Location Matters For Nick Pivetta
The strength of the Phillies’ system was supposed to be young pitching. Through the first few years of the rebuild, the Phillies have had mixed results with their young starters. Injuries this year have forced the Phillies to reach down to their minor leagues for starters earlier this season. After struggling through his first 6 starts, one of those young players is suddenly looking dominant.
This is Nick Pivetta’s second call-up of the year. In his first stint, he pitched in 4 games going 19.1 innings with a 5.12 ERA and 9 walks to 21 strikeouts. Pivetta’s starts were marked with poor command and inefficiency. It was much different than his time in the minors where he walked 2 to 37 strikeouts in 32 innings. Pivetta then pitched in two games after being recalled on June 5, and he was worse than his first time around pitching 10 innings with a 6.30 ERA, 7 walks, and 6 strikeouts.
Things have turned around dramatically for Pivetta, and against the Red Sox and Cardinals he has pitched 13 innings with 3 runs (2.08 ERA), 3 walks, and 19 strikeouts.
Players go through hot streaks and cold streaks, so I don’t want to say any of these trends will continue, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pathways to success. For those that have not watched Pivetta, he throws a fastball that averages just over 94mph. He will mix in both a curveball (hi 70s) and a slider (mid 80s), and he has a changeup that he rarely throws. Over his past two outings, Pivetta has not really changed up his arsenal too much. He is throwing his fastball about 70% of the time and his slider about 15% of the time. In his start vs Boston, he went to the changeup more, and against the Cardinals he went to his curveball. His movement and release point are not much different from his other starts. However, there is something very different. Here is his pitch location over the same set of starts (First call-up, first 2 starts after his second call-up, and his last two starts).
Now this data isn’t granular enough to see if Pivetta is hitting the exact edges of the zone, but we do see that Pivetta is not hitting the center of the zone and instead working to the edges more. This becomes more evident if we break this out by vs LHBs and vs RHBs.
We see that Pivetta is working up and away to lefties and down and away to righties. The consequence has been more swings and misses, and we see that especially evident in his two most common pitches.
Now the whiff percentage on his slider can be deceptive, because we are talking about 1-2 swings and misses per game. Here are the raw whiff counts.
We can see he is getting misses with his fastball, and he is getting them in the strikezone.
Now I don’t think this is sustainable, not many pitchers survive throwing 70% fastballs. He is going to need to mix in some secondary pitches, particularly the changeup to keep hitters off balance. However, the ability to locate his fastball to the edges of the zone is something that can lead to sustainable success. It feels slightly silly to say it is all about location, but if you can spot a fastball like Pivetta’s, you are going to have success. As we have seen, if you leave it over the middle of the plate, hitters will hit it out of the yard.