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The Phillies’ Nick Pivetta has deadly swing- and-miss stuff

With his curveball and slider, Nick Pivetta has transformed into a legitimate strikeout starter.

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

We’re nearly halfway through the season, and the Philadelphia Phillies are positioned to make a run for the playoffs for the first time since 2011. After finishing fourth or fifth in the standing each of the past five years, the Phillies have seen that losing finally pay off with a team full of young players that are reaching their potential faster than most people anticipated. In-fact only three of their current 25-man roster are aged 30 or older. We’ve talked about guys like Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins who have become top tier contributors, but one guy that seems to be flying under the radar despite solid numbers is Nick Pivetta.

Pivetta, only 25 years old, was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft by the Washington Nationals. He landed in Philadelphia when they sent Jonathan Papelbon to the nation’s capital in 2015 in what turned into a disaster trade for the Nationals. Losing like the Phillies have these past five years comes the ability to sell off solid veterans and build a pool of young talent, and Pivetta is a reaping of what had been previously sown.

Pivetta is a solid young, up-and-coming starter and after getting a crack at the majors last year and finishing with pretty horrendous numbers (an ERA over six and a FIP approaching five) left a bad taste in his mouth. The thing about young prospects is they can always improve, after all they’re still developing. Having hardly any major league experience, it inevitably takes time to adjust and adapt.

Pivetta seems to be doing just that, his numbers are strong for only having 133 innings of major league experience prior to the start of the season. This year he’s dropped his FIP to 3.15 and an xFIP to match with 3.29; he also has the peripherals to back it up with a strikeout rate near 29 percent and a walk rate below seven percent. Plus a SIERA ranked 12th in the league at 3.25 tell us he’s doing everything he can to put up solid numbers.

There’s no doubt the ERA, currently above four, will come down given he’s increase the whiff rate on all four of the pitches threw last season, giving him the 23rd best swinging strike rate in the league at 11.7 percent.

So not only are his numbers sustainable, but there’s good reason to think they’re going to get a whole lot better by the time we close out the 2018 season due to a combination of his pitch arsenal and raw talent. Pivetta according to Baseball Savant has thrown six different pitch types: a four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup and cutter, but the cutter has only been thrown twice so I wouldn’t really count that as part of his arsenal just yet. And the raw stuff, really speaks for itself.

Pivetta’s Pitches

Pitch Usage Spin Rate Velocity Whiff% Called % wOBA
Pitch Usage Spin Rate Velocity Whiff% Called % wOBA
4SFB 48.10% 2270 94.6 10.90% 19.90% .346
2SFB 10.20% 2223 94.6 7.30% 19.00% .429
Curveball 22.80% 2873 79.6 15.50% 21.00% .207
Slider 16.10% 2570 82.7 21.50% 11.00% .204
Changeup 2.70% 1863 87.4 11.10% 16.70% .454
Total 100% 2438 89.1 13.10% 18.40% .295

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs touched on Pivetta early in the season and more specifically how incredible his curveball is and his ability to throw it in the zone and receive called strikes.

He’s continued to utilize those weapons, but he’s also added a swing and miss pitch in his slider. Receiving a whiff rate over 20 percent has given him a legitimate pitch to get whiffs out of the zone. A curveball he can throw for strikes and not induce much contact coupled with a slider he can bury out of the zone for a swinging strike is a deadly combination.

Really, the only concern for Pivetta is the average against his four-seamer, currently at .309, and it is the one thing that is keeping his numbers from reaching stellar heights that rival any mid-rotation starter.

Part of that stems from the sequencing of his pitches and more so the usage. You can have the best raw stuff in the league but unless you properly sequence and use it you will never reach your ceiling. Right now Pivetta is relying far too heavily on his four-seamer, especially when he’s ahead in the count. When he has two borderline perfect pitches in his slider and curveball, plus a decent get-me-over pitch in his changeup, there’s no reason that he’s using the four-seamer as much as he is. Not to mention his two-seamer could be mixed in more to give batters a different look if he wants to maintain the number of fastballs he’s throwing.

Baseball Savant

With an incredible spin rate on all of his pitches, the slider and curveball really stand out. Among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 150 of either pitch, Pivetta ranks 25th in slider spin rate and fourth in curveball spin rate.

Not only does he have above average spin rate his velocity is just as good. A fastball approaching an average of 95 miles per hour and a curveball near 80 miles per hour rounds out some incredible raw stuff. Pivetta never earned a spot on the Phillies or Nationals top prospects lists which makes this all the more surprising, but he’s developing into a strong asset for a team on the rise.

When your rotation has guys like Arrieta and Nola and then you add someone like Pivetta to the mix, this is a dangerous rotation, especially in a short playoff series. If Pivetta can continue to improve and find that perfect mix of pitches and sequencing that give his fastball a better average against, it will take him from an average starter to a very successful one. There’s no denying Pivetta will be a huge part of the Phillies success or failures for years to come.


Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.