Tyler Skaggs Having Trouble with Men on Base

Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs should be in the middle of a breakout season. At least, that’s what his peripherals seem to suggest. Through 96 innings, Skaggs has posted a less-than-stellar 4.50 ERA. His 3.55 FIP, however, suggests that he should have been much better over the first half of the year. The main reason for the difference between the two stats appears to be Skaggs’ ability to pitch with men on base. Skaggs will have to figure out how to keep runners from rounding the bases if he wants to post a second half breakout.

By nearly every measure, Skaggs has performed worse with men on base. With the bases empty, batters have hit .222/.274/.312 against Skaggs. That’s good for a .255 wOBA. With men on, those numbers jump to .304/.365/.468, with a .359 wOBA. His numbers with men in scoring position aren’t as bad, but are still good for a .335 wOBA. A similar trend emerges when we look at Skaggs in low leverage situations compared to medium leverage situations. He gets worse in medium leverage situations. Skaggs has only had three innings qualified as high leverage, so those figures were ignored.

That does bring up an important point. These figures are generally small samples. Skaggs has tossed 38 2/3 innings of ball with men on base. That’s not enough to make any declarative statements about whether this issue will continue moving forward. What we can say, though, is that Skaggs has struggled with men on base thus far this season.

Is there a particular reason behind his struggles? Since the sample is so small, it would be irresponsible to say Skaggs can’t pitch out of the stretch. In order to determine whether Skaggs is a different pitcher with men on, we can look at whether his approach changes in those situations. This data isn’t widely available, but I was able to get in touch with Dan Rozenson of BrooksBaseball.net to get some more specifics on Skaggs’ numbers.

Pitch Velocity – empty Velocity – men on Count – empty Count – men on
Change 85.1 84.7 92 58
Curve 77.1 77.5 175 156
Fourseam 92.6 92.5 300 153
Cutter 89.3 91.4 6 4
Sinker 92.6 92.8 279 176

There’s been a lot made of Skaggs’ velocity over the past few seasons. One of the big reasons people expected a breakout this season was because Skaggs seemed to have rediscovered his velocity with the Angels. I had initially expected maybe Skaggs’ increase in velocity didn’t hold up out of the stretch, but that’s not the case. In fact, Skaggs’ sinker has actually been a tiny bit faster with men on base.

One thing that does emerge is his pitch usage. Skaggs has a larger sample of innings with the bases empty (57.1 innings to 38.2 with men on, according to the FanGraphs splits). That explains why his number of pitches with men on are much lower than his figures with the bases empty. The one pitch where the difference isn’t that large is the curve. Despite the smaller sample of innings, Skaggs has thrown only 19 fewer curves with men on base compared to with the bases empty.

The curve actually rates as Skaggs’ worse pitch this season according to pitch values. The curve is Skaggs only pitch with a negative value. The PITCHf/x pitch values have his curve valued at -3.8 this season. That’s among the worst curves in the game this season. The fact that Skaggs is relying on the pitch more often with men on base could hint at why he’s been hit harder from the stretch. His curve hasn’t rated well all year, so throwing it more often would seem to be a suboptimal strategy, particularly with men on.

Not throwing the curve is a bit of a double-edged sword for Skaggs. It’s his primary out pitch, and has the second-highest whiff rate of all his offerings. He uses it against righties and lefties equally, throwing it 25% of the time against left-handers and 21% of the time against righties. It’s also Skaggs’ only non-fastball option against lefties, as he basically scraps his changeup when facing them.

The issue may have less to do with Skaggs struggling with men on, and more with him relying too much on his curveball. There’s not really a clear-cut answer here. It’s unreasonable to expect Skaggs to drastically alter his repertoire midway through the season, and it’s impossible to know if that would even work. If he suddenly starts using more sinkers or more changeups against lefties, we have no idea whether that will get outs. Focusing less on the curve, particularly with men on, seems wise, but only if Skaggs has a backup plan.

Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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9 years ago

good article, tell that bum to get his ERA to match his FIP. My fantasy league uses ERA. Boo.

Johan Santa
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill

It’s weird, Skaggs sounds like a nice gritty, scrappy name, too! He should have no problem outperforming his peripherials, never mind matching them.