Presence” to “Commanding Attention”. If I were to talk about the team as a whole, I would have had to go with “Having a Presence,” but I’m focusing on their rotation, and well…they command our attention…
It’s rough to be a Mets fan living in Minnesota. It’s rough being a Mets fan anywhere, but watching the Twins and their approach to 100 losses doesn’t help. Despite being only 6.5 games back from the 2nd Wild Card to date, I don’t think the Mets will have enough offense to sustain next year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be fun to watch. There will be quite the trio that commands attention – or even a quartet with the assumption that Noah Syndergaard makes an impact. And with a quartet…who knows?!
One of the pitchers I liked most prior to this season from a general Pitchf/x perspective, was Corey Kluber. We saw the per-pitch effect last year, and now he’s commanding with a sense of ease this year. He can hit everywhere including up in the zone and from watching, he does an awesome job pitch-to-pitch and within an at-bat setting guys up. Hitters look like they have no idea what’s coming and I can verify that through his zone-swing%. For starters, he ranks at #9 meaning only 8 starters in baseball have their stuff in the zone swung at less: C.J. Wilson ranks at #1, which isn’t really surprising since he has an extensive repertoire. Other good examples of this effect in the top 10 are Doug Fister, Garrett Richards, Felix Hernandez and Sonny Gray. Alex Cobb, Jarred Cosart, Jered Weaver, Jake Arrieta, Dallas Keuchel and Tyson Ross help close out the top 20. Through this list, you can see the value of this deception-skill. When you watch within game, Corey Kluber really keeps hitters guessing. Since 2012, while increasing pitches into the zone, his z-swing dropped almost 6% from 66.8%. But I digress, because Wheeler and deGrom aren’t in this same class, but what they do do (do do!) at an elite rate is prevent contact at their stuff in the zone. Take a look at this leaderboard and the surrounding names:
Kluber has 3 dominating pitches: a Cutter, Slider and Change that induces 32-45% whiffs/swing and an overall repertoire with a Sinker that ensures grounders. Neither Zack Wheeler or Jacob deGrom have the great cutter or the nasty 2-seam effect like Kluber’s on the Sinker, but both of them have 5 pitch repertoires with 3 pitches that induce a 30+% whiff/swing-rate and ensures grounders (although we shouldn’t mind fly-balls getting tracked down by Juan Lagares, resulting in uber-low BABIP’s). Take a look at this matrix ordered by Velocity (v), Whiff/Swing (wh/sw), and Groundball/Flyball (GB/FB) for each of their 5 pitches: the Fastball, Sinker, Curve, Slider and Changeup. I then compared each of their pitches to others’ whiff/swing rates keeping velocity also in mind (scroll slightly to the right):
I included Matt Harvey’s 2013 rates and Rafael Montero as well. I think Montero will head to the bullpen with the inclusion of Harvey and Syndergaard next year, and hopefully the velocity and associated pitch effects will jump.
For the Fastball: Wheeler and deGrom both have top 30 velocities and top 16 whiff rates that compare to elite pitchers such as Chris Sale and Jose Fernandez as well as Lance Lynn and Zack Greinke respectively.
For Sinkers, I’m not uber-concerned about whiff rates, but it turns out they both have elite rates – still with top 30 velocity. deGrom induces a top 30 groundball/flyball rate on the pitch comparing it to Tyson Ross’ and Anibal Sanchez’s.
The Curve: this is where Wheeler dominates. If his Changeup, doesn’t take a big step forward, ideally he will transition to more curve usage but more ideally, he will stay healthy doing so. Wheeler has the 15th best whiff rate and 9th best GB/FB rate on the pitch relative to 137 other pitchers.
The Slider: I think there is more swing and miss to Wheeler’s game, but in the meantime his breaking balls have him approaching a 2.00 GB/FB ratio keeping his SIERA in the mid 3’s. He owns the 5th best Slider GB/FB rate of 6.25. I can see his BIP breakdown, CITI field and Juan Lagares keeping his BABIP closer to the .279 it was in his first go-round keeping his WHIP closer to 1.25 than his career 1.33 rate.
And finally, the Changeup: While deGrom has a top 50 whiff rate, Wheeler sits well below average (20% or 105th out of 126 Starters using a 100 pitch qualifier). I think he might need more velocity differential between his Changeup and Fastball. According to his averages, he’s at a 7MPH differential. If he can distinguish the two by about 2MPH more, we could see better outcomes.
Per Brooks Baseball, here are their z-scores from a whiff/swing perspective relative to all others for that same pitch:
Matt Harvey (’13):
We all saw how dominating Matt Harvey was last year. Wheeler and deGrom doesn’t have the same lethal swing and miss to their game, but I bet deGrom would if he had Harvey’s velocity. I think we see additional command out of them both making deGrom’s expected ERA 2.9 (vs. 3.22) and Wheeler’s 3.2 (vs. 3.5). Some Juan Lagares-related BABIP and CITI Field HR/FB luck could keep them both under 3.00. But Wins – who knows!
How will Syndergaard do? His surface stats in AAA this year are ugly: 4.6ERA and 1.48WHIP, but let’s not forget the PCL effect. Below, I outlined his skills (FIP & K/BB) and “luck” (LOB% & BABIP) stats relative to Wheeler’s, deGrom’s and Harvey’s:
Syndergaard was more commanding than any of them from a K-rate and K/BB perspective, but was clearly affected the most by the environment according to his luck and surface stats. He’s got a Fastball-Curve combo with what should be a better Changeup than Wheeler’s, but he will also pitch to contact at times for some ground-ball induction with a 2-seamer/Sinker. He also has a cutter/slider and if it all comes together, with thought and command, as ballsy as this might sound, he could be the Mets’ closest thing to Corey Kluber.
Daniel Schwartz contributes for RotoGraphs when he's not selling industry leading thermal packaging. You can follow him on twitter @RotoBanter