While the Indians’ Zach Plesac was good in 2019 (3.81 ERA over 21 starts), he put his name on the map in his 8 starts in 2020 posting a 2.28 ERA and 0.80 WHIP while showing enough in all three skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 9.27 K/9
- Control – 0.98 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.3%
The numbers don’t mean that there weren’t bumps, as Plesac was forced to spend time at the alternate site after breaking COVID-19 protocols. That issue appears to be behind us, and now the questions come down to the skills.
Obviously Plesac won’t be able to maintain a .224 BABIP or 91.7% strand rate, and that’s going to lead to a regression. That said he did a tremendous job of avoiding hard contact (31.0% Hard%) when opponents were able to make contact. With the potential for the strikeout rate to increase, it’s possible that the luck regression won’t have as significant of an impact that you’d think.
As noted, his 14.3% SwStr% and 36.9% O-Swing% indicate that there’s more strikeout potential on the horizon. There was a definite change in approach from 2019:
His slider is his wipeout pitch, having posted a 25.46% Whiff% in ’20. Throwing it more, with that type of number, would certainly justify an increased strikeout rate. Would it be shocking to see him improve his K/9 into the 10+ range?
Obviously Plesac showed elite control in ’20, and while he may regress in ’21 it’s not like he’s going to transform into a walk machine. In the minor leagues he posted a 2.1 BB/9, so it should remain a solid skill moving forward.
Outside of the luck, this is the true red flag that needs to be monitored closely. His groundball rate has been consistently low in the Majors, with a 39.2% career mark, and that’s led to a 1.42 HR/9. If he could figure out a way to limit that mark, even just a little bit more, the regression in his luck wouldn’t have as much of an impact. That’s not something we can’t count on, but he’s shown an ability to make adjustments before.
Plesac may not be the elite pitcher he looked like in ’20, but he should be a Top 40-50 starter. He brings elite control and the potential to rack up the strikeouts, so just a minor adjustment to his groundball rate would create the total package. That type of upside is there, so don’t shy away as long as the price is right.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference