2017 Phillies Report Card: Nick Pivetta
“Neva” (NEE-vuh) is not a name you hear a lot. Or ever. But she was the nurse in charge of our birthing class in the summer of 2015. It was a glorious time to be a prospect-head and a Phillies fan, because as the trade deadline approached, the club was sooooooooooooo bad, putting them in line for a very high draft pick in 2016, and leaving them poised to trade away a bunch of talent, from all-around funster Ben Revere and ace Cole Hamels, to (god willing) the club’s jerk of a closer.
And so on July 28, when Neva called for a potty break, I was quickly on my phone in the hall of Holy Cross Hospital’s administrative wing, checking the Ol’ Twitter for Phils’ news. I wandered towards the chapel and before my eyes came a vision. A vision of Jonathan Papelbon being an A-hole for some other team – my adopted hometown team, The Washington Nationals! The return was a tall Canadian minor league starter with a reliever’s profile. Thankfully, it wasn’t Phillippe Aumont again.
Nick Pivetta needs a nickname. “Nicky 6”, after his season’s 6.02 ERA could work, but that’s also terribly mean. And really, this guy is not destined to end his career with an Aumontian 6+ in the favored stat of people old enough to be Nikki Sixx fans. The 24-year-old was summoned to the big leagues with just under two months of AAA time under his belt over two seasons, and spent nearly the entire year in the rotation with the big club. It was a bit of trial by fire, and National League lineups brought the dried leaves and crumpled newspapers. And Zippos. And also torches. And magnifying glasses for day games. And were somehow able to summon lightning at will. I imagine you take my point.
His FIP and xFIP indicate better effort than his ERA shows, but he allowed what seemed like a hundred thirty-three homers, (it was 25), in 133 innings. His K%-BB% of 14.2 would have been tied for 28th in the bigs with Patrick Corbin, Sonny Gray and Drew Pomeranz, had Pivetta met the innings qualification. So, not bad company, there.
While Pivetta was often battered pretty badly over the course of the year, the thing I most remember was an inning he pitched in mid-July. It was the first inning of a start against Milwaukee. He was dealin’ in the mid-high 90s, attacking the zone, and ultimately getting through the inning with three strikeouts. It was a heck of a thing, and it showed why a lot of people around the game feel Pivetta would make a good reliever if it comes to that. At the time I referred to his showing “chutzpah”. I even said the “f” word in front of it. (I’ve been known to pepper my Twitter account with foul language. And by “pepper” I mean “completely blanket”. Follow me @bxe1234 for all the cussin’!)
Call it a microcosm of his season, if you like – bright spots followed by black holes – but Pivetta gave up 8 runs in the next inning, (pictured above, mainly for the Don Carman-era throwback), including a Ryan Braun grand slam, (should have just plunked him), then managed to get through five while allowing just one more tally. (As a side note, I, in my Phillies cap, saw a guy in a Brewers cap at Whole Foods the next day and he said “Good game last night” before, I suspect, remembering how bad it was for me and kind of laughing. Yup.) That type of appearance is why the club probably keeps Pivetta in line to start again next year. He was “serviceable”, which is shorthand for “his arm didn’t fall off and he had some ability to work his way out of the many jams he got himself into”.
Now, if Pivetta can not just limit the damage, but avoid some of the jams from the jump, who knows? Maybe he sticks in a rotation. To do so, he likely needs to add to his repertoire or get more swinging strikes. Per FG, his whiff rate was nearly 20% below league average. And in that July 14 outing, he threw almost exclusively fastballs and curves, even though his slider was a more effective pitch on the year (per Brooks). If he can’t use breakers regularly, and get more swinging strikes as a result, his fastball will continue to be easy prey for hitters.
But drop one of those breaking pitches and focus on refining the other, and gain a tick or two on that fastball in short bursts, and Pivetta could be a two-pitch candidate out of the pen. Add in that (heckin’) chutzpah, and he could be worth more than any crotch-grabbing superstar-choking Irish-dancing buffoon would have ever been in a season and a third at the end of a long deal. Did Ruben Amaro redeem himself for signing Ol’ Cinco Ocho before the new CBA would have saved the club a draft pick? Time will tell.
Grade: C-. Lots of room for improvement, and some signs of life, but the results were pretty bad at times and the home runs were excessive.
As a postscript: thank goodness we were spared the regionally-inspired dancing of Jonathan Papelbon. Watching him strut like a Mummer after a meaningless save would have broken all of us somewhere in the middle of one of the wretched summers he spent closing games for our favorite team.