Matt Andriese and Fool’s Gold
Last night in the series opener against the Detroit Tigers Rays starter Matt Andriese was able to give the team exactly what they needed. He pitched deep into the game so that bullpen optimization became a rote exercise. He allowed one run over those six innings with five punchouts, one walk, and the lone run coming on a titanic home run shot from a surefire future Hall of Famer. That line looks pretty impressive at first blush. More innings than baserunners with almost as many strikeouts against a solid lineup is pretty impressive. However, while he only yielded four hits, he probably should have surrendered a few more. This is something of a systemic issue for Andriese.
In 2016 Matt Andriese somewhat surprisingly received 19 starts. Of the 214 guys to throw at least 30 innings as a starter last year Andriese was in the 93rd percentile in avoiding the walk. That’s really good. It helped cover up for the fact that he was more average at sitting batters down (57%), but being in the strikezone so often does come with some risk. Specifically, a 25th percentile batting average against with a 33rd percentile BABIP. This sounds like a guy that gives up loud contact. Now BABIP can be a very misleading statistic at times, and tells neither of these metrics tell us a thing about how hard he’s being hit.
SIERA and xFIP make attempts at valuing balls in play, but this is where my latest research can come in handy. Here is a look at his xwOBA* and actual over the course of the season using a 100 plate appearance rolling average:
Early on last year he was around a league average pitcher if not a little bit better than that. He was seeing better results than he should have, but even if he fell back to expectations then he’s fine as a back of rotation starter. Then he started to give up increasingly harder contact, which showed up in actuality as a motherfuck of a clobberfest. You can see a little bit of why they were able to hit him so hard:
Yeah, he got quite a few weak pop ups or fly outs, and a bunch of soft grounders, he also gave up tons and tons of stuff in the green and yellow. From 0 up to 30 degrees you go from grounders to rising liners and the harder their hit the more damage they do. You can see plenty of contact in that box between 100 and 110 MPH where damage is mostly in the how much, rather than maybe not this time zone. Maybe that was a product of becoming tired, though. Or perhaps the league had started to figure him out, and an offseason of working on adjustments might right the ship. While we don’t have anywhere near the volume of data for 2017, we do have three starts that we can look at. Let’s start with his rolling average and spray charts for this current year:
After a pretty terrible start to the year he has approached league average production allowed on balls in play. He has been a little better than expectations along the way, but it’s really quite close, and as we saw in 2016 that past over-performance does not indicate future over-performance. Still, for a fifth starter that has pretty nice strikeout and walk numbers being around average on balls in play would be enormous.
Looking at just the Detroit game you can see that despite the regression seen in both his expected and actual xwOBA* he is still giving up hard contact all over the place. The Miggy bomb is fairly obvious near dead center of the nitro zone, and another just above it around 100 MPH and 35 degrees. Along the fringes of the swoosh you can see several balls in play that could have done damage. The cluster of balls that centers on 100 MPH and 0 degrees are mostly hardish grounders that sometimes have eyes. He’s walking a fine line, and this looks like one of the better games. Let’s bring in the two other starts from this year, and color it up while we’re at it:
It looks like the two swooshers went for singles. The Miggy homer was a blast, but just a few degrees lower than that mammoth homer was a ball that only went for two bases in one of his other starts. You can see patches where doubles and outs co-mingle like peas and carrots. Another one of the homers he gave up is almost completely covered by two balls that went as harmless outs. The point is, it looks like Matt Andriese has been a bit fortunate so far. Whether that is due to skill or defense or luck is the more difficult part, but those that think he has turned a corner might find themselves lacking when the balls that should do damage start doing so.
Andriese has allowed the hardest expected contact on the team through April 18th. He has been fortunate by around 11% so what we have seen is likely to worsen as he works toward equilibrium. If we plug his strike outs, walks, hit batters and xwOBA* into the twOBA* calculation and adjust for volume you will find him as the worst pitcher on the team. The K/BB is pretty sexy, but it comes at a cost of hard contact that is going to worsen at some point.
The Rays continue to be closer to the middle of the pack in overall pitching than towards the top of it, where they probably need to get to if they want to be a legitimate contender. Andriese is kind of the inverse of his brethren who seem to have trouble dialing up the strikeout, but have managed to yielder softer contact to date. The only thing worse than getting hit hard is also putting guys on base for free. I get that, but at some point it seems like Andriese might benefit from not living in the zone quite so often. Here’s hoping he finds the balance that helps the team be better tomorrow than they are today.