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Statcast Pitcher Risers/Fallers - Pitching Under Pressure (Week 14)

By User chris.ptacek on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "[1]") [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back to RotoBaller's series using Statcast to extrapolate, dig into, and commiserate over data to examine pitching performances. The weekly series will be dynamic as we fine-tune our findings and enlighten ourselves on the information and tools at our disposal.

As a prerequisite before we start, follow this link and rock out as we delve into this week's topic. Readers may have noticed that our series focuses often on cringeworthy pitching events that make us fantasy viewers immediately regret tuning in to watch our starters and streamers. There's nothing worse than settling in with a cold beverage and having your pitcher promptly implode. For Week 14, the instances we'll discuss are meltdowns in pressure conditions.

The criteria for the analysis is simple: we'll examine opponent slugging percentage for pitchers with runners in scoring position. Overall, the median opponent slugging is .404. Surprisingly, that figure stays remarkably static in RISP situations (.405). We'll identify some starters with ice in their veins, and others that seemingly cave. At the least, our findings should make the baseball viewing experience a bit less insufferable.

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Bound to Pop

All stats as of July 2 for 122 pitchers with over 1,000 pitches. Pressure situations represent plate appearances with runners in scoring position (RISP).

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (5-3, 3.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.13 K/9)

CC Sabathia is about average with a .394 opponent slugging percentage this season. But when runs are on the line, the savvy vet tightens up to .257, 13th-best in the majors. Sabathia's taken his smoke and mirrors show to the next level this season, on pace for his best year since 2011.

Sabathia's 2011 campaign (19-8, 3.00 ERA) was accompanied by a 95 MPH heater that he threw almost 50% of pitches. The reincarnated Sabathia in 2018 ditched his deteriorating four-seamer years ago in exchange for a cutter and complementary breaking pitches. The cutter's been a game-changer this season. In June, its mix has jumped to 44% with the whiff percentage doubling to 14%. The tangential benefits? He's getting more swings-and-misses on his pedestrian slider with opponent ISO and slugging tapering overall. Sabathia's SwStr% of 10.6% is a four-year best, certainly helpful in sticky situations.

A peek at Sabathia's peripherals are reassuring. Luck-related items like BABIP (.285) and LOB% (75.8%) are nonfactors. Batted-ball characteristics are stable and a workable 2.27 BB/9 prevents unintended damage. Haters can harp on his low HR/FB (10.4%) or FIP (4.06) to claim fraud, but our argument claims Sabathia is successfully managing his diminishing stuff. Reliable old Dub could be the formula for a strong fantasy second half.

Jhoulys Chacin, Milwaukee Brewers (6-3, 3.71 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.05 K/9)

When Jhoulys Chacin signed with Milwaukee this season after a rebound year in San Diego, the risk was he duped the Brew Crew, following the footsteps of other Padres alumni that leveraged Petco Park for hefty pay raises (see: Drew Pomeranz, Ian Kennedy). To the contrary. Chacin is enjoying another solid season, helped by the league's 18th-lowest .272 RISP slugging.

Chacin has endured some blowup games this season, but he's been fairly consistent, allowing two earned runs or less in 11-of-18 starts. Chacin has always had a great slider, but beginning last season, he stopped fooling around with other ineffective pitches and leaned on the good stuff. Since 2016, his slider usage has spiked from 21% to 39%. With a normalized pitch value of 2.10, the higher share hasn't reduced its potency. In June, hitters are batting .167 with a .208 slugging percentage against the pitch.

Chacin's success admittedly comes with some hairs. His strikeouts aren't stellar and an unsavory 3.99 BB/9 further stresses the importance of stranding runners. A modest .123 ISO and 6.8% HR/FB doesn't mesh with a 38.5% Hard%, but at least his exit velocity data isn't alarming (92.8 MPH FB/LD). Chacin's paid dividends for fantasy owners who've gambled thus far, if the money slider obliges, the good times can keep rolling.

Other possible risers: Tyler Mahle (CIN, .208 RISP slugging), Kyle Freeland (COL, .254), Jack Flaherty (STL, .257)


Due to Drop

David Price, Boston Red Sox (9-6, 4.28 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.57 K/9)

Recency bias and conventional wisdom suggests David Price's dead last position in RISP slugging (.721) is due to his latest meltdown in Yankee Stadium (3.1 IP, 8 ER). Not the case. Prior to the nightmare outing, Price's RISP slugging was already a putrid .667.

Despite badly struggling with runners on base, it's tough to complain about Price's season. After a horrible start, he had gone nine straight appearances allowing three or fewer runs before the Bronx debacle on July 1. The problem for Price could be his predictability. He's lost velocity on all of his pitches year-over-year and his sinker grades as his only useful pitch. As a result, Price's SwStr% (8.6%) and Swing% (46.3%) have plummeted while the contact rate has soared (81.5%). Price's 61.1% first pitch strikes and 3.07 BB/9 are far poorer than career norms, exacerbating his struggles in the stretch.

While there are no outliers to Price's performance to-date, there's also no clear indicator justifying why he's a top-50 starter going forward. His pedigree and wins will keep the ownership tag high, but his fantasy-relevant metrics are trending in the wrong direction. For Price owners, testing the trade market could provide opportunity to unload a potential burden.

Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels (4-5, 3.95 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.34 K/9)

Amidst a breakout year, a blemish on Andrew Heaney's season has been his ninth-worst .533 RISP slugging. Heaney's fired quality starts in 8-of-14 outings, but his performance volatility could attest to his inability to strand runners. When he's off, the floodgates burst open with four starts allowing five or more earned runs.

Heaney is another peculiar pitcher that doesn't use a traditional four-seamer (Sabathia, Alex Wood, Zack Godley), instead relying on a sinker, curve and changeup. His knockout curveball generated a whiff rate of almost 20% and .094 batting average in June. One possible concern is a shift away from an unproductive changeup (.857 opponent SLG in June), essentially making him a two-pitch pony. The sinker, his worst pitch, is up to a 60% mix and its growing share has triggered a collapse in whiff rate from 14% to 7%. While the change in pitch selection hasn't directly impacted his curveball, the limited options are a risk.

Heaney's been a valuable waiver wire find, but nothing suggests he's destined for the next level. He's not a swing-and-miss pitcher (10.9% SwStr%, 46.5% Swing%) and his stuff isn't overpowering. Owners believing the 69.6% LOB% is bad luck should recognize it's mostly self-inflicted. Heaney beneficiaries should enjoy the ride, but overpaying for perceived upside could be a fool's errand.

Other possible fallers: Tyson Ross (SD, .523 RISP slugging), Michael Fulmer (DET, .514), Nick Pivetta (PHI, .507)


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