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Five Undervalued Standout Pitchers - Maddux Plate Discipline

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“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.” - Greg Maddux

Using my weighted plate discipline index statistic - the Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) - we can enumerate the percentage of time in which pitchers demonstrate the way that Greg Maddux would formulate deception.

In my previous article, I highlighted a few early plate discipline standout hitters such as Brandon Belt and Chris Taylor. Today, we will turn our attention to the pitchers.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

mPDI Matrix

For those not familiar with mPDI, I will first start with a brief primer.

Each and every pitch thrown at a baseball game can be tracked based on the answers to three binary questions.

  • Is the ball thrown in the zone?
  • Did the batter swing at the pitch?
  • Did the batter make contact?

Based upon the results of these three queries, each pitch can be classified into one of the following six outcomes:

Outcome A Outcome B Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E Outcome F
Zone? Out of Zone Out of Zone Out of Zone In Zone In Zone In Zone
Swing? Swung On Swung On No Swing Swung On Swung On No Swing
Contact? No Contact Contact Made No Swing No Contact Contact Made No Swing

Outcome A is the percentage of total pitches that a pitcher has thrown out of the zone, the batter has swung, but the ball was not contacted.

Outcome B is the percentage of total pitches that a pitcher has thrown out of the zone, the batter has swung, and the ball was contacted.

Outcome F is the percentage of total pitches that a pitcher has thrown out in the zone, where the batter does not swing.

To emulate the Hall of Fame pitcher’s quote - The Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for pitchers is then defined as:

Outcome A + Outcome B + Outcome F
Total Pitches

The pitcher’s version of mPDI is the percentage of all pitches that were either out of the zone, or thrown inside of the zone but not swung on. mPDI is the sum of Outcomes A, B & F (the hitters version aggregates Outcomes C, D & E). An awful mPDI would be one nearing .250, while an elite one would be .400. An mPDI of approximately .310 was the average for 2020.

For a full explanation of mPDI for pitchers, refer to its introductory article, which can be found here.

First, let’s start by looking at the first half 2021 mPDI leaderboard for pitchers (minimum 15 innings):

Name IP mPDI
Joely Rodriguez 24.7 .395
Emmanuel Clase 36.7 .385
Taylor Rogers 37.7 .385
Scott Barlow 42.7 .383
Dan Winkler 31.0 .382
Andrew Kittredge 43.0 .379
Pierce Johnson 29.7 .376
Lucas Sims 28.7 .374
Alex Cobb 66.0 .374
Ryan Thompson 34.0 .373
Josh Fleming 69.0 .373
Josh Tomlin 36.3 .372
Victor Gonzalez 28.0 .370
Tyler Alexander 39.7 .368
Logan Webb 52.0 .365
Joe Mantiply 22.0 .365
Tejay Antone 33.7 .364
Craig Kimbrel 31.7 .364
Jacob deGrom 92.0 .363
Anthony Castro 20.3 .363
Tony Watson 29.3 .363
Andrew Heaney 77.0 .363
Matt Barnes 38.0 .362
Corbin Burnes 87.7 .362
Joe Musgrove 98.3 .361
Collin McHugh 37.7 .359
Dominic Leone 18.3 .358
Wandy Peralta 25.7 .358
Julio Urias 106.3 .358
Raisel Iglesias 41.7 .358
Jonathan Loaisiga 47.0 .358
Shane Bieber 90.7 .357
Kyle Hendricks 105.0 .355
Pablo Lopez 101.0 .355
Cesar Valdez 28.7 .354
Bailey Ober 33.0 .354
Kyle Crick 23.3 .352
Anthony Bender 29.3 .352
Kendall Graveman 28.3 .352
Domingo German 81.0 .352
Ross Detwiler 33.3 .352
Luke Farrell 15.3 .351
Hyun-Jin Ryu 98.7 .350
Huascar Ynoa 44.7 .350
Zach Pop 31.0 .350
Aaron Loup 28.0 .349
Zach Thompson 24.0 .349
Richard Bleier 33.3 .349
A.J. Minter 32.3 .349
Gerrit Cole 114.0 .349
Will Smith 36.7 .349
Josh Hader 36.3 .348
Adbert Alzolay 77.3 .348
Jose Berrios 108.7 .347
Paolo Espino 43.7 .346
Kyle McGowin 25.7 .346
Giovanny Gallegos 46.3 .346
Paul Sewald 25.7 .346

Let’s dive into a few of these top Maddux Plate Discipline pitchers.

 

Alex Cobb (SP, LAA)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Alex Cobb 66.0 .374 .081 .150 .143

At the top of the mPDI leaderboard for starting pitchers, we find an Oriole-turned-Angel reclamation project in Alex Cobb. So far in 2021, Cobb’s ERA of 3.96 & WHIP of 1.24 have been merely average, but upon deeper investigation, we can see that Alex has been quite a bit better.

Cobb has thrown 80 strikeouts in less than 73 innings, good for a 2.1 fWAR thus far – a top 30 figure amongst MLB pitchers. In [15 team, 5x5] rotisserie leagues, he has accumulated $6 of auction value. His strikeout percentage of 12% is the highest of his career. He has coupled the added Ks with a 55% groundball rate – the highest it has been for him since 2014. Cobb is now nicely limiting hard contact with a hard-hit rate of under 30% and a barrel rate of less than 4%.

His 3.96 earned run average is unluckily high – as it comes with a BABIP of .320 and with a strand rate of just 62%. Several ERA estimators further verify his bad luck [2.66 FIP, 3.10 xFIP].

Today, we call attention to him for his plate discipline and deception. Last year’s O-Swing% was just at 31%, but Cobb has managed to increase that figure to 36% in 2021. He has been generating considerably more swings outside of the zone. His total swinging strike rate [in and out of the zone] is at an excellent 12% this year - the best of his career. To boot, his average fastball velocity now sits at an all-time high of 93.2 MPH.

As far as the Maddux Plate Discipline components, Cobb has an elite Outcome B. Alex excels at pitches out of the zone where contact has been made. Other than Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley, no one else has generated more contact out the zone as a percentage of total pitches.

From a fantasy perspective, there is possible action to take for Cobb. He is an undervalued asset, still available in 60% of CBS leagues. Pick up or trade for this plate discipline star.

 

Joely Rodriguez (RP, TEX)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Joely Rodriguez 24.7 .395 .087 .167 .142

No one in baseball has compiled a better mPDI than Joely Rodriguez over the first half of the 2021 season. The 29-year-old southpaw has been this year’s Maddux Plate Discipline top stud. Nearly 40% of all pitches thrown are either a called strike or are swung on outside of the zone.

With a 13% swinging strike rate and a near-70% groundball rate, Rodriguez’s surface stats should be better than they appear. A 5.84 ERA coupled with a 1.46 WHIP will surely turn away any interested fantasy owners. With an unlucky .333 BABIP and an even unluckier 60% strand rate, Joely should have fared better. Some of his ERA estimators illustrate a vastly different story [xFIP 2.75, SIERA 2.79].

With the trade deadline fast approaching, many experts predict that current closer Ian Kennedy will depart the club. This would potentially leave the closer role vacant without many other fantastic options for the Texas ballclub. In addition to Rodriguez, Josh Sborz, Joe Barlow and fellow left-hander Brett Martin are possible candidates to close. Rodriguez may be the best in the pen suited for the role, which could greatly push up his 2021 fantasy value.

Check out my recent Beat the Shift podcast with former Astros executive Kevin Goldstein where we discuss the status of the Rangers bullpen, here.

In most leagues, Rodriguez is essentially free to acquire off of the waiver wire and might be a dart worth throwing in moderate to deeper leagues. Don’t sleep on the plate discipline leader of the first half.

 

Emmanuel Clase (RP, CLE)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Emmanuel Clase 36.7 .385 .128 .116 .142

Earlier this season, Indians’ reliever Emmanuel Clase appeared in my annual Bold Predictions column. I unveiled the unlikely projection that Clase would lead Cleveland in saves in the coming year. This prediction has a fair shot of ending up true since Clase currently leads runner-up James Karinchak 11 to 10 in saves.

Despite a recent rough patch (5 ER in his last 2 1/3 innings), Clase has been excellent this season. Emmanuel has compiled 43 strikeouts in 38 innings, with a 2.13 ERA and an 1.29 WHIP. Along with a high 26% K% rate (backed by a 17% swinging strike rate), Clase also generates ground balls at nearly a 70% clip. Earning 0.9 fWAR and $6 of rotisserie value in just a half of a season as the co-closer, is a great accomplishment.

In terms of his Maddux Plate Discipline components, the only pitchers to have a higher Outcome A [swing and miss outside of the zone] are Jacob deGrom, Craig Kimbrel and Josh Hader. That is some mighty fine company! His other plate discipline outcomes are all elite. Clase has earned the #2 spot on the mPDI half-season leaderboard.

In addition, his 100.2 MPH average fastball velocity is the highest in all of baseball this year for pitchers with more than 10 innings pitched. His 91.1 MPH slider checks in at a cool #4. Amazingly, Clase is still available in 37% of CBS leagues ....... but he shouldn’t be. His stuff is electric, and Greg Maddux would agree.

 

Andrew Kittredge (RP, TB)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Andrew Kittredge 43.0 .379 .112 .140 .126

Andrew Kittredge has previously appeared upon the mPDI leaderboard. In 2019, Kittredge ended the season with a stellar .385 mPDI mark. Thus far in 2021, Andrew has pitched to a similar .379 figure, good for 6th in all of baseball [min 15 IP].

With an accumulated $10 rotisserie value, Kittredge has been one of the most profitable waiver wire pitching pickups of the season. His line of 43 IP, 43 K, 1.47 ERA, 0.86 WHIP with 6 wins and 2 saves sneakily makes him the most valuable fantasy pitcher on the Rays not named Tyler Glasnow.

Looking at Andrew’s plate discipline components, it is his Outcomes A & B which stand out. Other than Jacob deGrom, Dan Winkler and Emmanuel Clase, no one else generates more swings outside of the zone as a percentage of total pitches than Andrew Kittredge.

The Rays give many different players opportunities to close out the 9th inning in close ball games. Amazingly, Kittredge is hardly ever used as such an option. If tasked with the role, he has the plate discipline and deception to do so. Take a further look at Andrew Kittredge if you play in deeper fantasy leagues.

 

Josh Fleming (SP, TB)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Josh Fleming 69.0 .373 .068 .191 .113

Logan Webb (SP, SF)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Logan Webb 52.0 .365 .090 .111 .164

Following Alex Cobb, the next two highest mPDIs for starting pitchers belong to Josh Fleming (.373) and Logan Webb (.365).

Let’s talk briefly about the Rays' 2nd year pitcher, Josh Fleming. Fleming has compiled a 3.93 ERA, with a 1.09 WHIP in 73 innings this season. However, Fleming hardy strikes out anyone (just a 5 K/9), and has been somewhat lucky this season (.236 BABIP). THE BAT projects regression for Fleming – a rest of season 4.37 ERA / 1.31 WHIP.

Whereas Fleming is owned in 45% of CBS leagues, Logan Webb in only owned in 35% of leagues. I believe Webb to be the more undervalued player of the pair. Webb’s surface stats are excellent – 3.54 ERA (backed by a 3.03 xFIP), 1.25 WHIP with 60 Ks in 56 IP. Unlike Fleming, Webb’s BABIP is .320, which is more luck-neutral. Along with his 25% K% rate, Logan is generating ground balls at nearly a 60% clip, an excellent rate for starting pitchers.

Webb’s Maddux Plate Discipline makeup is unlike Kittredge. His strength comes from inside the zone. 16.4% of his pitches have been thrown inside the zone without the batter attempting a swing. He has one of the lowest Outcome D+E rates, which is the percentage of pitches in the zone that are swung on. Only Tyler Chatwood, Dallas Keuchel, and Alex Cobb have lower figures for a starting pitcher.

For fantasy leagues, I will recommend that you give Josh Fleming a quick look, and Logan Webb an even longer look. The Giants have exceeded expectations in 2021, and Webb is poised to continue his success well into the second half.



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