Almost the entire baseball world crowned Nick Pivetta as the breakout candidate of the year prior to the 2019 season. Now, with the organization running out of second chances, Pivetta makes his final stand for the right to be in the Phillies’ rotation.
Some analyses based it on the horrendous defense that the Phillies played throughout the year. Others looked at his strikeout rate and curveball’s spin. Still others showed some statistical data about how his numbers were ballooned by “disastrous starts,” and that the numbers weren’t as bad as they seemed.
Yet, Pivetta regressed heavily in 2019. His inability to locate the fastball led to hyper-reliance on his curveball, which snowballed into a decrease in strikeout percentage, an increase in hits and home runs per 9 innings, and ultimately a demotion to the bullpen.
Throwing a curveball more than 35% of the time is not a recipe for success. Throwing a fastball in the zone 51% of the time won’t help either. Sometimes the numbers speak volumes, and all the numbers from 2018 pointed to a successful 2019. Sometimes guys just need to take a step back and reevaluate where they’re at and make adjustments.
That’s where Pivetta is now. That’s why I think 2020 will be the year we see what we’ve been missing.
The numbers are certainly troubling, I won’t deny that. But over the weekend, Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a story about how Pivetta is working out with several top pitchers this offseason, including former roommate Lucas Giolito, Noah Syndergaard, Jack Flaherty and Max Fried. Most notably, Pivetta worked with a strength and conditioning coach to improve his workouts, switching from power exercises to more focused movements.
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This is more telling to me than any amount of data from the previous year. I value performance data very highly, and consider myself to be an analytics-driven person. Yet, the ability to adapt and consistently look to improve is something that I didn’t hear or see from Pivetta last offseason. It was almost as if he expected to succeed because he had previous success. And a pitcher’s ability to adapt their style is a sign of maturity and understanding of their role in the game.
His offseason adjustments this year (including a shorter arm path and extension to the plate) show me that he understands that he needed to change. He also has been in talks with Phillies’ pitching coach Bryan Price about incorporating a changeup into his pitching, so that he can rely less on his curveball, making it that much more effective when he throws it.
For me, Pivetta biggest change has to be coming into 2020 with a “prove yourself” attitude. He has only one more minor-league option left, and if he goes to the minors again, the Phillies will have to move on. He was handed a top spot in the rotation, having marginally decent numbers, primarily out of necessity. This year, he’s on the cusp of even being in the rotation, where he may even lose his spot on the roster.
Pivetta has been given opportunities to succeed. While he’s showed splashes of brilliance over his three years for the Phillies, his inconsistencies have led to disappointment and demotion. Now, with the signing of Zack Wheeler, the eventual team opt-out of Jake Arrieta (who’s owed $22.5 million in 2021-2022), and the emergence of Spencer Howard and Adonis Medina, there is no other choice for Nick Pivetta in 2020. It’s time for him to step up in the spotlight, or be left behind.
I wasn’t a Pivetta-breakout stan for 2019, but for 2020 I expect him to have better results and force the Phillies to keep him in their plans.