Starting Pitcher Z-Contact% Improvers

Let’s start off with the obvious here, what is Z-Contact%? If you check out our handy dandy glossary you would see “Pitches on which contact was made on pitches inside the zone/Swings on pitches inside the zone.” For pitchers, quite simply how often do opposing hitters make contact on their pitches when they throw inside the zone. Here are the leaders from 2020.

Z-Contact% Leaders
Rank Pitcher 2020 Z-Contact%
1 Jacob deGrom 68.2
2 Lucas Giolito 71.6
3 Max Scherzer 74.0
4 Elieser Hernandez 74.1
5 Chase Anderson 74.4
6 Brandon Woodruff 74.9
7 Luis Castillo 75.1
8 Tyler Mahle 75.1
9 Gerrit Cole 75.4
10 Kevin Gausman 75.6
11 Ryan Yarbrough 76.0
12 Yusei Kikuchi 76.1
13 Pablo Lopez 76.2
14 Drew Smyly 76.6
15 Mike Minor 76.8
16 John Means 76.8
17 Yu Darvish 77.2
18 Shane Bieber 77.5
19 Robbie Ray 77.6
20 Corbin Burnes 77.9

This is definitely a list you want to be on. You have to kind of ignore Elieser Hernandez and Chase Anderson here because both of them only pitched about 30 innings. A lot of aces here and a lot of interesting names like Tyler Mahle, Kevin Gausman, Ryan Yarbrough, and Yusei Kikuchi. Clearly having a low contact percentage in the zone can lead to some fantastic numbers. deGrom is just on another planet with this, guy is such a phenomenal pitcher. Something to note is that this isn’t necessary for every pitcher, like pitchers who induce weak contact. They of course are pitching for contact so you can expect high numbers from them, like Seattle Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales. So here is a nice baseline for you to look at and it’s time to look at some pitchers who improved the most in this category.

Biggest Z-Contact% Improvers
Pitcher 2019 Z-Contact% 2020 Z-Contact% Difference
Yusei Kikuchi 86.6 76.1 -10.5
Tyler Mahle 83.2 75.1 -8.1
Jacob deGrom 75.8 68.2 -7.6
Masahiro Tanaka 86.6 79.4 -7.2
Pablo Lopez 83.3 76.2 -7.1
Ryan Yarbrough 82.6 76.0 -6.6
Chase Anderson 80.8 74.4 -6.4
Martin Perez 85.6 79.3 -6.3
Shane Bieber 83.2 77.5 -5.7
Elieser Hernandez 79.8 74.1 -5.7
Zach Davies 88.5 82.8 -5.7
Dallas Keuchel 88.9 83.2 -5.7
Brandon Woodruff 80.4 74.9 -5.5
Joe Musgrove 84.4 79.3 -5.1

The fact that deGrom is on this list is mind-blowing to me, he somehow is getting better and better. Probably due to that uptick in fastball velocity. Sorry the inner Mets fan in me is coming out.

Let’s start with the number one man on this list Yusei Kikuchi. This is impressive, especially since he seems to be trending towards a swing-and-miss pitcher. Kikuchi improved every aspect of his game in 2020 likely stemming from the decrease in usage with his fastball.  

Kikuchi is very close to “breaking out,” his pitches have solid vertical movement to them and he added over three MPH to his fastball. What holds him back is command. The 10.3% walk rate is above the league average of 9.2% and his Command+ of 77 is one of the worst in the league. If he can learn to place his pitches better it could go a long way for him. One thing I should note is how unlucky Kikuchi was last season. He finished with a 59.9% LOB%, 3.30 FIP, and 4.34 SIERA. 

Tyler Mahle also finds himself on this list which works nicely since he is mainly a strikeout pitcher. He finally showed his potential finishing 2020 with nine starts and a 3.59 ERA. Not only did the zone contact rate dip but so did his outside of the zone contact. Likely all stemming from his SwStr% increasing from 9.4% to 13.8%. 

Mahle always had a decent splitter and fantastic four-seam fastball. Unlike Kikuchi he also always had elite command. What was huge for Mahle was adding a cutter. It gave him that much-needed breaking ball to induce whiffs, overall it had an 18.6 SwStr%. Not only did it propel his overall SwStr% to above average but it also increased his O-Swing%. Mahle is slowly becoming another great pitcher for the Reds to utilize.

Ryan Yarbrough seems to be on every list you find this year. He is becoming last year’s Kenta Maeda. Despite the Tampa Bay Ray’s likely messing with Yarbrough’s starts he is a great option at his current ADP. He doesn’t allow home runs and the 3.56 ERA and 3.80 FIP check out. 

Yarbrough increased the usage of his changeup making both that and his cutter his two most thrown pitches. Both come in at a similar speed and both approach the plate the exact same. If you watch film on him it’s actually quite beautiful. Both pitches set each other up so well because one breaks horizontally and the other vertically making them the perfect tunneling duo. Yarbrough has great stuff and the Rays know what they are doing. Expect a big step from him this season.

Some of the pitchers on here might be due to a small sample size like Joe Musgrove and Elieser Hernandez. Seeing Brandon Woodruff is great because he really is becoming a fantasy ace. The changeup taking a step forward is huge for him. If Pablo Lopez can continue trending the way he is he also will soon become a fantasy ace, especially with that changeup of his. Moving forward this is definitely something to look at when it comes to analyzing pitchers in the offseason. If a pitcher is on a list with Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Gerrit Cole they must be doing something right.

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1 year ago

Kikucki’s LOB% woes were because he got pulled in innings that subsequently blew up. That is something to keep in mind when assessing a sleeper. Some players do this frequently and it hampers their ability to go deep into games. Another guy this happened to was Jordan Montgomery. It amounts to rosy underlying stats but nasty ERAs.