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Pitch Arsenal Scores - 2015 vs 2016

Last time, I looked at which starters had the best “stuff” in 2016. I’ve got 2015 numbers, too, so let’s see who’s arsenal improved or declined the most.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals
Believe it or not, this guy had the biggest gain in arsenal score from 2015 to 2016
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

In my last post, I showed you all the top 100 starting pitcher arsenals in 2016, based solely on swinging strikes and ground ball rates by pitch type. As it so happens, I did that same thing last year, so I’ve got 2015 arsenal scores to compare to. So I figured, let’s look at them side-by-side and see which starters improved their scores the most this year and who got worse.

Let’s start with the bad news so we can finish on a high note.

I present the 25 starters whose arsenal score dropped the most in 2016.

Pitcher 2016 Arsenal Score 2015 Arsenal Score Change
Dan Straily -7.6 1.6 -9.2
James Shields -2.1 5.7 -7.9
Dillon Gee -5.0 2.5 -7.5
Hisashi Iwakuma -8.2 -1.1 -7.1
Joe Ross -2.3 4.3 -6.5
Mike Bolsinger -4.6 1.0 -5.7
Jose Quintana -2.2 3.4 -5.6
Brett Anderson 0.0 5.4 -5.4
Justin Nicolino -5.3 0.0 -5.3
Jake Odorizzi -5.2 0.0 -5.3
Ian Kennedy -0.8 3.9 -4.7
Jered Weaver -11.4 -6.8 -4.6
Tom Koehler -2.8 1.7 -4.5
Ricky Nolasco -3.4 1.2 -4.5
Jose Fernandez 3.8 8.2 -4.4
Jeremy Hellickson -2.6 1.7 -4.3
Adam Wainwright -2.6 1.6 -4.2
Gerrit Cole 0.7 4.9 -4.1
Miguel Gonzalez -5.4 -1.2 -4.1
Mat Latos -3.1 0.8 -3.9
Clay Buchholz -2.2 1.3 -3.5
Steven Wright -3.5 0.0 -3.5
Jake Peavy -2.9 0.6 -3.5
Jorge De La Rosa -1.7 1.8 -3.5
Jon Moscot -3.4 0.0 -3.4

Keep in mind the magnitudes we are dealing with. The arsenal score leaders in 2016 were all in the 8-10 range, so a drop of 8 points is huge, like going from Jon Lester to Kyle Gibson. Even a four point drop could be the difference between Corey Kluber and Nate Eovaldi. Also keep in mind that arsenal scores are not perfect correlations to ERA, FIP, xFIP, or WHIP. Some guys with great arsenals still have poor results, like Robbie Ray, Bud Norris, or Archie Bradley. The arsenal score is more a measure of potential to breakout and be great. It is no guarantee, but hopefully identifies guys that are just an adjustment away from success, like Kluber was a few years ago, when he ditched his four seam for a two seam.

It’s an interesting list. Sure, there are some obvious ones, like Gerrit Cole, Adam Wainwright, James Shields, Mike Bolsinger, Clay Buchholz, and Hisashi Iwakuma, who were all clearly worse pitchers this year than ever before. In some cases, it might have been injuries, in others, just aging, but these guys clearly struggled this season. Ian Kennedy’s ERA was better in 2016, but all his other stats were much worse, so I’m putting him in this group. I’m avoiding all of these guys next year, myself, except for Cole who was probably fighting injuries all season. Buchholz is always a wild card: he’s great one year and terrible the next.

The next group is guys whose results were about the norm for them, despite a big drop in “stuff.” This includes Koehler, Jose Quintana (his xFIP and FIP were a bit higher this year, though), Jake Odorizzi (see: Quintana, Jose), and Joe Ross. I’m not too worried about Ross since he was dealing with injuries, but the other three are at risk for down seasons next year, if their diminished arsenal continues into next season.

Then you have some real head scratchers. Guys that put up great numbers (at least for them) despite a big drop in arsenal score. This includes Ricky Nolasco (his ERA was way down, but his FIP and xFIP are actually up this year), Miguel Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, Dan Straily (ERA way down, but FIP and xFIP up), and the late, great Jose Fernandez. Of this bunch, Hellickson is the only one I’m considering for next season, and even then only as a streamer or deep league option.

Steven Wright is on here, but it’s mostly because the arsenal z-scores can’t account for knuckleballs, with only two guys throwing them, so we can’t do much with his score.

Let’s move on to the guys with big increases in arsenal score:

Pitcher 2016 Arsenal Score 2015 Arsenal Score Change
David Phelps 2.9 -6.8 9.7
Robbie Ray 4.4 -4.9 9.4
Bud Norris 7.0 -1.1 8.0
Jake Arrieta 7.7 1.0 6.6
James Paxton 8.6 2.2 6.4
Clayton Richard 6.4 0.0 6.4
Josh Collmenter -1.3 -6.8 5.5
Noah Syndergaard 9.6 4.2 5.4
John Danks 1.1 -4.3 5.4
Alfredo Simon -1.2 -6.4 5.1
Charlie Morton 6.1 1.1 4.9
Matt Shoemaker -0.3 -5.1 4.7
Steven Matz 4.7 0.0 4.7
Shane Greene 0.0 -4.0 4.0
Johnny Cueto 3.7 -0.1 3.8
Danny Duffy 0.4 -3.4 3.8
Alex Wood 3.1 -0.5 3.6
Kendall Graveman 1.6 -2.0 3.6
Mike Pelfrey -2.0 -5.5 3.6
Roberto Hernandez 0.0 -3.5 3.5
Kyle Hendricks 0.0 -3.4 3.4
Matt Moore 1.7 -1.6 3.4
Adam Warren 0.0 -3.2 3.2
Jon Niese 2.9 -0.4 3.2
Jason Vargas 1.6 -1.6 3.2

We see some big gainers here. David Phelps thrived in the bullpen and carried many of those gains into the rotation for a little while. I am intrigued by him if he gets more of a chance to start and he could be a sleeper for me next year. I’ve written about the temptation of Robbie Ray before. The stuff is great, but he is too hittable. It is frustrating, but the potential is certainly there for a big breakout.

Jake Arrieta is interesting because he actually pitched to much worse results this season, despite a big improvement in arsenal. A near doubling of his walk rate is the main culprit here, as walks are not in the arsenal score. He also gave up a few more homers this year, to add to the issues. The arsenal score went up because his sinker, four seam, and changeup all had increases in swinging strike rate over 2015. His overall swinging strike rate actually fell, however, because he threw his four seam (9.4% swinging strike rate) much more than his slider (13%) after doing the opposite in 2015. I don’t know why he leaned more on his four seam than his slider this year, perhaps to try and improve his failing control. Regardless, he is still a top 20 pitcher and you should expect better in 2017, just not all the way back to his 2015 numbers.

James Paxton is a well known success story this season, with his new triple-digit velocity. Steven Matz, Matt Shoemaker, Kyle Hendricks, and Danny Duffy all made improvements this season and were valuable in all leagues. I like all five of the guys in this paragraph going into 2017, but I would rank them: Hendricks, Matz, Paxton, Duffy, Shoemaker.

Johnny Cueto looks really good going into next year. Clayton Richard, on the other hand, is not to be trusted. He’s on this list because he ran a 65%! ground ball rate all season, with very few Ks and a 4.41 xFIP. Go ahead and steer clear. Charlie Morton (although he does have good strikeouts in a very small sample this year) and Kendall Graveman are in a similar boat. It’s white with a red stripe down one side and a light blue sail gently rolling in the Southern breeze. They are about five miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, soaking in the sun’s warm rays, sipping margaritas and sharing stories of ground balls from a lifetime ago...

Where was I? Oh yeah, I’m avoiding these guys. If you like to gamble, Matt Moore, Alex Wood, and Shane Greene are risky options with some upside. I would rank them Wood, Moore, ...Greene. If Wood can stay healthy (always a challenge for him), he could be a top 30 starter next year. Moore still needs to prove he can keep the walks down, but that ballpark is a nice one to pitch in. And Greene, well, he did ok in the bullpen, but I don’t have a ton of confidence that he will put it all together as a starter again. He still has talent, but I don’t know if it will be enough.

There you have it! The gainers and losers in arsenal score. Tschus!