The Weird and the Wonderful Pt. 4 — 4/15/21

Today marks the final installment of this season’s wacky small sample rate discussion. Let’s finish things off by sticking with starting pitchers, but moving along to the plate discipline metrics.

  • These pitchers are inducing hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%) at least 40% of the time:

    Alex Cobb
    Julio Urias
    Joe Musgrove
    Jacob deGrom
    Luis Castillo
    Bruce Zimmermann
    Shane Bieber

    This is generally a list of very, very good pitchers. Two of them, however, stand out. Alexx Cobb actually owns a nice lead over the second ranked pitcher here, and it’s not often we get to say that Cobb heads a list that is good to lead. In his two starts, Cobb has been fabulous, doing literally everything we could ask from a pitcher — striking out batters/generating swinging strikes, avoiding walks, and inducing grounders. Over his career, he has typically hovered around the O-Swing% league average. His pitch mix so far has changed a bit as he’s throwing his splitter more than ever before and greater than 40% for the first time, while his sinker usage has dipped to its lowest since 2012. Both his splitter and curve have been O-Swing% monsters. While his curve hasn’t typically been, his splitter has. The surface results haven’t been there yet which means he still might be sitting in your free agent pool. Backed by a strong infield defense, he’s in a pretty good situation right now. I’m buying, even in shallower mixed leagues.

    Just above Shane Bieber is our second surprise. Bruce Zimmermann has thrown his curve more often at the expense of all his other pitches, but that hasn’t been the driver of the inflated O-Swing%. In fact, every single one of his pitches has logged a mark between 38.7% and 44.4%. That kind of narrow range among all his pitches seems pretty hard to do! All three of his non-fastballs have also generated SwStk% marks in double digits, with his curve having been absolutely elite at 26.7%. Still, given his uninspiring track record in the minors, I’m not interested.

  • Who has been seriously unable to generate swings outside the zone? This man:

    Antonio Senzatela

    His 10.6% O-Swing% is just more than half the next lowest rate! That’s really incredible. Also incredible that a guy with a career ERA over 5.00 and nearly as high a SIERA continues to make starts for a team who plays half their games in one of the game’s most hitter friendly parks. They seriously can’t find anyone who could possibly be better?! For five years?!

  • These pitchers are magicians, throwing strikes that somehow deceive hitters into not swinging. Here are your sub-60% Z-Swing% pitchers:

    Stephen Strasburg
    Joe Musgrove
    Taijuan Walker
    Huascar Ynoa
    Jose Berrios
    Charlie Morton

    Guess all those non-swings on strikes hasn’t helped Stephen Strasburg yet! I would be quite worried if I were a Strasburg owner. Injuries have really hampered him throughout his career, and now he’s coming off an outing in which his fastball velocity dipped from 93 MPH during his first start to just 90.9 MPH. The 93 was already down from his 2019 level (I’m ignoring last year due to injury and five innings pitched). I was actually expecting a bounceback season, but now I’m far less optimistic.

    I was off Taijuan Walker this season after he outperformed his SIERA by nearly two runs last year, but it’s been a good start so far for him in his return to the NL. I was totally aware of Huascar Ynoa during spring training, but lost interest when he figured to only be an opener at best and not a true starter. Those plans changed quickly as he’s already started two games in true fashion and has been dominant in both. Now I’m kicking myself for missing him in my shallow 12-team local league, but am thrilled to have landed him cheap in the LABR mixed draft league. Ynoa was one of the spring’s big breakouts and so far that has translated to regular season performance. If he hasn’t been added in your league, do it now.

  • This pair of pitchers make it impossible for opposing batters to make contact with their pitches outside the strike zone, sporting sub-40% O-Contact% marks:

    Shane Bieber
    Freddy Peralta

    I have to embarrassingly admit — I don’t think I had ever watched a Shane Bieber start until Tuesday night’s dream game against Lucas Giolito. Blame it on not subscribing to MLB Extra Innings/TV because I felt bad leaving my wife to watch baseball every night, but then getting the subscription for free this year thanks to her T-Mobile plan. Oh. My. Gosh. I imagine Bieber’s stuff has gotten significantly better in the last three seasons, as I can’t imagine his current stuff was only good enough to strike out a mid-20% rate of batters in the minors. How did this happen? His stuff is other-worldly and that slider-curveball pair is unhittable and things of beauty. Even his pedestrian 93 MPH fastball looked better than the mediocre velocity. It’s hard to believe a pitcher owns a true talent 40% strikeout rate, but it’s also hard to believe batters could start making more contact with those breakers than they have been since the start of 2020!

    I’m real curious to see how deep into the season Freddy Peralta could go while remaining this effective and how soon all those walks are going to hurt him. He hasn’t thrown 100 innings in a season since 2017, so he might get skipped or get moved to the bullpen temporarily every so often to keep his innings in check. Of course, he also might make things easy by having one of those five walks in two innings blowup games where he’s removed immediately after.

  • Is the ultimate indicator or stuff validated by Z-Contact%, or contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone? It’s certainly possible. This is your sub-70% pair:

    Trevor Rogers
    Freddy Peralta

    There’s Trevor Rogers again who we met in yesterday’s 20%+ SwStk% club. He actually owns two pitches with sub-60% Z-Contact% marks! What’s incredible is that one of them is his four-seamer. You would not expect a fastball to generate so many in-zone whiffs. After a 3.86 SIERA in 2020, he’s another I’ll be kicking myself all year on solely due to my expectation he wouldn’t go deep into games and therefore won’t earn very many wins (or quality starts in the case of my local league).

    Hello Freddy Peralta, we missed you!

  • Batters are having no issue making contact with pitches inside the strike zone against this pair, who rank at the top with the highest Z-Contact% marks:

    Walker Buehler
    Zack Greinke

    Wow! Now there are two shocking names to find at the top. Walker Buehler’s high Z-Contact% matches his low SwStk% discussed yesterday, so this doesn’t necessarily add to the concern, but simply just validates that same concern. Since 2018, Zack Greinke’s fastball velocity has averaged less than 90 MPH, causing many of us, including projection systems, to project doom and gloom. While his ERA did rise above 4.00 last year for the first time since 2016, his strikeout rate has remained above 23%, so his SIERA has remained below 4.00 and actually quite consistent. This year, his velocity is sitting below 89 MPH once again after last year’s dip, but is still higher than last season’s low. Perhaps finally, we are seeing the effects of that diminished velocity. I’m staying far away here, especially as his name will still command a high price.

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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Bieber’s minor league K numbers were influenced y his complete refusal to walk anyone. In 277 IP in the minors he walked 19 guys total (and two of those are IBB) against 260 K. His stuff was so good that he just pounded the zone and still struck out 22-26% of hitters while essentially walking nobody. First thing the Indians told him to do was nibble a little more and trade some contact for a few more walks and a lot more Ks. Worked so far


The opening line of Bieber’s blurb on his FG page from 2019 has stuck with me. (“I would be excited if I saw Shane Bieber’s 4.7% walk rate rise in 2019”)