Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta entered the 2019 season as the Phillies Nos. 1 and 2 starters and with a ton of hype.
Nola was second runner-up for the Cy Young in the National League last year and Pivetta, with eye-popping peripherals last season, had a spring training fastball that sat in the high 90s and a developing changeup that indicated special things could be ahead. He was deemed a breakout candidate by virtually everyone who analyzes this game, including me.
After three starts a piece, it’s hard to say who’s had the more disappointing or worrying beginning.
Nola has a 6.46 ERA and a 7.21 FIP in 15.1 innings this year, while Pivetta has a gnarly ERA of 9.45 and a 5.05 FIP in 13.1 innings. Both pitchers are giving up a ton of homers, with Pivetta allowing a 23.1% HR/FB rate in the early going and Nola giving up an impossible-to-believe 33.3% HR/FB.
Nola has a track record that should allow Phillies fans to feel more confident that he will emerge from his struggles soon. However, what if he doesn’t? Meanwhile, Pivetta has always been a maddening pitcher. He’s always been someone with great stuff but was unable to put it together. He’s always struggled with men on base and would often go through stretches where he simply couldn’t get anyone out. In fact, over his first three starts, that’s what’s happened, as he’s allowed 29 base runners and 14 ER in his 13.1 innings of work.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I broke down some of the numbers behind Nola’s struggles...
...but here are a few on both hurlers to chew on.
The good news is his velocity is where it needs to be. He’s at 92.1 mph on average this year, according to Fangraphs, compared to 92.4 mph a year ago. It is his command that is way off. His first-pitch strike rate is 47.7%, far lower than last year’s 69.4% and his career average of 64.9%. He’s starting off 1-0 too often this season, giving hitters the early edge in the count.
Nola’s best pitch, his curveball, is getting hammered. Opponents are hitting .353 against that pitch, according to Brooks Baseball, higher than the .158 they’re batting against his fastball, the .250 they’re hitting against the sinker, and the .250 against the change. The problem could be in the curve’s horizontal movement which, according to Brooks Baseball, is at 9.24 inches, the lowest it’s ever been. Last year if moved 9.75 inches horizontally.
As for Pivetta, his command isn’t there either, and he isn’t getting the swings and misses he usually has. So far he’s struck out just 20.3% of hitters this season, down from 27.1% last year, and his swinging strike rate of 8.3% is way down from 12.0% a year ago. Hitters are batting a robust .375 against him, and while you could argue his BABIP of .447 is ridiculously high, he has allowed a hard-hit rate of 37.5% this year, much higher than the 31.8% he gave up last season.
While Pivetta isn’t throwing 97-98 mph like he was in Clearwater, his average velocity of 94.0 mph is pretty close to the 94.8 mph he averaged last year. The hope was he had developed a changeup to use against left-handed hitters, but we haven’t seen it thus far, with Pivetta throwing it just 1.6% of the time.
Last night, Pivetta was living in the middle of the plate entirely too much.
These were the locations of all balls in play tonight against Nick Pivetta. Not much changing of eye levels. Only 3 balls in play on pitches on the corners. A lot of the plate. pic.twitter.com/LonZ9TRtzF— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) April 11, 2019
These screen shots are pitches to the first three batters of the game in which they got hits. Pivetta got ahead of Adam Eaton 1-2 before hanging a curveball in the middle of the plate.
He also got ahead of the second batter, Brian Dozier, 1-2 before hanging another curve.
And then he got ahead of Anthony Rendon 0-2, shook off J.T. Realmuto twice to the point Realmuto had to come out to the mound to discuss what to throw next, and he then got too much of the plate with a fastball that Rendon took the other way to load the bases.
Where is the blazing fastball from Clearwater?
Why haven’t we seen any of these changeups?
Sweet Changeup from Nick Pivetta. pic.twitter.com/sL2qxM8k7V— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 5, 2019
Who should you be most worried about?
The Phillies don’t rely on Pivetta as much as they do Nola, so in that respect, Nola’s struggles are more worrisome. But it’s also more likely Nola shakes off his problems from the first couple weeks and becomes one of the best pitchers in the National League again. With Pivetta, the jury is out on his ability to be anything more than what we’ve seen.
And to be sure, Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak will give Pivetta less rope to fix his issues than they will Nola.
Who are you more concerned about?
This poll is closed