Phillies: Can Nick Pivetta continue his upward trend into 2019?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Nick Pivetta #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the top of the first inning against the Washington Nationals in game 1 of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on September 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 11: Nick Pivetta #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the top of the first inning against the Washington Nationals in game 1 of the doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on September 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Nick Pivetta drastically improved from his 2017 rookie season with the Phillies in 2018. Can he do the same during the 2019 season?

When the Phillies traded away Jonathan Papelbon in 2015, they were just hoping to get something for the talented but unlikable closer. They were able to pry away Nick Pivetta, a young power arm with mid-rotation potential, from the Nationals in exchange for Papelbon. Now, Pivetta may be on the cusp of fully realizing his potential.

Pivetta did not get eased into his rookie year. He spent most of the season in the major leagues, making 22 starts as injuries piled up in the rotation. His overall numbers weren’t great with a 6.02 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 9.8% walk rate, and -0.4 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement.

Despite the poor overarching numbers, Pivetta showed plenty of potentials that kept him in the rotation. He struck out 24% of opposing hitters, ranking 15th among NL pitchers with 130 or more innings. Pivetta’s 4.87 fielding-independent pitching and 4.32 skill-interactive ERA both indicated that his 6.02 ERA may have been inflated.

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Pivetta built on the potential that he showed during his rookie year, making strides in almost every possible way. He finished 2018 with the fifth-highest strikeouts per nine innings (10.317), eight-most strikeouts (188), and ninth-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.686) among NL pitchers. He finished the year with a 4.77 ERA, 3.80 fielding-independent pitching, 3.51 skill-interactive ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.8 Fangraphs wins above replacement.

Pivetta started off the year extremely well. Through May, he had a 3.26 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 4.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.09 WHIP. Pivetta was displaying that he had the potential not just to be a mid-rotation starter, but perhaps even more.

As with his rookie season, there are indications that Pivetta’s overall ERA was once again inflated. His FIP and SIERA were once again significantly lower than his normal ERA. According to Sports Info Solutions, no pitcher was hurt by their defense more than Pivetta this season by mid-September. In addition, opposing hitters had a better batting average and weighted on-base average than expected by MLB Statcast.

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Pivetta showed significant improvement from 2017 to 2018 and offered plenty of reason to suggest that he can continue to improve heading into 2019. So can he continue to follow this upward trend?

The biggest factor that will determine this will be home runs. Pivetta gave up 25 home runs in 133 innings in his rookie year and 24 home runs in 164 innings this year. Among qualified pitchers in 2018, Pivetta ranked 15th in home runs allowed per nine innings (1.32) and sixth in home run to fly ball rate (15.8%).

Pivetta gave up the most home runs on his sinker and changeup, allowing them on 2.21% of sinkers and 3.08% of changeups.

Those two offerings were Pivetta’s worst per 100 pitches according to Pitch Info Pitch Values. It would not be surprising to see Pivetta adjust or perhaps completely abandon these pitches to improve in this regard.

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With a better defense behind him and a decline in home runs allowed, there is every reason to believe Nick Pivetta can continue to improve in 2019 and beyond.

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