If you wanted to call Nick Pivetta the unluckiest pitcher in 2017, you’d have a solid case. 105 pitchers managed 130 or more innings last season. Pivetta had the 6th worst BABIP, 8th worst strand rate, and 10th worst HR/FB%. If you wanted to call Pivetta mediocre away from luck, you’d have a fine case. His 109 FIP-, 91 xFIP-, and 4.26 SIERA were all within ten percent of league average. Adjustments as the year progressed, however, indicated Pivetta could be a better pitcher. Further refinement, more experience, and Nick Pivetta is a legitimate MLB starter. The question is, how high can he go.
Pivetta’s statistics are better across the board. He’s getting more strikeouts while reducing the free pass. ERA, FIP, and SIERA are all much better than 2018.
One of the primary reasons for Pivetta’s breakout has been the increased usage of his high spin curveball. In 2017, hitters slashed .289/.333/.474 on his curveball. Pivetta left many curves close to the heart of the plate.
As the 2017 season wore on, Pivetta’s curveball velocity increased, something that has carried over to 2018. Furthermore, the pitch had slightly more drop. Pivetta made a major change to the way he grips the baseball. A report from The Athletic mentioned he had changed his curveball grip. Instead of utilizing the common curveball grip where the fingers are placed on the baseball, Pivetta now utilizes a spike curveball, the same variation of curve that fellow teammate Aaron Nola uses. The modification brought forward a mediocre offering into a very good one.
In 2018, the curveball features more horizontal movement and nearly double the drop compared to 2017. Both factors have lead to a better groundball and swinging strike rate on the pitch. Pivetta’s curve now induces a grounder three times for every five balls in play compared to one grounder for every two balls in play in 2016. Swinging strike rate has increased from 10.9% to 13.5%. Location looks better too.
He’s doing a better job of locating at the outside part of the strikezone. Still not as pristine as one would like, but it shows progression. Batters have hit .175/.197/.238 this season on the curve.
Lastly, the spin on the curve is a major reason for it being a tough pitch to square up. Pivetta’s curve has elite spin. There are only 8 pitchers who have a higher spin rate. The grip modifications likely helped turn that spin into more useful spin.
Whether it’s the small changes to release points, Pivetta’s slider has been better from a swing and miss perspective. The slider gives Pivetta a second strong breaking pitch. He’s mostly used it as a put-away pitch against right handed hitters.
A better curve in addition to an already good slider, one that featured a 17% swinging strike rate with above average groundball rate, the Canadian right hander has three good pitches with the possibility of the curve and/or slider being elite.
Much was made of his poor walk rate last year. A positive indicator was Pivetta’s zone percentage was one of the best last season. His 51.7% zone percentage would have been tied with Justin Verlander and RA Dickey had he qualified, for fifth best in the league. So far this season, the zone percentage number is down. The offspeed stuff has been getting strikes, but the fastball hasn’t. Two good breaking pitches is a good fallback for games when the fastball isn’t working. The zone percentage is still good however, suggesting that there are gains to be made and kept in the walk department.
He’s also operating at different release points.
The Phillies are coming together. With an ace in Aaron Nola, the emergence of Nick Pivetta gives them 3 good pitchers in the rotation. If Jerad Eickhoff can rediscover his form from 2016 or Zack Eflin continue to shine, the Phillies will have one of the best major league rotations. The hitting is also improving, led by Rhys Hoskins. The Phillies will no doubt be major players during free agency.
Pivetta in 2017 had a rough go but showed some signs of being a good pitcher. He worked at his craft to develop a strong breaking ball, tinker with his release points, and utilize his arsenal to the best degree. If Pivetta can keep it up, he can establish himself as the Phillies number 2 pitcher. The Victoria, BC native has a bright future ahead of him.