Drew Pomeranz: Padres Ace. That sentence seemed cray when the Padres traded Yonder Alonso, a player they didn’t really want, for Pomeranz plus others. But so far in 2016 it’s been true. Pomeranz leads his team’s pitching staff by both FIP-WAR and RA9-WAR. So whether you subscribe to the theory that strikeouts, walks, and home runs are the best measure of a pitcher or prefer traditional runs allowed, the Padres’ 6’6” lefty has been the best.
I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on with him. If you’re in the mood for some stats, read on!
Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Drew has probably gotten lucky with how few of his fly balls turned into home runs. He’s given up the 9th most fly balls in all of baseball. He’s also gotten lucky stranding more runners than usual, and with the number of batted balls that have dropped for hits. All of these tend to fluctuate and better than career success isn’t likely to continue.
So yeah, Pomeranz probably isn’t a true talent 2.12 ERA pitcher. You probably already knew that.
There are positive indicators from Pomeranz’s excellent start to the season. He’s getting a ton more strikeouts while not walking many more than usual. Strikeouts are good because it means missing bats and keeping the ball (mostly) in the zone. We also know we can attribute most of the credit for strikeouts and walks to Drew himself, rather than his defense, his home park, luck, or other things outside his control. Corroborating those strikeouts is his contact %, roughly 10% below league average this year. Fooling hitters is good.
DRA measures at pitcher’s history of reducing run expectancy and includes loads of context into a single measurement. It’s now Baseball Prospectus’ lead pitching metric. Using DRA we can be fairly confident Pomeranz has put together a fine start to the season.
It seems Drew Pomeranz has changed his approach to pitching, especially the use of his curve which he throws as a knucklecurve. For more on Pomeranz’s repertoire, Eno Saris has a great writeup.
So far in 2016, Drew has spun up his curveball more–a lot more. According to Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x data, Pomeranz threw it 42% of the time in 2016, the second highest percentage in all of major league baseball. That’s if we lump standard grip curveballs with the knuckle variety.
He’s no Aaron Nola, but his increased curve usage has been successful. Of the pitchers who have thrown a curve or knucklecurve at least 15% of the time and tossed at at least 20 innings, Pomeranz’s curve ranked 14th of 39 in run value.
He’s thrown curveballs his entire career, but 2014 was the only other year his curveball saw success. He admits (via Eno) that the curve was mostly useless while playing for Colorado, and the stats on it during those three seasons agree. Because pitching in Colorado means flat breaking pitches, Pomeranz kept his down and out of the zone:
In Oakland, things were different. Curveballs, like, curve there. Pomeranz responded by tossing them higher, moving middle in against righties:
But then, something happens. Maybe things get a little fast paced for Pomeranz. Flew a little too close to the sun. Pomeranz is traded to the Padres, and check this out:
Holy shit. I checked this plot about a billion times to see if I was doing something wrong. See for yourself in all its glory. He’s throwing Uncle Charlie almost exclusively in one zone, down-and-in to righties, down-and-way to lefties. And he’s hitting his spot. Now that’s cray.
Tonight we’ll watch Drew Pomeranz start against the Cubs. There’s reason to think he could keep up his hot start all year. Even a little regression provides the Padres an above-average, controllable through 2019, lefty starter they’re very happy with. I’m betting we’ll see a curveball or two down-and-in to righties and down-and-away to lefties.
Follow me on Twitter @SacBuntChris for more cray.