When you make a comment on a player, a lot can happen over the next six months. In the early part of the 2017 season, I made mention that Nick Pivetta should move to the bullpen when the year comes to an end. Strictly looking at his stuff, one could easily note that he has his best velocity and most movement on his pitches in the early goings.
You could take a look at the charted pitches for Pivetta in his last start, six shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. The game was an afterthought for much of Philadelphia, however, as most sports fans in the city were watching with baited breath as Jake Elliott knocked down a 61-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Giants. I wouldn’t blame you if you chose the latter instead of a Sunday afternoon Phillies game. I did. But getting back to Pivetta’s pitches, you can see he was hitting 97 on the gun in the first two or three innings. Just as all pitchers progress, and fatigue sets in, Pivetta’s velocity dipped just a bit, as he was consistently hitting 94-95. It’s not a significant drop off, and shows us that Pivetta can continue to pump the fastball late into games.
So what does all this mean for Nick Pivetta? Remember, I was one advocating for moving Pivetta to the ‘pen. But now, I’m not so sure. And I’m not so sure because of one thing in particular: his statistical splits in his pitches thrown.
That sounds like such a vague comment that I probably should explain. As someone who is being considered moving to the bullpen, you’d expect to see Pivetta’s split mirror that of a relief pitcher, right? He’d be someone who thrives the first time through the lineup, then begins to fall apart once hitters have seen him and gotten a look at all his pitches.
But that hasn’t been the case this season for Nick Pivetta. Pivetta has faced 125 batters this season when throwing pitch numbers one through 15, or the first 15 pitches of each game. During those pitches, Pivetta has allowed 40 hits, including eight homeruns. He’s also walked 13 batters over that stretch. Opposing batters are hitting .320 against Pivetta in his opening pitches. He has struckout 36 batters over that period, as well. Those numbers are obviously not stellar. They’re also not the way you want to start a baseball game, going down early and having to crawl from behind.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. Pivetta has faced 131 batters when he throws pitches 16 through 30, the next 15 pitches. He has limited opposing hitters to a .191 batting average over that stretch, allowing just 25 hits and five homeruns. The walks are slightly higher, and the difference between the batting average and on base percentage is less because of the walks, but the numbers are staggering in his second 15 pitches. He’s also struckout 40 batters, compared to the 36 in his first 15 pitches.
Do you get where I’m going with this now?
These statistical splits, especially ones that are such polar opposites, lead me to believe that Pivetta should not move to the bullpen to start 2018. When you take a look at bullpen pitchers in today’s game, how many of them are multiple inning guys? Very few. And more importantly, how many of them come into situations that allow for them to be multiple inning guys with the game on the line in each inning? Even less. What Pivetta’s stat line tells me is that the Phillies can’t afford to move him to the bullpen next season at the risk of blowing late leads waiting for him to get into a groove. If you had a choice, would you prefer the Phillies go down 1-0 early in the first two innings or the Phillies leading by one run later in the game, only to lose it because Pivetta came into the game and struggled to find a groove through his first 15 pitches? Often times, a bullpen arm only gets 15 pitches. I’ll venture a guess that you chose option B. I can’t fathom the Phillies being willing to risk late leads just to see if Pivetta can be a back end of the bullpen type guy.
There’s one thing we have to remember with Nick Pivetta: he’s still a rookie. He’s made 25 career starts and has tossed 128 career innings. If there’s one pitcher I’m willing to give another year in this rotation before we deliberate a decision on, it’s Pivetta. I think we know what Jake Thompson is, Ben Lively makes a solid spot start but is nothing special, I don’t want to Zach Eflin touch the mound for the Phillies anymore, and I hope they convert Vince Velasquez to a reliever. But I’m willing to allow Pivetta to take the ball 15 or 20 more times before we make our final decision. I’ll be the first to admit I changed my mind, but the Phillies’ best bet would be to keep Nick Pivetta in the starting rotation to start 2018.
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports