Before many fans found their way to their seats on a brisk night in South Philadelphia, Nick Pivetta had already allowed three straight singles to open up the ballgame against the Washington Nationals. A walk, a sacrifice fly and seeing-eye ground ball then plated three runs over the next 12 pitches. The Phillies trailed 3-0 before stepping to the plate for their first at-bats of the night.
One outing is an anomaly. Multiple outings of this nature is a trend. The trend has seemingly continued into 2019 for the power-armed right-hander in a season that hoped for, and nearly deemed imperative for success, something different. And while Phillies fans are hopeful that this is more of a bump in the road while the air is still cold rather than the trend for the entire season, I’ll have to reserve my spot on my front porch, as I yell at you to get off my lawn. I am perpetually the old man yelling at clouds here at Philly Sports Network, and I’ve accepted that because I demand successes.
It’s a small sample size; three starts. But Pivetta has posted a 9.45 ERA over the course of 13.1 innings and three starts. Those numbers roughly average out to four and third innings pitched per start. The main culprit to Pivetta’s inability to go deep in games this season: a high pitch count. In that season finale against the Nationals, Pivetta threw 54 pitches to get out of the second inning. He was forced out of the game after just 3.2 innings pitched, his shortest start of the young campaign.
So why does a strong-armed, hard-throwing righty struggle to go deep in games? Well, I refuse to ever call a proud professional scared. I won’t do it. But Pivetta certainly appears to be timid around the plate, choosing to dance around the strike zone rather than attack it head-on. The 26-year-old’s fastball has averaged out at 94 miles per hour this season, a tick above the Major League average. That number, however, is just the median of all of his four-seam fastball. That means that half of his fastballs have come in even harder. Undoubtedly, Pivetta has the ability to pump one in at 96 or 97 miles per hour.
So, do some math with me, if you would. Pitching is a fairly simple equation: work quick+get ahead+throw strikes= success. Any All-Star pitcher has all three of those features. Good ones have at least two. Pivetta has failed in his career due to a lack of the second and third aspect of pitching. The numbers are exemplified throughout his career, but for the case of simplicity in numbers, we’ll look at his first three starts of 2019.
Step One: Get Ahead. In 13.1 innings pitched this season, Pivetta has faced either an even count or fallen behind in the count in 7.1 of those innings. Effectively, including the outs he’s recorded, Pivetta has either been even or fallen behind to hitters who eventually get hits in 55 percent of their at-bats. In the 4.2 innings, he’s pitched in which he’s fallen behind in an at-bats, Pivetta has a 7.71 ERA. A pitcher simply cannot routinely get outs when they fall behind as frequently as Pivetta does.
Again, Pivetta has yet to get into the sixth inning of a game this season through three starts. The numbers prove why: He’s yet to throw any particular inning in which his ERA is under 6.00. In the first inning of games this season, Pivetta has allowed four runs in three innings. Now, those numbers are slightly skewed due to the three runs he allowed to Washington in his last start. But the 12.00 ERA is alarming upon the first review. The second through fifth innings don’t dictate any improvement. 6.00, 6.00, 13.50, 10.80. Those are the ERAs, per inning, of Nick Pivetta this season.
With the understanding that this is, once again, a small sample size, the lease has to be extremely tight for Gabe Kapler on Nick Pivetta for the remainder of the season. The NL East will likely feature four teams that finish the year above .500. What could be the difference maker as to who wins a division, who has to play a Wild Card Game and who watches October baseball from their couches is divisional play. While the Phillies dispatched the Braves on Opening Weekend, they are now 2-3 against the Nationals this season. These numbers begin to add up. Nick Pivetta has allowed 11 runs over 7.1 innings pitched to National League East opponents.
The stuff is there. The composure doesn’t seem to be. It’s time for the step-up that we’ve been warned about for three seasons to come to fruition before the season rolls too far along.