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Statcast standouts from May

J.D. Davis, John Brebbia, Anthony DeSclafani, and Logan Webb are your Statcast darlings through two months of the season, but who else stood out in May?

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images

As of the time this post was published, there are only four San Francisco Giants who appear on the lengthy Statcast leaderboard page: Tyler Rogers, Logan Webb, Camilo Doval... and Sean Hjelle. That’s for all games played through 5-31-2023.

I like this series because it helps contextualize what the players on the team are doing compared to players across the league. For some reason, I find that individuality a bit more heartening than doing a team to team comp. The Giants might not be better than a lot of other teams out there, but some of the players on the Giants are as good as players on some of the best teams in the league.

But it’s also funny to look and see that Sean Hjelle, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since literally May 1st and was sent down to Triple-A with a 10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP still has the 3rd-best vertical movement versus average with his sinker.

Now, did it do him a lot of good? Not at all. By the Pitch Arsenal ranking, it had a +5 Run Value. Positive value is great for a hitter, bad for a pitcher. Statcast’s quick and dirty definition of Run Value:

Run Value Definition: the run impact of an event based on the runners on base, outs, ball and strike count.

This is the tricky part about Statcast. The data can provide a little bit of predictive value and context, but not always, and usually, not very much. That’s up to the Word Users to figure out. Statcast is merely numbers generated from lasers compiled in a database presented by a curated UI. I think it works best when you try to match it with the eye or ear test.

So, here’s something my eyes told me this past month: Logan Webb is pretty damned great, and his changeup especially. Turns out, according to Statcast...

Logan Webb has the best changeup in Baseball

I’m being melodramatic here, as it’s more accurate to say that Webb’s changeup has been the most effective changeup in all of Major League Baseball through 5-31-2023.

He’s thrown it 361 times this season (33.6% of the time), and it’s generated a -8 Run Value. Remember: a negative Run Value is great for a pitcher. Merrill Kelly of the Dbacks and Shane McClanahan of the Rays are tied for second at -7. In May alone, the changeup was -6.3 in Run Value for Webb, just a shade behind Brandon Bielak’s (-6.4).

Now, why is Logan Webb’s changeup so effective? Let’s begin with Statcast’s measure of its vertical movement:

Here are some Pitching Ninja highlights:

And here’s the relatively famous (by Twitter standards) overlay he did for Webb’s sinker and changeup, just to show you how the vertical drop Statcast measured coupled with its similarity to his fastball (the sinker) makes the pitch even more effective:

Sinkers are really the better pitch at this point in Baseball history. The added movement is an effective counter to the generally improved strength/swing of modern hitters. It’s why the Giants really do look for sinker-focused pitchers. Hitters are just really good at hitting four-seam fastballs.

Freddie Freeman leads all hitters with +13 Run Value on that pitch, and if you look at the entire leaderboard of MLB hitters with at least 10 plate appearances this season, the list is 434 players long. 238 hitters are at 0 to positive in Run Value on the four-seam fastball, while 195 are negative. Remarkably, Trea Turner is the worst in baseball on that pitch with a -13 Run Value. But remember: Run Value has a situational element to it. Turner’s 434th ranking on Run Value is balanced against 256th place with a 42.3% Hard Hit rate on that very same pitch.

That said, as of 6-1-2023, Patrick Bailey has the best Hard Hit rate in baseball against the four-seam fastball (87.5%) with a +4 Run Value. The Giants’ leaderboard for Run Value on the four-seamer is also about what you’d expect:

I’m surprised by Estrada being so low, but if you jump back to just last season, he ended it at +10, so, context really is king with this particular stat. And on that note...

LaMonte Wade Jr. and J.D. Davis have been the best hitters on the team

It’s really important that baseball players hit the ball hard. I just can’t stress that enough. I know we all know this, but sometimes it just needs to be said. Pitch selection is also important, too. Maybe almost as important as the quality of contact. In terms of selection and quality, LaMonte Wade Jr. and J.D. Davis have been doing it with the best players in the game through the first two months of the season.

Quick note from Statcast about xwOBA, the measured used to make this determination:

Expected Outcome stats help to remove defense and ballpark from the equation to express the skill shown at the moment of batted ball contact. By looking at the exit velocity and launch angle of each batted ball, a Hit Probability is assigned based on the outcomes of comparable historic balls in play. By accumulating the expected outcomes of each batted ball with actual strikeouts, walks and hit by pitches, Expected Batting Average (xBA), Expected Slugging (xSLG), and (most importantly) Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) tell the story of a player’s season based on quality of and amount of contact, not outcomes.* Qualifiers: 2.1 PA per team game for batters, 1.25 PA per team game for pitchers.

Their .383 and .381 xwOBAs, respectively, are 26th and 28th in MLB (among qualified hitters). Mookie Betts is just ahead of LaMonte Wade Jr.’s .383 at .384 and a recent slump has put Shohei Ohtani behind Davis’s .381 with a .380 xwOBA.

Davis’s 53.7% Hard Hit rate is 16th in baseball, ahead of Julio Rodriguez (53.5%), Mike Trout (50.4%), Shohei Ohtani (49.7%), and Max Muncy (47.9%). Wade’s 42.3% is just 117th (out of 256 qualified), but again, add in his plate discipline and both are great all around hitters.

And since Logan Webb — not only by virtue of his elite changeup but his staff-leading 1.5 fWAR — is the best pitcher on the team and LaMonte Wade Jr. is the best (by virtue of xwOBA) the best hitter on the team, I almost used this picture:

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

But it’s not from this season so I didn’t. Still feels like it needs to be in here somewhere.

Anyway, back to Statcast, which also says that after the first two months of the season

John Brebbia is elite... but also Tyler Rogers

Last week, we took a look at just how dominant John Brebbia has been and that was all thanks to Statcast data. But using that same measure (xwOBA), Tyler Rogers has actually jumped ahead of Brebbia.

How is this possible? Well, it turns out that a funky deliver really does make it tough for hitters to square him up. He’s getting some really bad swings.

When you go to Rogers’ Statcast page, though, you don’t see a pitcher with elite stuff. Even his slider spin rate (2,334 rpm) is in the zone of pedestrian. It’s all about that wonderful delivery.

Camilo Doval is pretty good, too

But not elite. I can’t stress that enough. This is according to Statcast. Doval leads the National League in saves (14), but his 0.6 fWAR is pedestrian by reliever standards, checking in at 33rd in MLB, according to FanGraphs. He throws his cutter very very hard, too:

But the cutter has not been Doval’s most effective pitch. It’s got a nice -2 Run Value, but his slider has been most effective (-6 RV). That’s 15th-best in baseball.

Remarkably, Anthony DeSclafani’s slider has been the 5th-most effective slider in baseball through the first two months of the season (-10 RV), and that’s even after throwing it 423 times — the third-highest volume of sliders in MLB this season, behind Dylan Cease (457; -5 RV) and Clayton Kershaw (441; -5 RV).

Mike Yastrzemski, Joc Pederson, and Thairo Estrada should have more HRs

I love that Statcast has an xHR stat. Mike Yastrzemski is at a -1.9, Joc Pederson -1.7, and Thairo Estrada -1.5. These three ought to represent the “most robbed.”

Here’s how Statcast explains it:

This tool allows you to see how many of a player’s batted balls would have been home runs in the 30 parks around the Majors, based on the trajectory of the ball and the various wall heights and distances of the ballparks. These numbers include regular and postseason.

But if you think that’s something, look at the “overperforming” list — that is, players with +1 or greater on projected home run vs. actual

  1. Mitch Haniger, +2.2
  2. LaMonte Wade Jr., +1.7
  3. Wilmer Flores, +1.5
  4. Michael Conforto, +1.4
  5. J.D. Davis, +1.3
  6. David Villar, +1.2
  7. Blake Sabol, +1.1

Park Factors, man. Park Factors.

Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey’s home runs have been no doubters

You can sort the same list by “No Doubters,” that is home runs that would be out in all 30 parks and so for now we get to enjoy the very small sample sizes of Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey’s lines. Their four combined home runs have all been no doubters.

Some more fun with those small sample sizes:

Schmitt’s .330 xwOBA has been league average, and if he had enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboard, he’d be tied with Teoscar Hernandez of the Mariners, Rowdy Tellez of the Brewers, Toronto’s Kevin Kiermaier, and the Cubs’ Nico Hoerner.

Bailey’s .392 xwOBA would be in the top 20, tied with Adley Rutschman, Randy Arozarena, Matt Chapman, and Jorge Soler.

As a team, the Giants are not particularly good in the xwOBA department (.321). They’re a little below average (17th in MLB). Pitching-wise, they’re a little better off (.318 - 12th in MLB); defensively, they’re really much better this season. By something as basic as Outs Above Average, they’re -7 overall, which is 7th-best in MLB.