The Philadelphia Phillies are in a battle for top spot in the National League East Division with the help of their starting rotation. As of writing, the Phillies starters rank 3rd in wins above replacement with 11.5 and rank 8th with a 3.78 ERA. The rotation has pitched 548.0 innings while compiling a record of 38-30, 13th and 7th overall respectively. With these numbers last season feels like a distant memory with much of the youth making a name for themselves.
At 25 years of age, Nick Pivetta has been a pleasant surprise as he’s taken a step forward in his development. With all young players there are ups and downs and Pivetta has had his fair share of them. He came out of the gate looking really good and sharp, and in May he was more or less the same, but in June, things turned very quickly. After only allowing 21 runs combined in the first two months, he allowed 24 in June. So what happened in June? Is he the same pitcher we saw in the first two months? Let’s check out his season numbers and his monthly splits.
The overall package isn’t as bad as it seems. He has a double-digit strikeout per 9 innings with 10.80 while his walks per 9 are at 2.66. These are very good starting points as Pivetta ranks 11th in K/9 and 29th in BB/9 among all qualified starting pitchers. His FIP is at 3.55, which in short, tells us that he is pitching better than what his ERA indicates.
Just looking at the splits it looks like June is the outlier. He issued more free passes as his walks per 9 was at 3.86 and home runs were also a glaring issue as he carried a 2.57 home runs per 9, a major increase compared to the other months. As a result his ERA was 7.71 with a 5.69 FIP, very bad. The good thing is he has maintained his FIP under 3.00 for the other months, including July. Let’s see if his plate discipline was that much different in June.
Surprisingly his plate discipline looks very similar to the other months. His overall contact percentage was the lowest in all the months, showing us not all contact is created equally. A combination of not being able to locate his stuff and home runs seem like the answer for a terrible June. Let’s see how players were hitting the ball.
June presented a number of challenges and trying to suppress the home runs made all the difference. His home run to fly ball ratio is 26.7% which is higher than any of the other months. His inability to create pop ups was very low at 3.3% and his hard contact rate was 39.3%. July looks fantastic as he is getting ground balls 55. 6% all the time while suppressing fly balls and creating a lot of pop ups. This is definitely a recipe for success and he should be getting better results. The repertoire is the next thing we will analyze.
The big difference from last year to this year is that he’s throwing less fourseam fastballs. It’s a big decline now at 53.44% of the time and instead has introduced a sinker. He also decided to reduce his changeup usage in favour of his curveball. His slider and curveball are his better pitches as indicated by the batting average table. Seeing as his other three pitches have a batting average over 0.300, it would make sense to throw his better pitches more, but when looking at June, it tells a different story.
He threw his fourseam 57.88 percent of the time, an increase from May. Slider usage was still a good amount, but he increased his curveball back into the 20’s while his sinker and changeup went south to 2.88% and 0.58%. These changes didn’t offer the results he wanted and we will have to check out the movement to see if he lost the feel for his pitches.
Pivetta’s slider and curveball seem to have lost a bit of horizontal movement. That could be a number of factors such as where he wants to attack batters or just simply missing his spots. Those same two pitches have lost a bit of vertical movement as well, so that’s a reason for balls staying in the zone. The velocity remained constant at 95 MPH and did not play a factor.
He’s reverting back to what worked as he’s mixing his pitches like he did in May. The downside is that the vertical movement on his slider and curveball are still not where they were earlier. The sinker is being used a lot again, but this pitch doesn’t have a lot of downward action, and could be a reason for the high average this month.
Nick Pivetta is pitching better than his numbers indicate. Limiting the long ball was a strength of his that got exposed in June. So far in July he’s limiting the fly balls by a ton so that should help him moving forward. He’s back to mixing up his pitches and will have to continue to do so for his sinker to be less hittable. His success in the second half of the season is going to be crucial in order for the Phillies to make the playoffs.