The Pitcher Who’s Rescued the Angels

You wouldn’t believe what the Angels have had to deal with on the mound. I know that you wouldn’t believe it, because I’ve had trouble believing it, and I look at this stuff every day. The Angels aren’t the only team in baseball that’s had to work around pitcher injury and ineffectiveness, but their staff has been left in relative tatters, and still they’re pushing to advance to the playoffs. Now, when you’re thinking about the Angels, you have to think about Mike Trout, and he’s been very obviously the best player on the team. Andrelton Simmons, too, has had an outstanding five-odd months. But teams need to have some manner of pitching. The Angels have had to find ways to survive.

It’s the rotation that’s been depleted in particular. As I write this, the Angels rotation ranks 28th in baseball in WAR, with only the White Sox and Reds down below them. Out of curiosity, I pulled up every single individual team-season since 1950. For every team in every season, I identified the starting pitcher with the highest WAR. The Angels’ starter with the highest WAR this year stands at 1.2. That currently has the Angels ranked third from the bottom, in terms of having the worst best starter. And I should say, while there are a few weeks left to play out, that guy at 1.2 is done for the season. So if a pitcher will surpass 1.2, it’ll have to be somebody else. The 1983 Padres rank lowest, among teams that finished at least .500. Their best starter had a WAR of 1.6.

Because the Angels’ rotation has been so unreliable, it’s been on the bullpen to pick up more of the slack. Here is the entirety of the Angels’ pitching staff. Look at it. Just, look at it. By WAR, the fifth-best pitcher is at 1.0. He’s hurt and done pitching. The fourth-best pitcher is also at 1.0. He was traded to the Diamondbacks in July. The third-best pitcher is at 1.1. He’s hurt and done pitching. The second-best pitcher is at 1.4. He’s been good, but not good enough to carry a staff.

The best pitcher is at 2.3. You’ll notice there’s some pretty good separation, then, between first place and second. A contending team should have a better best pitcher than this, but the Angels will have to make do with what they have. The best pitcher on the team this year was signed to a minor-league contract in February. The best pitcher on the team this year throws 90 miles per hour and turns 33 years old shortly after the playoffs. The best pitcher on the team this year has been Yusmeiro Petit.

The second-best pitcher has been Blake Parker, and that’s also fun, because the Angels actually designated Parker for assignment in January, and he cleared waivers. So both Parker and Petit, not even that long ago, were more or less freely available. But it’s Petit who’s shined the brightest, and it’s Petit who’s done his part to save the Angels’ pitching staff. You could say it’s an absurdity that a contending team in 2017 has had its staff led by Yusmeiro Petit, but I certainly don’t want to suggest that Petit has been anything short of fantastic.

Consider, perhaps, the lowest wOBAs allowed in baseball, with a minimum of 250 batters faced. (Petit has faced 315.)

Lowest wOBA Allowed
Pitcher wOBA
Felipe Rivero 0.212
Archie Bradley 0.229
Yusmeiro Petit 0.233
Raisel Iglesias 0.241
Corey Kluber 0.243
Corey Knebel 0.246
Clayton Kershaw 0.246
Max Scherzer 0.247
Chris Sale 0.250
Chris Devenski 0.252
Minimum 250 plate appearances.

That makes Petit look very good. Yet it’s possible he’s just gotten lucky? Consider, then, the lowest expected wOBAs allowed in baseball. This is based on walks, strikeouts, and all that shiny fun Statcast data.

Lowest Expected wOBA Allowed
Pitcher xwOBA
Max Scherzer 0.239
Chris Sale 0.242
Felipe Rivero 0.242
Clayton Kershaw 0.248
Corey Kluber 0.250
Brad Hand 0.252
James Paxton 0.252
Yusmeiro Petit 0.252
Raisel Iglesias 0.254
Luis Castillo 0.257
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Minimum 250 plate appearances.

How about that? Petit remains in the top 10. A pretty major driving force here is that Petit has allowed just six home runs, while generating 20 infield pop-ups. That means, therefore, that the difference between Petit’s pop-up and home-run totals is +14, which is the greatest positive difference around. Petit has been very good, and he’s been very good over multi-inning stints. As a consequence, few relievers in either league have meant more to their teams, through the lens of Win Probability Added.

Highest Reliever WPA
Relief Pitcher WPA
Kenley Jansen 4.54
Corey Knebel 4.30
Wade Davis 3.77
Felipe Rivero 3.59
Raisel Iglesias 3.37
Craig Kimbrel 3.34
Brad Hand 3.12
Andrew Miller 3.11
Sean Doolittle 3.03
Yusmeiro Petit 3.02
No playing-time minimum.

There’s actually something else that goes into that last table. There’s not a direct line between overall performance and WPA, because the latter measure takes situations into account. In order to generate a high WPA, a pitcher has to be more than just good. A pitcher has to be both good, and used when the leverage is high. This is where Petit has arguably drifted into unfamiliar territory. For just about the first time in his entire major-league career, Petit is being trusted to handle important at-bats.

The average leverage index is always set at 1.00. For Petit’s career, he comes in at 0.77. In this year’s first half, he was at 0.90. In the second half, he’s been at 1.40, and it’s even higher over just the last month. There’s a handful of different leverage measures, and I’ve chosen to go with leverage upon entering the game. The trend makes the Angels’ reality apparent — in part because of the results, and in part out of necessity, Yusmeiro Petit has earned Mike Scioscia’s trust, in a way he’s never earned trust before. Earlier this very season, there were articles from practically every outlet, celebrating Chris Devenski as the next Andrew Miller. Devenski, overall, has been tremendous, but Yusmeiro Petit has been even better. His team, incidentally, has had an even greater need, and that need isn’t going away, with a wild-card playoff in sight.

Petit’s always been known for his ability to throw strikes. Because of his delivery, his stuff plays up, and it’s no accident this is his tenth year with time in the majors. Petit used to be just good enough to hang around. This year, he’s had every single thing working, and his strikeout rate has jumped by almost 10 points. The Angels have responded by piling on the innings, and so far, it’s worked out better than anyone ever would’ve guessed. It’s not a great thing that the Angels’ pitching staff has been led by Yusmeiro Petit. But if Yusmeiro Petit hadn’t been great, the Angels would’ve been totally screwed. He’s saved the staff as much as is humanly possible, and you might not find a bigger pleasant surprise. In this season, for a team with a chance, Petit has been clearly the most valuable arm.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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John Autin
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John Autin

Been rooting for Petit ever since he fell one out short of a perfecto in 2013.

Random footnote: Petit relieved 4 times in the 2014 postseason, and got the win in the first 3, with scoreless outings of 6, 3 and 3 IP. He’s the only pitcher with 3 career PS relief wins of at least 3 scoreless innings. In the first of those, he logged a .775 WPA, a PS relief record.

Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

His performance in that 18-inning game against the Nats still haunts my dreams. (And apparently Mike Rizzo’s dreams too, since he signed Petit for the 2016 season. Petit was replacement level, suggesting that maybe he just hates the Nats.)

John Autin
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John Autin

Another point in his favor! (Sorry, Mets fan here.)

Deacon Drake
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Yeah, noted in addition to Scherzer, there are 2 2016 Nats on this list basically given away.