Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Should We Believe In Nick Pivetta & His Breakout? Maybe, But He’s Still Worth Shopping…

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Nick Pivetta just keeps on rolling, and with 10 starts (53.0 IP) behind him it’s getting harder and harder to call it a small sample size.  With a 3.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP he’s looking like he could be one of the elite in the game, while he’s also showing at least solid marks (or close to it) in all three skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – 10.19 K/9
  • Control – 2.04 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 40.4%

Has the time come that we should all be buying into Pivetta as a 2018 breakout, or is a regression coming quick?

 

Strikeouts

Pivetta is showing significantly more strikeout stuff this season, with an 11.3 SwStr% (after an 8.7% over 133.0 IP in the Majors in ’17).  There has been a clear change in approach, with his fourseam fastball usage declining in favor of his curveball:

Year
Fourseam Fastball
Sinker
Curveball
Slider
Changeup
201765.86%0.00%15.44%14.26%4.44%
201854.03%4.81%23.04%15.32%2.80%

What’s interesting is that his curveball is not his best swing and miss pitch (13.11% Whiff%).  That honor goes to his slider, with a 20.44% Whiff%, and its usage has been fairly static.  He’s also not throwing significantly harder (95.47 mph on his fourseam fastball, compared to 94.74 in ’17).  It’s not to say that he hasn’t figured something out, but his 9.27 K/9 in April seems much more believable than his 11.70 in May (considering his 7.6 K/9 over his minor league career, but 10.2 over 56.2 IP at Triple-A).

 

Control

Like with his strikeouts he showed better marks at Triple-A (1.9 BB/9), but overall in the minors he owned a 3.1 BB/9 and was at 3.86 in the Majors last season.  He’s been consistently good this season, which lends a little bit of credence to the number:

  • April – 1.91
  • May – 2.25

This is where the decline in his fastball usage may be seen the most.  Last season 44 of his walks came courtesy of his fourseam fastball.  This year he’s still issuing most of his walks on the pitch (9), but only three have come on his other pitches.  Couple that with strong results (.059 BAA on sliders, .180 BAA on curveballs) and it all makes sense.

 

Groundballs

This is the biggest concern, because he’s not a groundball pitcher yet owns a 0.85 HR/9 on the season.  Considering his home ballpark, this split just adds to the long-term outlook:

  • Home – 0.50
  • Road – 1.59

Considering his 1.69 HR/9 in ’17 seeing a significant regression is realistic.

 

Conclusion

This isn’t to say that Pivetta isn’t going to continue as a solid option, especially since his luck metrics are believable (76.9% strand rate, .296 BABIP).  That said, there is risk of regression in all three skills we look for:

  • Strikeouts – It may not be a major falloff, but a 9.00-9.25 K/9 is more believable
  • Control – He’s figured something out, but given his history a little bit of a regression (2.50ish BB/9) should be expected
  • Groundballs – This is the biggest red flag, as he could easily start allowing a significant number of home runs as the weather warms

While we wouldn’t call him a must sell, Pivetta’s value may never be higher than it is today.  That makes him worth shopping to see what opportunities are out there.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference

Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings?  Make sure to check it out by clicking here.  

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