Earlier this year, I unveiled a new plate discipline index statistic for pitchers. wPDI is a metric that aims to meaningfully aggregate the frequency of pitcher plate discipline outcomes (such as a ball thrown in the zone, swung on and missed, etc.) into one composite figure.
We are now just over a month into the season. Let's check up on the 2019 wPDI Leaderboard for SPs -- i.e. the starting pitchers who are excelling in plate discipline.
Above is the 2019 wPDI Leaderboard for March and April for starting pitchers, with a minimum of 15 innings pitched. Let's go into some detail for a few of the top performers.
Blake Snell (.396 wPDI)
Leading the charge is Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young award winner. Snell excels at generating swinging strikes, especially at those outside of the zone (Outcome A). He also is fantastic at limiting contact made both in and out of the zone (Outcomes E & B, respectively).
A full explanation of the plate discipline outcomes can be found here.
Thus far, Snell is exhibiting excellent peripheral metrics, pitching to an ERA of 2.54, with a fantastic WHIP of 0.92. He currently owns a 37.5% K%, with only a 5.8% BB%.
Snell thus far is exceeding last year's already elite skill level. When fully recovered from his toe injury, I expect more of the same from Blake. Clearly, 2018 was not a fluke.
Domingo German (.376 wPDI)
I wrote about Domingo German a little while ago, but he is worth discussing once again because he still resides in elite wPDI territory.
In 2018, German finished the season with the third highest wPDI of all starting pitchers (min 35 IP) at .372. He finished ahead of pitchers such as Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, only trailing Chris Sale and Patrick Corbin.
German pitched a total of 85 2/3 major league innings, but he was not achieving success. His ERA was an unimpressive 5.57, and his WHIP was a mediocre 1.33 WHIP. Though his surface stats were poor, wPDI called attention to his underlying plate discipline skills.
Thus far in 2019, German owns a 2.56 ERA (backed up by a 2.76 FIP) and an 0.85 WHIP in 31 2/3 innings. He has a 9 K/9 ratio and walks batters at just a 2.6 BB/9 rate. His BABIP is a lucky .198, however, he is doing an excellent job of limiting hard contact.
Looking into his plate discipline outcomes, German excels at throwing strikes. He limits balls thrown out of the zone (Outcome C) and generates a nice amount of called strikes (Outcome F).
German will likely exhibit some regression for the remainder of the season, but it is abundantly clear that he had been undervalued. Once the Yankees get back their core bats, their offense will provide Domingo the opportunity to earn a fair amount of pitching wins in 2019.
German Marquez (.396 wPDI)
Sticking with players with the name "German," Colorado Rockies starter German Marquez is off to a great start in the new season as far as plate discipline goes. Although Marquez only has an 8 K/9 ratio, he is limiting the number of free passes handed out and owns a walk ratio of less than 2.
Like Domingo German, Marquez excels at throwing strikes (Outcomes C & F). Both his first pitch strikes, as well as his total swinging strikes have been trending upwards the past few seasons.
However, Marquez plays his home games at Coors Field, which is an issue for Fntasy players. Thus far in 2019, his ERA on the road is a sparkling 1.55, but his home ERA is a disastrous and unplayable 5.29. That is some difference! The thin air of the Rocky Mountains lets many more batted balls drop in for hits; Marquez has a batting average against of .125 on the road, but .342 at home. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone, but it is a pretty stark differential.
As a Fantasy baseball player, I personally did not want to pay his pre-season draft cost in order to roster him. The ATC Projections modeled Marquez as an overpriced player coming into 2019. Logistically, and especially for those in shallow leagues, it is hard to roster a #2/#3 type starting pitcher who may not be playable in his home starts.
Fantasy baseball or not, wPDI has directed us to a talented starting pitcher.
Caleb Smith (.367 wPDI)
Ending the month of April, Caleb Smith finished with the fifth lowest ERA of qualified players in the National League at 2.17. His opponents are batting just .167 off of him, and he own a marvelous 0.83 WHIP. His strikeout rate is an amazing 33.9% to just a 6.4% walk rate. He is currently on pace for 200-plus strikeouts, which is exceedingly rare these days.
Smith's best pitching outcome is Outcome D – generating a swing and miss in the zone. As a percentage of total pitches, only Jake Odorizzi and David Price have generated more swings and misses in the zone [of starting pitchers, min 15 IP]. For a player who only throws 93 MPH, Smith has fantastic swing-and-miss stuff. He has an excellent fastball and a devastating slider.
Smith didn't come out of nowhere -- last season he struck out 88 batters in 77 innings for the Marlins. In 2017, between AA, AAA and the majors with the Yankees, he struck out 120 batters in 119 innings. It looks like the Marlins, who acquired Smith from the Yankees prior to last season, have done well for themselves in acquiring this southpaw.
Caleb Smith's ownership percentage in Fantasy leagues is quickly rising. Last week on CBS, he was up to being 84% owned, and this week it has jumped to 91%. Although the Marlins won't score enough runs this season to earn him many wins, Smith is still an excellent Fantasy asset to own. He will be a good play simply for the ratios and is must-play for the strikeouts. He should be universally owned and started in all Fantasy formats and depths. He is currently fifth among starters this season for wPDI at .367.