A Closer Look at Nick Pivetta’s Alarming Start

nick pivetta
PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN GELIEBTER-USA TODAY SPORTS

I’m not going to sit here and do the sky is falling stuff this morning, so let’s just get to the point. Nick Pivetta wasn’t good last night. He wasn’t good in his second start against the Twins; he wasn’t good his first time out against the Braves. Through three starts, he’s pitched to a 9.45 ERA, while allowing 24 hits, 15 runs, and an almost impossibly bad 2.18 WHIP. It has been ugly. Really ugly.

Last night, the bottom fell out in a 15-1 drubbing by the Nationals. Pivetta needed 94 pitches to record just 11 outs and was removed from the game in the fourth inning. He allowed 10 of the 21 Washington batters he faced to reach base and seven of those batters to score. It was a disaster in every sense. Exacerbating Pivetta’s struggles are the considerable expectations that were placed upon him heading into 2019. Breakout season. Top of the rotation stuff. High ceiling. These are all things that have been said about the 26-year-old as recently as, oh, let’s see, 12 days ago.

Things have changed since then, so let’s attack two questions that I suspect many are asking this morning.

  1. What the hell is going on with this guy?
  2. What should the Phillies do about it?

Sometimes poor performance, especially over a short sample of time, can be explained by an element of bad luck. For instance, look at this swinging bunt for a hit during the first inning last night off the bat of Yan Gomes:

Tough break, right?

Not exactly. Pivetta makes a decent pitch here–Ben Davis said as much on the broadcast after Anthony Rendon crossed the plate to make it 3-0, but what Davis failed to mention was that Pivetta missed his spot by about a foot on this 0-2 pitch. J.T. Realmuto was almost out of his squat when Pivetta came to his release point, signaling for something up in the zone. That’s not where this pitch goes. Yeah, it was weak contact from Gomes and a BABIP nightmare, but bad luck can’t be blamed when spots are consistently and egregiously missed.

There’s also some troubling data provided by Statcast that suggests Pivetta is pitching to the results he deserves. Teams have barreled his pitches at a 10.8% rate this season, up from 7.8% last season, which is also well above the Major League average of 6.1%. Moreover, he’s allowing an average exit velo of 89.1 mph through three starts, which isn’t only a career-worst, but also considerably higher than the 87.4 mph Major League average. Perhaps these factors help explain why opponents are hitting .375 against Pivetta this season. That’s not all that much higher than his .337 xBA, a Statcast metric measuring the likelihood a batted ball will become a hit. For those wondering, Pivetta rests in the bottom 7% of the league in this metric and his .584 xSLG (expected slugging percentage) is in the bottom 12%, meaning he’s been imminently hittable this season.

Why?

Well, the aforementioned inability to consistently hit spots is one thing. The other part of this is that his pitch repertoire hasn’t evolved. According to Statcast, Pivetta is still basically a two-pitch starting pitcher, relying on a four-seam fastball (50.6%) and curveball (30.1%). He’ll mix in an occasional slider, which was actually effective during the first half of last season but it has since morphed into a much less productive pitch, all while his changeup continues to be virtually non-existent. On the plus side, his fastball has life and the curveball has shown enough bite earlier in his career to warrant the hype and optimism we heard throughout this past offseason, but it’s hard to exist as an effective starter in this league with only two quasi-reliable pitches.  I think this sums up the frustration fairly well:

The other issue facing Pivetta is that even when he struggled last season, he was able to miss bats. While his 9.45 K/9 is fine, a deeper look shows he’s not quite as nasty as he’s been in the past.

Statcast shows his average four-seam fastball velocity has dropped from 94.8 mph last season to 94 mph this season, leading to a subsequent decrease in Whiff% from 24.3% to 21%. That’s not a crazy decrease, particularly given the small sample, but his curveball hasn’t been as sharp, leading to a pronounced decrease of a 34.3 Whiff% last season to only 25% this season. The bottom line? If Pivetta can’t hit spots with his fastball and his curveball doesn’t generate as many swings and misses as it did last season, he won’t be around for long.

In terms of how the Phillies should handle his struggles? Contrary to popular belief, a season isn’t defined by three starts in March/April. If the team was genuinely high on Pivetta in February, it seems ridiculous to punt on him after a few bad starts. The Phillies could summon Enyel De Los Santos or Jerad Eickhoff as a replacement, but my guess is that they will let him take at least two or three more spins through the rotation, try to identify a fix to improve his command, and hope he can find the form that led to a 3.26 ERA, 2.80 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP over his first 11 starts last season. Maybe that starts with a change to his mental approach:

Stay tuned.

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17 Comments

  • Great write up Wanks, shame about Kevy's holier than thou attitude for his copypasta April 11, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Nice!

    Reply
    • Kevin Kinkead April 11, 2019 at 10:37 am

      I see you didn’t slip in any racist language in this comment. Maybe later?

      -kinker

      Reply
      • wrong commenter einstein. try again puss puss April 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

        moral compass due north. thank god for you !

        Reply
        • Kevin Kinkead April 11, 2019 at 11:42 am

          nope, it’s you, the same guy, hiding anonymously on the internet and trying to push racist bullshit in here

          Reply
          • Comment Section Deputy Sheriff, Kevin Kutpeast April 11, 2019 at 11:47 am

            i’m a useless piece of trash

          • That's funny April 11, 2019 at 11:49 am

            Is this the guy that cries when his racist, cowardly posts get removed?

            LOL – Moral compass.

          • Kinkead has a college degree and spends his time policing comments April 11, 2019 at 12:06 pm

            I’m sure you’ll paper over this comment within minutes Kev-O. But I find it hilarious that you work for Kyle at a laughable salary and have to patrol the comments section and edit/delete. If it only took 5 secs of your time to do so, I find it hilarious. Your career is really trending in wrong direction. Working for a carnival barker hack who pays peanuts and traded out the tee shirts he constantly pushed for quite possibly the worst gambling insight and advice available on the internet.

          • that's funny April 11, 2019 at 12:33 pm

            Yep. That’s him.

            LOL.

            Poor dude is obsessed and angry. Relax princess – go back to school. You seem disturbed that you are uneducated..

          • please share April 11, 2019 at 12:35 pm

            i encourage you to share a few of the last comments from my IP and show these “racist” comments.

          • Kevin Kinkead April 11, 2019 at 1:59 pm

            guess what genius? they were deleted because they were racist

            but when you inevitably try again, I’ll share those on here, before deleting them again

            -kk

  • tt April 11, 2019 at 10:40 am

    I blame the bad defense for pivetta’s bad start to the season

    Reply
  • Karen Hepp is hot April 11, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I blame Phillies management for not being able to see what any Phillies fan that pays even a little bit of attention can clearly see – Pivetta Stinks and is not major league pitcher.

    Reply
  • Ross April 11, 2019 at 11:19 am

    OH NO WE SUCK AGAIN!

    Reply
  • Wip’s question of the morning... April 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Best TV show of all time? Great content there guys! You must have been up all night coming up with such an original and thought provoking question! I know that question has never been posed before anywhere!! Keep up the great work!! Then after that we get treated to Joe “company man” Decamera. In the first segment of each show he lists the phone number about 15 times. I know Spike Eskin and his bow ties are sitting in his office happy as a clam that his puppet is following radio rules 101. And just think he went to St Joes to make 50k/yr tops.

    Reply
    • Ron Bowman Sucks April 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

      So don’t listen to WIP moron. How mentally ill do you have to be to hate something so much yet consume it everyday?

      Reply
      • you suck April 11, 2019 at 1:40 pm

        WIP was on my radio because I was listening to that god awful game last night. So it was the first thing I heard when I got in and quickly changed it. I just know how Decamera operates from the few times that I had the unfortunate experience of being in the car with someone who was listening.

        I don’t listen to sports talk radio, I have an IQ over 6.

        Reply
    • Shart Shartveit April 11, 2019 at 1:31 pm

      C’mon man!

      Give WIP a break. It is a slow time of year for sports! What else do you expect them to talk about? Baseball season just started. NHL playoffs started last night. NBA playoffs tip off this weekend. The Masters start tomorrow. March Madness just wrapped up. NFL draft is weeks away. Let’s see you find a sports topic!

      I also love the guy right at 8 a.m. who said Two and A Half Men is the best TV show ever made.

      Reply

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