The FanGraphs 2022 pVal Competition Check-In #1

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the 2022 season, the always gracious Nick Pollack and friends at PitcherList lent the FanGraphs staff the pVal draft template and a few of us conducted a slow draft of all slow drafts. It was great! Tweets were tweeted, points were tallied and now, it’s time to take a look at how we’re doing. If you want a little pVal background, you can read my previous posts, Highfalutin pVals or Sweet Swirlin’ Secondaries. Or, you can read our glossary explainer, or just head over to the 2022 leaderboard and click around.

Before we get into the results, here’s a quick rundown on how this works. Each participant drafts an individual pitch and your goal is to maximize the sum of your pitch pVals. Just like a traditional fantasy manager must draft certain positions (OF, SS, SP, RP, etc.,) the pVal drafters must choose different pitches:

pVal Draft Required Pitches

Luke Hooper, Nicklaus Gaut, Paul Sporer, Alex Chamberlain, and I are all part of this year’s FanGraphs contingent. We’re off to the races and Luke Hooper has taken a quick lead:

pVal Draft 2022 Current Standings Bar Chart

Participant: Lucas Kelly
Current Place: 3rd
Best Pitch So Far: Michael Kopech’s four-Seam fastball
Worst Pitch So Far: Walker Buehler’s four-Seam fastball

Lucas pVals
Player Category Pitch Points
Walker Buehler 3x Fastballs (wFA, wFS, wFC, wSI) wFA -9.2
Zack Wheeler wFA 7.9
Alex Cobb wFS 0.2
Max Scherzer 2x Sliders wSL 6.3
Cristian Javier wSL -0.2
Corbin Burnes 1x Curveballs wCU 7.5
Lucas Giolito 1x Changeup wCH -2.3
Shohei Ohtani 1x Secondary wFS -1.7
Yu Darvish 1x 2021 Negative pVal wFC -0.4
Matt Harvey 1x Negative Regression wCH 0.0
Liam Hendriks 2x Util wFA -0.1
Michael Kopech wFA 9.8
Alek Manoah 2x Reserves wFA 6.4
Hunter Greene wSL 5.8
*PitchInfo Pitch Type Value
**Highlighted values have been replaced with Reserves

3x Fastballs:
Walker Buehler’s four-seamer was my first pick and I thought I had taken candy from a bunch of babies. The pitch earned a pVal of 17.9 in 2021 and with his 207.2 innings pitched that season, I thought it was a guarantee points getter. This year, however, opponents are hitting .377 against the pitch and slugging .638. It’s being hit hard 51.6% of the time and has a very low 8.6% K%. The pitch has been used only 33.1% of the time, a career-low, and he’s increased his cutter usage to 25.1%. While the cutter is performing better than the four-seamer, the effective combination of both pitches led to success for Buehler in the past. Nicklaus Gaut wrote about Buehler’s spin rate decreases in his latest post. He did a great job of analyzing what has been going wrong with the pitch.

Zack Wheeler‘s four-seamer is right where I want it to be. Its usage is in the low 40% range which is right in line with where it was when it earned 16.7 pVal points last year. It has a 36.7% K%, a career-high, and hitters are getting to it with a .215 batting average. It is being hit hard 47.4% of the time which is a little concerning, but just a little. Alex Cobb’s splitter is being used at a career-high 40.8% and has an xBA of .149! That’s great. We’ll have to see if his health can keep him throwing the pitch. He’s currently on the IL with back trouble.

2x Sliders:
Max Scherzer, please come back!..and wear mittens when you’re helping injured dogs. Scherzer’s slider has a very nice 32.5% K% on the year so far, but it’s well below his career-best 50% in 2017. While I don’t expect it to reach career-level marks, the pitch didn’t seem fully refined at the start of the season and I think there’s room for improvement once he’s back. I’m not sure what to make of Cristian Javier’s slider. He’s only thrown 235 of them so far this year, but it has a 44.9% K% and a .182 batting average against. In 2021 the pitch accumulated 12.0 pVal points in 101.1 innings and this year, Javier is on pace (GP%) for 126.0 innings. I think there’s room to grow here as well.

1x Curveball:
I think I did it! I think I picked a good pitch. Corbin Burnes‘ curveball is currently a league leader with a 7.5 pVal. He’s closely followed by Framber Valdez (6.4), Shane McClanahan (6.3), and Kyle Wright (6.3). It has been Burnes’ best secondary and he’s using it a career-high 19.7% of the time. It has a 47.1% K%, hitters are batting .080 against the pitch, and it is hard hit only 15.4% of the time.

1x Changeup:
Yikes! Lucas Giolito hasn’t found the changeup yet and its usage is down. Its K% is still high at 41.5% but hitters are likely laying off (.371 wOBA) and getting to it (.267 BA, 21.7% Hard-Hit%) more than what the man with a fantastic first name would like.

1x Secondary:
I have a thing for splitters and I really just wanted to take a Shohei Ohtani pitch so that I have even more to root for when I watch him pitch. As of now, he’s only thrown the pitch 25 times and it has been hit with a .333 BA. I’d say it’s too early to tell, but he’s got some catching up to do if he wants to get back to the 14.2 pVal points he earned with the splitter in 2021.

1x Negative pVal:
This one is fun. The idea is to draft a pitch that had a negative value last season and bet that it improves this season. Last season Yu Darvish’s cutter earned -2.8 pVal points. To be honest, I saw a GIF of a dirty Darvish cutter from the past and thought, “There’s no way that pitch is negative in 2022.” So far, I’ve been wrong. He’s still using it 32.7% of the time but it’s getting hit hard with a .337 xBA and a .533 xSLG. He’s putting the cutter in the zone (57%) more than the MLB average (45.8%) and that could be part of the reason for the high xBA. Darvish’s PitcherList player page shows a .321 BABIP on the pitch vs. the .295 MLB average on cutters, so perhaps there’s still some hope.

1x Negative Regression:
Matt Harvey’s changeup earned 4.7 pVal points in 2021. I didn’t think he could replicate that again and it looks like I might be right, just for reasons other than what I had in mind at the time.

2x Util:
Cool fact; Hanser Alberto and Liam Hendriks have the same wFA pVal, -0.1. Go figure. In one way, this shows how pVals really need to be understood before they’re used to make any grand statements at your local watering hole. In another, it goes to show you that Liam Hendriks has struggled with the pitch in 2022. It’s just getting hit too often and too hard; .349 wOBA, .277 BA, .462 SLG, .578 xSLG. Kopech’s fastball on the other hand is my money maker and currently sits 3rd best in the MLB according to pVal.

2x Reserves:
Last but literally not least are my reserve picks. Lucky for me, the rules of the pVal competition allow me to drop the two worst performing pitches and replace them with my reserve picks. Alek Manoah‘s four-seamer is bringing my total back up and as long as he keeps utilizing his three positive pVal pitches (6.4 wFA, 2.6 wSI, 4.7 wSL), he’ll likely be replacing another pitch all season. Hunter Greene’s slider is the only of his pitches holding positive pVal this season and that’s fine with me. Baseball fans everywhere were excited to see Greene’s 99th statcast percentile fastball velocity on a more regular basis in 2022, but the pitch has not been effective from a pVal standpoint at -12.8. It’s being put in the zone a little too much and getting hit (.352 BA) a lot too much. The slider, however, is only getting a .112 BA and has been impressive thus far with a 40.4% Whiff rate.

Time will tell if my squad will be able to reach Luke Hoopers pVal leaders. What I do know is that this pVal draft was a lot of fun to conduct and has been a lot of fun to score. If you can find a few friends to participate in one, do it. It’s another great way to interact with the game. Thanks again to the PitcherList crew for sharing the rules of the game with us and stay tuned for more updates throughout the season.

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