Recently the great Patrick Dubuque posted a cold take in which he tried to figure out how Zack Godley managed to “command” his way through the MLB last year despite a league average walk rate, the historic metric to evaluate pitcher command. Patrick worked his way through some advanced stats and finished with a great thesis: “it doesn’t really matter where you throw the ball as long as you can get the batter to do the wrong thing most of the time.” The piece inspired a few thoughts, but I found myself down a rabbit hole seeking the pitcher who best exemplified my version of statistical “command” combined with stuff. That pitcher is definitely not San Diego Padre Dinelson Lamet, but it turns out the result suggests that a Dinelson Lamet breakout could be coming.
I started by looking at the 400 or so pitchers who threw at least 40 innings last year. I then boiled that list down to the 200+ who started a game. Then we take the top half of pitchers in terms of ZONE%, the stat that measures the percentage of pitches thrown in the “strike zone.” ZONE% is put together by Baseball Info Solution and evaluates the position of the ball as it passes the plate, not how often an umpire calls the pitch a strike.
Since we’re also after pitchers who exemplify “stuff” we’ll further simmer the list down by filtering in terms of SwStrk%, filtering for guys who had a percentage greater than 10% (swinging strike percentage)and strikeout rate (at least 10 K/9). The result, which I should have expected, is a list of some of the best pitchers in the game. Of course, pitchers who do not walk people and have good stuff are going to be among the best players in the game. If you have only the stuff, you’re Edwin Jackson. If you have only the command, you’re Zack Godley.
Here are the 12 guys who may or may not exemplify the best combination of command and stuff:
- Jacob deGrom
- Danny Salazar
- Yu Darvish
- Dinelson Lamet
- Luis Severino
- Jimmy Nelson
- Carlos Carrasco
- Chris Sale
- Max Scherzer
- Stephen Strasburg
- James Paxton
- Chad Green
Scherzer, Strasburg, Severino, Sale, and Carrasco are among the best pitchers in the game. How did this Dominican right-hander with the curious name wind up on the same list as these guys? How did he manage to throw the ball in the zone at an above-average rate, but walk people 30% more than average? And how did he manage a 1.24 WHIP with a 4.57 ERA (The average ERA of guys with a WHIP in the 1.20-1.29 range is nearly a run lower than that)? AND why don’t I know anything about him?
The last question is likely the easiest to answer. Lamet was signed in 2014 as an amateur free agent by the Padres and was never anything of a prospect, ranking 25th in the Padres pretty-good system last year. He didn’t make his Padres debut until May 25th when the Padres were already 14 games below .500. And after 4 starts, he found himself with an 8.50 Major League ERA. Any intrigue I might have had because of Dinelson’s potential for a Dilly Dilly nickname was lost with the combination of Padres ick and poor debut. (Editor’s note: Dilly Dilly is stupid and needs to stop. It’s a beer commercial people!)
As for how he managed to under-perform his peripherals, that’s more fun to look at, but I am not sure I have many answers.
Lamet didn’t have some extraordinary number of walks with two strikes. His 43% in that category actually was worse than a few of the guys that I checked. He struggled in the third time through the order like every other pitcher, but didn’t walk every batter he faced in the 6th inning or something. And his BABIP and LOB% were both better than average, which is typically a sign that the ERA would be better.
The simple explanation on Lamet’s poor season-line is likely that he threw out two clunkers in his final two starts of the year. His last 2018 inning looked like this: flyout, groundout, walk, walk, HR, walk, flyout. And the start before that, he gave up 6 runs in 5.1 innings. Would we be thinking about Lamet differently if his debut season ended with a 4.15 ERA to go with that .210 batting average allowed? Probably so.
Fangraphs recently posted their 2018 ZiPs projections for the Padres. Within that piece, the Dan Szymborski refers to Lamet as a “Nominal Ace” capable of leading the Padres. That’s a compliment. Elsewhere on the internet, he notes that ZiPs gives him a 17 percent shot at a 4+ WAR season.
The complicated projection system seems to like him and my filtering of 2017 starters based on stuff and propensity to throw strikes landed him on a list with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Give me your Dinelson Lamet stock heading into 2018, please.