Tipping Pitches: Three NL Arms to Buy

It is so deflating to lose a piece of work so close to the end. I put together the NL Arms to Buy piece for posting today with one pitcher’s section open to see how he did on Tuesday. I woke up today, woke the computer from its slumber, and it’s gone. Just 100% gone. I did all the recovery methods for Microsoft Word that usually result in getting a doc back, but this one is gone. So frustrating, but hardly the end of the world. By the way, the AL piece last week suggested the NL arms would come out the day after instead of the week after, my apologies on that flub. Let’s try it again!

Jimmy Nelson

Off the top, I recommend checking out Jeff Sullivan’s piece on Nelson from last week. Nelson’s ascent is kind of weird to me. The key factor, as Jeff points out, is that he’s throwing a lot more strikes with career-bests in Zone percentage (51%) and First-Pitch Strike rate (64%). That’s a big plus. A guy with good stuff finally throwing more strikes and trusting said stuff is good, I dig it. He also has career-bests in strikeout (23%) and walk (6%) rate, too.

I don’t know what to make of his reverse platoon split, though. He’s never really found much success against lefties while vacillating between good and bad against righties, but this year he’s got an 83-point platoon split that favors his work against left-handers (.704 OPS). I can’t find anything that supports a 75-pont improvement in OPS against lefties from last year to this one other than just his stuff being better (which is a valid reason, there doesn’t always have to be a major approach change driving a pitcher’s success). His BABIP is also matching his previous career-high of .344, set in 2014.

Is there some bad luck in his hit rate that he’s overcoming or is there a reckoning on the way with this 9.6 H/9? He has done his best work ever with runners on this year, tallying a .682 OPS, 22% K rate, and 5% BB rate in 130 PA, all way better than his .739, 18%, and 9% career marks. That seems to be where his surge in strikes thrown is paying the biggest dividends. All told, I would temper my expectations on Nelson with this hit rate while at the same time buying in. His current 3.67 ERA is about where he belongs and I think he’ll live in the 3.50-4.00 range barring a drop in hits allowed with a Lance Lynn upside:

  • Lynn 2012-15: 3.38 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 23% K, 9% BB in 756.7 IP
  • Nelson 2017: 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 23% K, 6% BB in 76 IP

That might seem like a negative, but rest assured it’s not. Hell, even if he lingers closer to 4.00, Nelson can have value in this current environment. I don’t think the fantasy baseball community has fully adjusted to the new run scoring era we’re in right now. There were a few years where you could find a 3.75 ERA on the wire and be like “meh, I’ll wait for something better”, but we’re back to the days of seeing a 4.20 with a good strikeout rate and jumping at the chance to get him on the roster.

Zack Godley

Godley seems to have won the rotation spot battle against Randall Delgado with the return of Taijuan Walker and Godley is now slated to start on Saturday at Philadelphia. The 27-year old righty showed some skills across 111 innings in 2015-16 (12% SwStr and 35% O-Swing across the entire sample, 54% GB in last year’s 74.7 IP), but struggled to find consistent success (5.34 ERA, 1.41 WHIP). So far this year he has amplified his best traits with 21% K, 8% BB, 13% SwStr, and 62% GB rates en route to a 2.44 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 44.3 innings. I love the swinging strike and groundball combination.

We haven’t seen a pitcher put up those kind of rates over a full season. It’s usually one or the other, the closest being Tyson Ross’s 2015 when he had a 62% GB and 12% SwStr combination, yielding a 2.98 ERA in 196 innings. Looking first at his pitch mix we see that Godley has amplified both his sinker and curveball usage which helps explain his improvements: sinker for groundballs, curve for whiffs.

He had 76 PA finish on a sinker in 74.7 innings last year and it generated a 56% GB rate. This year he already has 67 such PA, but with a 72% GB rate. Sinkers away in the zone have been the key. The curveball has jumped a bit in swinging strike rate, but the real change is just swings in general, making that SwStr boost even more impactful. His 54% swing rate on the curve is up from 47% while the swinging strike rate is up three points to 25%.

The groundballs are great, but to stay anywhere near his current ERA, he’ll need better results with the pitch. His .876 OPS is actually an improvement over last year’s 1.035, but it puts too much burden on the curve and changeup to carry the load. The curve has been baseball’s best (min. 50 PA) with a .203 OPS in 55 PA as well as a 46% K rate (7th) and 2% BB rate (9th). The pitch is up to a career-high 84 mph, too.

For his career he’s always been better on the road (3.76 road, 5.24 home), but this year he’s been great regardless of venue (2.84 road, 2.13 home). The best home run rate of his career at 0.61 certainly helps curb that home woes and it’s not just some tiny HR/FB rate. It’s at 14% this year, not too far from his 17% career rate.

Godley isn’t a 2.44 ERA pitcher. I’m not shocking anyone with that revelation, but I could see him living in a 3.40-3.80 range from here on out with at least seven strikeouts per nine (20%+ K rate) and an elite groundball (55% or better). Better results with the sinker could fuel even more success, but we’ll keep an eye on that. For now, just enjoy a mid-3.00s arm coming on the cheap.

Jaime Garcia

Yes, that Jaime Garcia! The oft-injured lefty has stayed healthy thus far and found some success in his new digs with Atlanta. The 30-year old has always been at this best when he’s inducing weak contact and keeping the ball on the ground. He has never had a groundball rate lower than 54% (he’s at 57% this year) and consistently carries a soft contact better than league average. This year he’s at 24% compared to a 19% league average for starters. His worst years have come when the ball starts leaving the yard.

Last year he had a career-worst 1.4 HR/9 thanks in part to a crazy 20% HR/FB rate – easily the MLB’s worst among qualified starters and the worst we have on record here at Fangraphs, dating back to 2002. There were no sweeping changes in his game that led to the longball issue, either. The groundball rate did drop from 61% to 57%, but that hardly explains such a jump in homers. This year he’s back down to a 12% HR/FB and 0.8 HR/9, both matching his career rates.

It’s not a flashy pick and being on the bottom-feeding Braves sans their best offensive player no doubt contributes to his 2-5 record, but Garcia can offer some quality innings. His 17% strikeout rate is actually a career-low (well, outside of a 12% mark in 16 IP back in 2008), but his 11% SwStr rate is at a three-year peak. I think he’ll get back to his 19% career level for strikeouts at the very least. In fact, a strikeout-less season debut in six innings is a big reason for his low mark. He’s at 18% since then and 20% over his last six starts.

Health will always be a major concern with Garcia. He has nine DL stints over his career. He’s had issues with both his shoulder and elbow, including a pair of shoulder surgeries. Pick him up now while he’s still healthy and if he gets hurt, we’ll deal with it then. In the meantime, he’s a 4.00 ERA arm with a decent strikeout rate and a proven groundball skill.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

Is it worth dropping Shoemaker, Wacha, Nola, or Hill for any of these dudes in a 12-team 5×5 redraft? (I’ll probably have to drop at least one when Jon Gray and/or Aaron Sanchez get back from the DL, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

johnnycuff
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johnnycuff

shoemaker’s forearm injury would make him seem like a good candidate to go

Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

And Hill got lit up today too, but unfortunately Godley and Nelson are no longer available so I might just roll with them until Gray and Sanchez are back. Or grab Peacock or something