2019 Early Pitcher Z-Contact% Improvers — A Review

While I have finished reviewing my preseason lists, I wanted to continue the recap theme, but this time looking back at early season results and trends. Did any of the surprises we saw occur early on continue for the rest of the season? We’ll start with my starting pitcher Z-Contact% improvers, a metric that indicates the percentage of pitches inside the zone batters made contact with. The ultimate sign of dominance is when a hitter can’t hit your strikes. Below is the original table with stats through Apr 10. I included 2018 and 2019 strikeout rate to see if the Z-Contact% changes if any, also resulted in strikeout rate changes in the same direction.

Early Pitcher Z-Contact% Improvers
Name 2018 Z-Contact% 2019 Z-Contact% Through Apr 10 2019 Z-Contact% 2018 K% 2019 K%
Chris Archer 84.1% 66.7% 81.4% 25.4% 27.2%
Mike Clevinger 82.4% 69.4% 76.1% 25.6% 33.9%
Noah Syndergaard 85.8% 74.6% 82.0% 24.1% 24.5%
Julio Teheran 83.9% 74.3% 85.5% 22.4% 21.5%
Trevor Williams 90.6% 81.8% 85.6% 18.0% 17.8%
Homer Bailey 90.8% 83.9% 86.2% 15.2% 21.4%
Jakob Junis 90.3% 83.6% 88.9% 21.6% 21.3%
Jon Lester 87.9% 81.2% 86.8% 19.6% 21.6%
Lucas Giolito 88.3% 81.7% 77.3% 16.1% 32.3%
Caleb Smith 82.0% 75.4% 80.0% 27.0% 26.0%
Unweighted Avg 86.6% 77.3% 83.0% 21.5% 24.8%

Overall as a group, they posted a full season Z-Contact% well below their 2018 marks. Of course, that includes their low marks through Apr 10. So what we can assume is that since that fast start, the pitchers did indeed regress closer to their 2018 marks, rather than maintaining those breakout Z-Contact% marks. Of course, that didn’t happen for every pitcher. Since the group finished with a better Z-Contact% for the season, it follows that they also boosted their strikeout rates rather significantly.

It would be easy to forget that Chris Archer actually finished the season with a higher strikeout rate than in 2018 because he performed so poorly, those extra strikeouts didn’t matter much. Pending his health, I’ll probably take the plunge again next season, as he’s likely to come cheapest he ever has. Wish me luck!

Mike Clevinger parlayed a jump in fastball velocity and another improvement in walk rate into a true breakout season. I thought he was overvalued heading into 2018. I won’t make that mistake again.

Noah Syndergaard’s season was a major disappointment, which is crazy to say considering he made 30 starts for the first time since 2016. The slight improvement in Z-Contact% barely increased his strikeout rate. I’ll say he’ll make for a profitable purchase in next season’s drafts, given that his price should be quite depressed.

Starting from the top, Julio Teheran was the first whose full season Z-Contact% ended up above his 2018 mark, despite the strong start in the metric. Not surprisingly, his strikeout rate dipped. With a SIERA over 5.00 and fastball velocity in freefall, dropping below 90 MPH for the first time, I don’t want him anywhere near my roster.

Amazingly, Trevor Williams managed to post a nicely improved Z-Contact% for the season, and yet his strikeout rate fell. Also, amusingly, remember when the narrative in 2018 was that he owned skills allowing him to generate soft contact, which led to a .261 BABIP? Those purported skills certainly didn’t last very long. Or maybe he just never really owned them to begin with, but the low BABIP made many believe he did. Remember, there will always be some pitchers who finish at the extremes of any stat as part of a bell curve, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they own those skills.

It was a respectable rebound year for Homer Bailey, as he replaced his sinker for increased usage of his splitter, resulting in a decline in Z-Contact% and strikeout rate bump. After injury issues in recent seasons, he seems fully recovered. He would be interesting if he got back into the National League.

Even raising his slider usage even higher wasn’t enough to help Jakob Junis‘ strikeout rate, despite the marginal improvement in Z-Contact%. Even though he’s only 27, all he has it that slider and he’s basically maximized its usage. So while he’ll get that ERA back below 5.00, he is what he is.

Jon Lester’s luck reversed off his fortunate 2018 season and now he has become unownable. His velocity trends are scary as well.

Lucas Giolito is the only name on this list who actually improved from his already improved early Z-Contact%. A velocity spike and increased usage of a wicked changeup fueled this breakout.

Caleb Smith threw his slider more instead of a fastball with diminished velocity, and although his Z-Contact% and SwStk% improved for the year, his strikeout rate actually declined. There’s an intriguing skill set here, but with such an extreme fly ball rate, even calling a pitcher friendly park home, the potential gopheritis, which he suffered from this season, is a serious risk.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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