Meet the Newest Exciting Diamondbacks Pitcher

Let’s take a look at the standings, shall we? The Diamondbacks are presently sitting in…okay, third place. But while they might be third place in the National League West, they’re also fifth place in the National League, overall, meaning they occupy a playoff spot. In other words, it’s been more of a good start than a bad one. And an encouraging start, given the organizational shake-up between years.

If you’ll remember, coming into the season, the Diamondbacks were defined by what you could call an intriguing post-hype pitching staff. It stood to reason that, if it was going to be a good year, they’d need those pitchers to deliver on the promise they’d had before. And, wouldn’t you know it, but according to the leaderboards, the Diamondbacks are fifth in baseball in pitching-staff WAR. They’re first among starting rotations. The effectiveness has been there, even despite Shelby Miller’s injury.

About that! Miller’s absence opened up a spot. One turn was given to Braden Shipley. The other three turns have gone to Zack Godley. Over three starts and 18.2 innings, Godley’s got 19 strikeouts, with four runs allowed. It’s not so much that Godley has been unhittable. It’s that he’s been good, and better than before. Godley, who’s never been a Baseball America top-10 organizational prospect. There’s a new exciting pitcher on the staff.

When I say “new,” I don’t mean Godley’s been called up for the first time. He made nine appearances in 2015, and three times that many in 2016. Godley has pitched in the majors before. He just hasn’t pitched like this in the majors before. This might be a good place to start, with data coming from Baseball Savant. There are 363 pitchers who have had at least 30 batted balls tracked by Statcast this season. Here are all of their data points, showing launch angles and exit velocities. Godley is highlighted in red.

That’s either the most or the second-most exceptional point in the whole plot. It’s exceptional in two good directions — low angle, and limited speed. Just 16 pitchers have generated a lower average exit velocity. No pitcher has come close to generating so low an average launch angle. Opponents have made bad contact, and grounder contact. When they’ve made contact, which — it’s been a struggle there, too. Godley seems to have improved with regard to his grounders and his whiffs.

This is a big plot. Maybe too big. This shows every single pitcher with at least 30 innings in each of the last two seasons, *including* the minor leagues. This groups guys in the majors together with guys in A-ball. You’re seeing two things — how each pitcher has changed, in terms of his grounder rate, and how each pitcher has changed, in terms of his swinging-strike rate. Once again, it’s Godley in red.

There are some mighty big data swings in there, probably owing to how strange baseball gets the further you are from the majors. But Godley’s combined grounder rate has shot up from 53% to 70%. He’s gone from being a ground-ball pitcher to being almost exclusively a ground-ball pitcher. He’s also improved his swinging-strike rate by almost three percentage points. There are 39 pitchers in here who’ve seen grounder-rate increases of at least 10 points. Only three of those pitchers have also boosted their whiff rates more than Godley has. One of those pitchers has yet to reach Double-A. Another has yet to reach Triple-A. Another has yet to reach the majors. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Godley’s point that’s the most impressive.

One thing Godley doesn’t do is throw strike after strike after strike. He does end most games with a handful of walks, and for now that’s preventing him from being an ace. But it’s important to understand how far a pitcher can get when he misses bats and keeps the ball on the ground. Godley, when he pitches like this, is unlikely to develop a home-run problem. And that makes it tougher to bring the walks all the way around.

Who is Godley? What’s he doing differently? He’s not a flamethrower. His velocity might be up a little from last year, but his sinker hangs around the low-90s. One advantage he has is that he consistently throws sinkers, cutters, curves, and changeups. He’s comfortable with a four-pitch repertoire. This year he’s thrown a fastball just 43% of the time, so he leans heavily on his secondary stuff. Only 11 starters have thrown their primary pitches with a lower frequency. Compared to last year, Godley’s still throwing more sinkers than he used to. But the biggest trend is that, year to year, Godley’s curveball rate has risen from 12% to 25% to 34%. Godley has thrown far more curves at the expense of what’s been a mediocre cutter, and the curve now is resembling one of the better curves around.

According to the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards, which are powered by Brooks Baseball, there are 95 starters this year who have thrown at least 50 curveballs. Godley has thrown close to 100. Godley’s curve has gotten a swinging strike 27% of the time, which ranks second-best in the group, behind only Nate Karns. Karns, incidentally, throws his own curve just as often. So these are two swing-and-miss breaking balls used roughly once for every three pitches. Here are two examples of Godley’s curve, from Monday:

I don’t think this is a case where Godley did something to his curveball. Rather, I think he’s simply grown more comfortable with it, and it’s possible that Arizona’s new catchers have encouraged him to trust it. Godley’s curveball command improved significantly between 2015 and 2016. Now it might just be a matter of throwing a good pitch even more than before. Godley’s cutter might be more effective as a third or fourth pitch. As things stand, right now, Godley’s only pitcher with a negative run value is his sinker. The other three pitches have flourished, with the curveball standing out.

As I see it, Godley will go as far as his curveball can take him. I like the sinker just fine, and he does need to throw it. The cutter and the changeup, too, are useful occasional weapons, and Godley’s gotten better with his cutter, which is something I haven’t addressed. It’s not like the entire story is the curve. But the curve is the true weapon, and opponents are being given less of a chance than ever. Godley’s approach has forced hitters to beat the ball into the ground. Failing that, they’ve frequently swung and missed. If Godley keeps trusting in his curveball, the Diamondbacks will have their new No. 5. And he’s going to pitch better than that arbitrary slot assignment.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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jbizzy
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jbizzy

Who’s the far right dot on the exit velocity/launch angle graph? Yeesh.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

Matt Dermody perhaps? In his one relief appearance with Toronto this season, he went 0.1 IP and gave up 4 hits, 3 HRs, 1 walk, and 5 earned runs.

That’s good for a 135.00 ERA, 129.02 FIP, 37.21 xFIP, 60% HR/FB, and 81.00 HR/9.

Jarrett
Member
Jarrett

It’s rare I see something a professional athlete has done and think, “I can do that”. This is one of those cases where I honestly believe I could’ve done that.

FrancoLuvHateMets
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FrancoLuvHateMets

Yeah, I’m confident I can give up a bunch of homers and walks. That and hit free throws at a decent clip.

YKnotDisco
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YKnotDisco

I don’t think he fits the 30 batted ball minimum.

YKnotDisco
Member
YKnotDisco

Weaver?

Shauncore
Member
Member

It looks like it’s Ben Taylor when I try to recreate Sullivan’s results.

Ryan DC
Member
Member
Ryan DC

My first guess would be any member of the Nats bullpen, possibly Joe Blanton

edit: it appears to be Red Sox reliever Ben Taylor, whom I had never heard of before this moment