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Zack Godley trying to prove that he belongs in the majors

After a couple seasons of going up and down from Reno to Phoenix, Godley is looking to make his current MLB stint permanent.

The Diamondbacks rotation took a huge hit on April 23 when Shelby Miller tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in the 5th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Miller has since gotten Tommy John Surgery, leaving a hole in the rotation. The Diamondbacks called up two pitchers to try to fill that hole, Braden Shipley and Zack Godley. Godley got the first turn on April 26 against the San Diego Padres. After getting sent down and a terrible game from Shipley against the Nationals, Godley was given a second crack at it. Two starts later, the competition is likely over.

Godley’s last two starts have added up to 13 2/3 innings, 6 H, 2 R (2 ER), 6 BB (1 IBB), 13 K, and a lot of ground balls. The Diamondbacks are 2-0 in those starts, because Godley gives them a chance to win every time he’s out there. Godley features 4 pitches: sinker, cutter, knuckle-curve, and a change-up. His best pitches are the cutter and the curve, the latter being a 70-grade curveball in my opinion. The curveball is the one consistent out pitch, generating a whiff rate of 26.88% overall and batters coming up empty on half their swings against that pitch while getting ground balls on about 45% of the balls in play.

Another facet of his game that I like is his pitches play off each other very well. His fastball, change-up, and curveball have similar tunneling effects, which makes it tough for batters to pick up. When the release points become more consistent with each of his pitches, his stuff will get even better. Since his curveball looks similar to his cutter coming out of the hand, that two-pitch combo is a very effective weapon against left-handed hitters when he comes inside. When they cheat inside, then that sets up the change-up away for ground balls to the pull side or swinging strikes. With the four-pitch mix he has, Godley can play the in-out and up-down game on the mound, although down and to the glove side is where he’ll live in most of his starts.

When Godley is going well, batters see a lot of pitches at the very bottom of the strike zone and below, where all they’re going to do with the pitch is beat it into the ground. That’s resulted in a ground ball rate of 73.2% and an average exit velocity of 79.5 MPH on ground balls. Those translate into a lot of outs when the ball is in play, which is why hitters have a .186 BABIP against him in 3 starts. I think part of that is due to the league not being familiar with Godley since he’s only pitched 130 innings at the MLB level. It will be interesting to see how teams adjust when they get a 2nd and 3rd look at him.

The biggest issue for Godley has been and will likely be command. Godley has been a high strikeout, high walk pitcher in the Diamondbacks organization. He’s currently holding a 26.4% strikeout rate and a 12.5% walk rate. The 13.9% difference if maintained would be a career-best, but I’m very skeptical about sustained success when a pitcher has a walk rate greater than 10%. Godley’s walk rate isn’t very good, but he’s been able to minimize the impact of walks by getting double play balls or missing bats. Against teams with a better approach at the plate, that could be a problem.

For some players, all it takes is an opportunity in order to establish themselves. Godley is making the most of his opportunities with back-to-back quality starts. His ability to attack the bottom of the zone has resulted in weak contact and ground ball outs against opposing lineups. However, the big issue for Godley and the biggest obstacle to sustained excellence on the mound is command and walks. That needs to improve for Godley to remain a permanent fixture of the rotation. For all the people that believed his future was in the bullpen, including me, he’s earned the opportunity to prove us wrong.