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Tabula Rasa: Pitchers edition

The only things we know with certainty are those we can prove.

Cincinnati Reds v New York Mets Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how baseball fans are always engaged in figuring which players are good and which ones are just awful. But I did this focusing only on hitters. This time around, we’ll look at three pitchers the BtBS staff deemed awful — again without looking at their stats — and see if the numbers back up their judgment.

Just like the sun rising this morning doesn’t guarantee that it will rise tomorrow, baseball players being bad in our collective consciousness doesn’t mean they’ll be bad forever. So without further ado, I give you our pitcher’s edition of Tabula Rasa.


Rafael Montero

Opinion: No specific opinion, but many of our staff named him.

Rafael Montero

Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2014 1 3 0 10 8 44.1 8.53 4.67 1.62 0.298 82.40% 33.90% 14.50% 4.06 5.14 4.33 -0.1
2015 0 1 0 5 1 10 11.7 4.5 0 0.321 57.10% 48.10% 0.00% 4.5 2.03 3.36 0.4
2016 0 1 0 9 3 19 9.47 7.58 1.89 0.358 65.90% 35.70% 22.20% 8.05 6.3 5.15 -0.3
2017 5 9 0 30 15 101.2 8.85 5.05 0.89 0.360 72.20% 46.20% 9.50% 5.05 4.27 4.84 1.2
Data from Fangraphs.com

Between 2014–16, Montero was bad. There is no arguing that. Sure, he had great K/9 numbers, but he walked far too many batters to be reliable on the mound. He also averaged nearly 2 HR/9.

Then again, he did all this in a small sample — 73 13 innnings pitched across three years. But in his brief appearances those seasons, he didn’t provide any value to the Mets.

This year, however, he has pitched 101 23 innings, and in those, he has maintained his healthy K/9 and has had a BB/9 slightly below his career average (5.19 career vs 5.05 2017). But the two most impressive stats of this season have been that he has managed to reduce his HR/9 and thus has reduced his FIP. As a result, he has finally managed to provide positive value to the Mets rotation, adding 1.2 fWAR — fourth on the team behind Jacob deGrom, Seth Lugo, and Noah Syndergaard.

Sure, he’s not been elite, but in a Mets season where the phrase “spiraling out of control” is underselling things, he’s been more than good enough.

Verdict: bad, yet good enough for the 2017 Mets.


Jordan Zimmermann

Opinion: He’s so bad he can’t even get himself out of the 4th inning.

Jordan Zimmermann

Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2009 3 5 0 16 16 91.1 9.07 2.86 0.99 0.332 67.5% 43.5% 12.2% 4.63 3.59 3.35 1.9
2010 1 2 0 7 7 31.0 7.84 2.90 2.32 0.261 72.3% 48.9% 22.2% 4.94 5.85 3.92 -0.3
2011 8 11 0 26 26 161.1 6.92 1.73 0.67 0.291 74.2% 39.4% 5.9% 3.18 3.16 3.78 3.4
2012 12 8 0 32 32 195.2 7.04 1.98 0.83 0.288 79.3% 43.4% 9.2% 2.94 3.51 3.78 3.3
2013 19 9 0 32 32 213.1 6.79 1.69 0.80 0.271 74.4% 47.6% 9.5% 3.25 3.36 3.48 3.7
2014 14 5 0 32 32 199.2 8.20 1.31 0.59 0.302 75.8% 40.1% 6.4% 2.66 2.68 3.1 5.3
2015 13 10 0 33 33 201.2 7.32 1.74 1.07 0.302 74.5% 42.0% 10.9% 3.66 3.75 3.82 3.0
2016 9 7 0 19 18 105.1 5.64 2.22 1.20 0.304 65.7% 43.1% 10.3% 4.87 4.42 4.84 1.3
2017 8 12 0 27 27 150.0 5.76 2.52 1.74 0.332 67.9% 33.1% 13.1% 6.18 5.35 5.48 0.8
Data from Fangraphs.com

Zimmermann has been sidelined since September 4 with a neck injury and is about to be back. Nevertheless, he is coming back as a shell of what the Detroit Tigers expected to be when they signed him in 2016.

He was never an elite pitcher but he was good enough to be a number three starter, somebody who could eat innings and anchor a rotation. But in two years in Comerica Park, Zimmermann has never looked like the player he was in Washington.

Over those two seasons, he’s averaged 5 13 innings per start, which, while somewhat acceptable by today’s starting pitcher standards, is less than what was expected from him. Furthermore, his peripherals have slowly been moving in the wrong direction, with his BB/9 and HR/9 increasing, while his GB percentage has decreased.

By ERA and xFIP, 2017 has been the worst season of Zimmermann’s career, while his 5.37 FIP and 0.8 fWAR have been the second-worst (beating only his sophomore year).

Given his age and his declining stats, it will be hard for Detroit to move him and contribute to their rebuild. But if Zimmermann somehow manages to recapture some vestiges of his past self, then they should not hesitate to trade him too.

Verdict: he wasn’t who the Tigers expected and he should be moved as soon as possible.


Pedro Baez

Opinion: He has the slowest pacing and his peripherals say he’s about to crash.

Pedro Baez

Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Season W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2014 0 0 0 20 0 24.0 6.75 1.88 1.13 0.197 83.3% 36.8% 9.1% 2.63 3.88 3.96 0.1
2015 4 2 0 52 0 51.0 10.59 1.94 0.71 0.326 69.3% 37.6% 6.9% 3.35 2.51 3.17 1.1
2016 3 2 0 73 0 74.0 10.09 2.68 1.34 0.232 80.9% 42.6% 15.9% 3.04 3.81 3.43 0.5
2017 3 5 0 60 0 58.0 8.69 3.88 1.40 0.256 88.3% 36.1% 12.3% 2.64 4.59 4.82 0.1
Data from Fangraphs.com

Let’s start with Baez’s peripherals. Among relievers, he is 11th in LOB percentage — so basically, he hasn’t let runners score. Then again, his GB percentage has fallen of a cliff while his HR/FB percentage has increased over the past four seasons, so that probably has more to do with luck than skill.

And while Baez’s ERA has remained close to his career mark, his FIP and xFIP show that he’s been worse when measured by the three true results (K, BB, and HR). Effectively, Baez has walked more batters this season — 3.88 per nine innings, compared to a career mark of 2.74 — and has been more prone to the long ball.

Sure, he’s not the most reliable piece in the Dodgers bullpen (and given the choices, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t on the playoff roster) but he has been consistent.

But aside from his peripherals, he draws the most ire from fans for taking too long between pitches. If somebody will be hampered by the arrival of the pitch clock, it will be Baez and fans will be happy that they will not have to wait 30 seconds between each delivery.

Verdict: he’s gotten worse throughout the years but he’s still been acceptable. The pitch clock can’t come soon enough.


This time around, the exercise was a bit easier. None of these pitchers are elite, but they have provided value at points in their careers. Montero has become better this season when compared to his past season and has helped the Mets. Baez is reliable out of the pen, but there are better options. Zimmermann... well, Tigers fans won’t miss him if he’s gone.

Remember, our opinions are biased — mostly by what we can observe from recent events. So, before we condemn a player for his poor outings, or applaud another for delivering the winning hit, we should always check our facts and stats to determine whether we’re in the right.

Stats current through 9/15.


Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is constantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.