Community Post: What’s Wrong with Zack Godley?

Guest Writer Dan Richards dives into Zack Godley's 2018 struggles.

This article is a Community Post written by guest contributor Dan Richards. If you’re interested in writing a guest piece at Pitcher List, send us an email at Community@PitcherList.com


Coming into the season, Zack Godley was one of the most hyped sleeper pitchers in fantasy baseball. And with good reason, as he finished 2017 with a 3.37 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. By generating 55.3% groundballs on his pitches, Godley vaulted into the tier of elite groundball pitchers. The knock on most groundball pitchers, though, is that they run up a high WHIP and fail to accrue enough strikeouts to be true fantasy aces. Zack Godley had neither of those problems, as he was able to pair his groundball rate with a 21.7% strikeout rate. And with a 13.3% whiff rate, 3.41 FIP, and 3.67 SIERA, Godley seemed like the real deal.

This season, however, has not been as kind to Godley:

2017 1.14 3.37 3.41 3.67 55.3% 17.9% 13.3% 69.9%
2018 1.56 4.53 4.43 4.49 50.3% 9.2% 10.5% 74.1%

Godley has not been the breakout sleeper his fantasy owners paid for on draft day. His WHIP is unsightly, and after yesterday’s implosion against the Brewer’s, his ERA is no longer helpful. Both his strikeouts and swinging strike rate have perceptively decreased, accompanied by an increase in contact rate. He’s inducing fewer groundballs, and his FIP and SIERA support the skills regression, suggesting this is the pitcher he’s become.

While his BABIP is up a little from .280 in 2017 to .315 this year, it’s largely supported by a .301 xBABIP. His batting average against increased from .221 to .256 this season, supported by a .253 xAVG. His strand rate has regressed, but only to league average, and his HR/FB rate is up less than 1%. For these reasons, I’m not inclined to chalk Godley’s 2018 performance up to simple bad luck.

All of this begs the question: why are Zack Godley’s results not commensurate with his 2017 breakout?

Godley’s quality of contact is actually better this year. He’s giving up 24.3% soft contact (up from 18.6%), while his medium contact is down 7.3% and his hard hit rate is only up 1.5%. This tells me that his stuff is still doing what it’s supposed to do when it gets hit. Nonetheless, he’s getting hit more often, as evidenced by the 4.2% increase in his contact rate. Also, for some reason, Godley is walking more batters than last year. His walk rate is up by 3.1% to 11.6% overall, which is 2.8% higher than league average. He’s also striking out 4.5% fewer batters, sitting below league average there too.

So, Godley’s getting hit more, issuing more walks, and striking out fewer batters than last season. I think looking more carefully at his plate discipline metrics might have our answer as to why.

Three of Godley’s 2018 plate discipline metrics stand out like a sore thumb. Throwing only 38.61% of his pitches in the zone is good for 8th lowest in baseball among all pitchers (min. 40 IP), and down 2.2% from last year. Batters are swinging at his pitches thrown outside the zone 28.7% of the time, a far cry from the excellent 33.1% mark he posted last year when he was 12th highest in baseball in chase rate (min. 100 IP). Given that he’s throwing fewer pitches in the zone and generating fewer swings on pitches thrown out of the zone, it’s no surprise that his overall swing rate sits at 40.4%, the fifth lowest such mark in baseball (min. 40 IP) and 3.8% lower than last year. Hitters just aren’t offering at his pitches like they did last year, perhaps because they’ve learned that he’s not throwing them strikes.

Godley predominantly relies on three pitches: a sinker thrown 33.6% of the time, a cutter thrown 22.6% of the time, and his chase pitch, the curveball, which he uses a whopping 38.9% of the time. He also has a changeup that only accounts for 4.9% of his total offerings. The only change in his arsenal from last year is that he traded some changeups for more curveballs (7.6% changeups last year, 35.6% curves last year), but swapping a couple percentage points on one out pitch for another is likely immaterial, so I don’t think that a significant change in pitch mix explains the worse results.

Still, Godley’s pitch selection does further the point that missing the zone is causing his troubles. He throws his curveball more than any of his other pitches, but in the zone only 35% of the time. For context, in order to get ahead in the count, many elite pitchers lean on one or two fastballs over 40% of the time and throw them in the zone more than 50% of the time, as did last year’s consensus top four pitchers:

  Clayton Kershaw Chris Sale Corey Kluber Max Scherzer
Thrown% Four-seam 47.1% Four-seam 37.4%; Sinker 13.1% Four-seam  14.5%; Sinker 27.9% Four-seam 48.6%
Zone% 55.6% Four-seam 56.9%; Sinker  51% Four-seam 57.3%; Sinker 54.7% 60.7%

These aces throw fastballs in the zone so they can then induce swings out of the zone with their off-speed pitches. After seeing a fastball for an early strike, batters will expect another fastball, mistaking an off-speed pitch for one and swinging too high or too early.

Like these pitchers, Godley’s sinker has a zone rate of 51.2%, but he throws it too infrequently (33.6% thrown) to maintain favorable counts that he can exploit with his curveball. As discussed, Godley’s predominant pitch is the curve, accounting for 39% of his pitches and finding the zone only 35% of the time. Looking at his curve’s heatmap, you can see what he’s trying to do with the pitch:



And now that he’s throwing the curve nearly 40% of the time and favoring it over a traditional strike pitch, he’s throwing too many pitches out of the zone. He’s basically just using his out pitch and throwing it well off the plate way too often.

Batters have caught up. The resulting decline in swing rate has depressed his whiff rate 2.8% from last year, increased his contact rate by 4.2%, and increased his walk rate 3.1%. Intuitively, this makes sense. Batters wait on the curve that he throws in the dirt, get in more favorable counts where they can see easier pitches to hit, and swing accordingly, decreasing their overall whiff rate. By swinging at better pitches, they make more contact on their swings. And, of course, by being more patient on pitches thrown out of the zone, they’re also rewarded with more walks.

For an example of this, take a look at how Godley began the second inning against Devin Mesoraco in last week’s start:

[gfycat data_id=”CorruptFriendlyAustralianfreshwatercrocodile”]

Godley starts the at bat with a lucky called strike on the outside corner. He proceeds with two curves, one that’s basically wasted in the dirt, and a second that misses outside. Both are clearly balls, and consequently neither induces a swing from Mesoraco. Now, down 2-1 in the count, he goes back to the sinker but misses inside. Finally, he wastes another pitch by spiking a fastball to walk Mesoraco. Five straight pitches thrown out of the zone; zero swings. During the at bat, Diamondbacks commentator Bob Brenly aptly remarked, “Dangerous way to approach any opposing lineup, falling behind in the count to nearly every hitter.”

Godley’s troubling inability to pound the zone is also reflected in the fact that his curveball has become far less effective this season. The chase rate on the pitch currently sits at 35.2%, well below the elite 50.3% mark he posted last year, and batters are making 4.8% more contact on it as well, explaining why the batting average against his curveball has increased by 84 points. Perhaps most importantly, the pitch’s whiff rate fell from 21.7% to 15.8% this season. All of this has contributed to the pVAL on his curveball dropping from 20.7 last season to -0.6. Without another pitch to get ahead in the count, Godley can’t fool batters with his favorite out pitch.

Other pitchers have found success using their off-speed pitches as their primary pitches, including Lance McCullers and Godley’s own teammate, Patrick Corbin. But Corbin effectively has two different sliders that he varies in speed, using one to set up the other, and Godley only has one iteration of his curveball. And McCullers, despite throwing his curve 42.9% of the time, places it in the zone 5% more often than Godley. He also has a sinker that he throws nearly 10% more often than Godley throws his, and that pitch is thrown in the zone 54.9% of the time.

Given that Godley’s pitch mix hasn’t changed much since last year, I just think the cat is out of the bag on him. Hitters know that 65% of his curves (and about 61% of his pitches overall) won’t land in the zone. Godley needs a get-me-over pitch, something he can throw for a strike to get ahead in the count and set up a chase on the curve. He could throw more curveballs for strikes, but that might come at the cost of further weakening his best out pitch. I considered him featuring more sinkers in the zone, but it’s a poor offering, as reflected by a 4.1% whiff rate on the season.

It appears that Godley considered throwing more sinkers too, going to his sinker at a more normal 47.7% clip in yesterday’s start against the Brewers, but getting pummeled to the tune of 6 earned runs with 6 walks in only 3.1 IP. However, Godley used it only at the expense of his cutter, which he threw for only 10.2% of his pitches yesterday, while maintaining his typical 35%+ curve usage. Why swap one strike pitch for another when the problem is that you can’t find the zone? Perhaps if he instead traded curves for sinkers and maintained his cutter usage he would have gotten better results.

This is a classic sophomore slump: Godley broke out, fooling batters by getting them to chase his curveball out of the zone, but now they’ve adjusted, and he needs to adjust back. To be clear, he isn’t doing much differently since his breakout campaign. In fact, his zone rate then was the 11th lowest in the majors (min. 100 IP). All of this is to say that I remain concerned, especially given the walks and the low swing rate. I’m just not sure how Godley’s going to find success without throwing strikes, and until he figures it out, I’ll be off the hype train.


Dan is a lifelong Yankees and New York Giants fan. Though a young lawyer, Dan is better known for aggressively bothering his leaguemates about trades.

Michael Wexler

Lifelong Dodger fan. Left the famous 2004 Steve Finley walk-off homer game in the ninth inning to clinch the division because his Giants fan cousin was late for work. Would've stayed, but I was nine.

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