Stuff is a known contributor to success in MLB pitchers that also can be used to look at injury trends in pitchers. In 2016, we tracked the Stuff of the Blue Jays pitching staff – the Starters, and the Bullpen. We learned that Aaron Sanchez is a monster amongst men, and that Marco Estrada was really affected by his back injury in the middle part of the season. While the Jays didn’t have the best Stuff of any team in 2016, they did have some of the best results.
Stuff is important – good Stuff trumps all when it comes to results. That’s not to say that there are no great pitchers without good Stuff, but as a whole - pitchers with good stuff are more likely to be successful than those without good stuff.
What can we expect from the Blue Jays Stuff in 2017? How do they compare to the rest of the MLB? Let’s dive in.
So, to examine each team’s Stuff, I calculated the weighted Stuff, based on innings pitched. That formula looks like:
Where n= the total number of starters or relievers, and Total Team IP is the sum total of starter innings, or reliever innings.
This was done to prevent pitchers with small sample sizes from interfering with the team’s average Stuff. I’m not quite fancy enough to build in age related Stuff adjustments, so I’m just going to use the 2016 Stuff values, paired with the projected innings totals from Fangraphs Depth Chart projection systems.
The Jays finished the 2016 season with the lowest Stuff amongst all Starting Staffs in the MLB. There’s no need to mince words – Marco Estrada and the Stuff metric do not get along very well, and R.A. Dickey and Stuff aren’t even on talking terms. The weighted Stuff for the Blue Jays in 2016 was 0.04… that’s pretty bad.
But then, a big bad man who goes by Frankie Liriano came to town, and everything changed.
The projected weighted Stuff for the Blue Jays Rotation in 2017 is much higher – +0.46 – for a change of 0.43. This is the biggest improvement among any staff in the MLB. This is a factor of replacing R.A. Dickey’s innings with Francisco Liriano’s, which is increasing the separation between pitches by approximately 1” (15.2” in 2016; 16.2” in 2017). The rotation switch is also raising the average fastball velocity in Blue Jays starting pitching from 90.74 mph in 2016 to 91.3 mph in 2017. Velocity is a big contributor to pitching success, so this is a good sign for the Jays starters. The other reason for the boost in Stuff for the Jays Rotation? Untethered Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman contributing more innings to the Jays starters Stuff in 2017.
The story in the bullpen is a bit different. The Jays had the 5th best Stuff of all relief corps in 2016, but project to have the 28th best Stuff in 2017. The news out of Blue Jays camp this week doesn’t paint a prettier picture either, as the third best Stuff on the team belonged to Bo Schultz – who will now miss 2017 with Tommy John Surgery.
Brett Cecil was never really a monster of Stuff, but he did sit in the slightly below average range. The newest Jays acquisitions for the ‘pen, J.P. Howell and Joe Smith, sit much lower on the metric. Howell checks in with an average fastball of 86.15 mph and Stuff rating of -1.09, while Joe Smith is more of the same with a fastball of 88.6 mph and a Stuff value of -0.44. The Jays are still anchored by Stuff beasts Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna along with respectable Stuffsman Jason Grilli, which is why they’re not at the bottom of the list, but the late innings are going to have to be navigated with control and command more so than blow away Stuff.
A glimpse into the rest of the league
Getting a full season out of Matt Harvey (who’s back up to 97 mph), combined with Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom, gives the Mets the best Stuff out of any starting rotation in the MLB. That’s not to mention the vicious curveball that Seth Lugo possesses. The Mets average fastball velocity sits at 94.53 mph – over a full mile per hour faster than the second place velocity starting rotation – the Yankees. If they can stay healthy – it will be something else to watch.
Not surprisingly, adding in upwards of 400 innings from R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon will not pay dividends to the Braves starting Stuff. They have the lowest average fastball velocity in the major leagues and the 23rd best distance between pitches (14.07”). There’s no real expectation that these guys will miss a whole lot of bats in 2017.
If you hate the Red Sox, you will not magically start to like them after reading this. Their Bullpen has the best projected Stuff in 2017, lead by Filthy Stuff monsters Craig Kimbrel (1.95), Joe Kelly (1.66), and Tyler Thornburg (1.37). They were nasty last season as well, with the 5th Stuffiest bullpen in the MLB, but the subtraction of Koji Uehara and addition of Thornburg have taken them to the next level.
The Orioles have a lot of Stuff at the back end of their bullpen as well (Zach Britton, 1.15; Brad Brach, 0.86) – assuming that their relievers actually make it into the game – but the rest of their bullpen focuses on the other finer points of pitching to get hitters out. Darren O’Day will handle a large share of the relief innings, but only has a Stuff value of -1.11 – thanks to an 86 mph fastball.
Stuff doesn’t decide who is successful, or who gets rocked – but it sure helps. There are significant, positive relationships between Stuff and just about every outcome measure. More variable stuff is tied to pitchers who get injured. The Jays have a lot to look forward to in 2017 – and I look forward to quantifying their Stuff along the way.
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