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Just How God is Godley?

Haha, get it? I'll see myself out.

Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Well, if you've made it this far, you've made it past the worst pun of all time that is this post's title. But the thing is this - it may not actually be that much of an exaggeration.

On June 27th, I made a post that compared Zack Godley to Brandon Webb, noting that their elite groundball rates and above-average strikeout rates were exceptionally uncommon among starting pitchers - and a strong indicator of success. At the end of the article, I noted:

The real question now: what can Godley sustain and can he develop himself going forward? Between his sinker and his elite curveball, Godley looks to be able to sustain good GB and strikeout rates, but just how good will they be? I would say that he looks to be at least a #2 going forward. But Webb didn’t turn into the ace that he was until he developed that changeup.

So, how has Godley done since June 27th?

Godley Before/After June 27th

Dates IP K% BB% GB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Dates IP K% BB% GB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Before June 27th 57 23.60% 7.70% 59.90% 0.63 2.53 3.19
After June 27th 31.1 30.70% 7.90% 52.80% 0.57 4.02 2.74

As I surmised in my previous post, Godley's GB% has dropped a bit. What I did not expect, however, was a huge surge in K% which led to a drop in his already-good 3.19 FIP. Keep in mind, we're still looking at small samples here (which I just split in half) which explains the 4.02 ERA after June 27th (thanks to a rough game in Atlanta), but it means we need to tread carefully with any of the numbers in the table above.

If you put the whole season together, though, Godley looks great: Among pitchers with at least 80 IP, Godley ranks 20th in WAR (both fWAR and bWAR, incidentally), 17th in K%, 6th in GB%, 6th (!!) in HR/9, and 9th in Hard%. Godley is now combining borderline elite strikeout rates with fantastic batted ball data - lots of grounders, great home run suppression, and lots of weak contact.

And it gets better when you put it all together as a rate stat. By WAR/200IP (e.g. the amount of WAR the pitcher would generate over 200 innings), Godley is 8th by fWAR and 6th by bWAR. That's pretty Godly. On a purely rate basis, Zack Godley has been the best Diamondbacks starter this season.

So how is Godley doing this? Interestingly enough, it's not because of his sinker. It's still a solid pitch because of the grounders it gets (and, presumably, how it sets up the rest of his arsenal), but it doesn't have high swing or whiff rates. It actually rates as a slightly below average pitch.

However, the rest of Godley's pitching mix has been, well, freaking amazing:

Godley Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Val/C MLB Rank
Pitch Val/C MLB Rank
Cutter 2.11 1st
Curveball 2.88 1st
Changeup 0.7 31st
Minimum 50 pitches

The cutter might be the most underrated portion of Godley's game, which might be why he's been steadily increasing its usage throughout this season:

The cutter has been a great pitch for Godley this season. Per Baseball Prospectus (min. 200 pitches), it has the 8th-highest whiff rate, 6th-highest swing rate, and the 7th lowest TAv (which is their version of wRC+). It has everything you want in a pitch: lots of whiffs (which are amplified by the higher swing rate) and minimal offensive damage when contact is made.

We can't forget about the curveball! His curveball has the SECOND-highest whiff rate in the MLB (behind only Jon Lester) in addition to the 5th-highest swing rate and 10th-lowest TAv. Again, same story, lots and lots of swinging strikes while minimizing batted ball contact.

But I want to move on to Godley's changeup. Per the table above, it didn't look like much of a standout pitch, ranking only 31st on a rate basis. Baseball Prospectus, however, might paint a different picture (minimum # of pitches dropped to 100 since Godley has thrown less; these rankings out of 118 SPs). By TAv, Godley is 17th, so that's pretty good. However, out of 118 starting pitchers that have thrown at least 100 changeups this year, Godley has the THIRD-highest whiff rate, behind Strasburg and Jacob Faria (who?). It also has the second-highest GB% and only a .050 ISO, so it's not generating hard contact, either.

So what's the problem? Batters aren't swinging a lot - it has the third-lowest swing rate among the changeups in this group - and that is why his pitch value is only rated as 31st. I take all of this as a positive sign, though, and I would like to see him throw more changeups. It has the makings of an elite pitch.

There is one stat that I wanted to save for last because I think it really sums up the exact potential we're seeing here out of Zack Godley:

2017 MLB SwStr% Leaders

Pitcher SwStr% GB%
Pitcher SwStr% GB%
Corey Kluber 16.20% 47.70%
Max Scherzer 16.10% 37.10%
Chris Sale 15.80% 36.30%
Masahiro Tanaka 14.80% 49.60%
Zack Godley 14.20% 57.50%
Clayton Kershaw 14.00% 47.40%
Jacob DeGrom 13.70% 45.20%
Chris Archer 13.60% 41.40%
Robbie Ray 13.20% 38.90%
Zack Greinke 13.20% 47.30%
Starting Pitchers, Minimum 80 IP

Look at all of the names on this list. This is a colletion of pretty much the best MLB starting pitchers right now. And right in the middle, in freaking fifth place, is Zack Godley. But then look at the second column - not a single one of these pitchers has a GB% over 50% except Godley, who is sitting pretty at 57.5%. I don't have the words to describe how insane this is suddenly becoming and how under-the-radar Godley still is.

Let's do a breakdown of Godley's history:

  • Remember how we just traded Jeferson Mejia for Adam Rosales, a shortstop with -0.1 bWAR? Jeferson Mejia was the main return in our Miguel Montero trade - Zack Godley was a throw-in.
  • In 2015, Godley made his MLB debut, becoming the first pitcher to throw at least six scoreless innings with at least seven strikeouts and no walks since 1990.
  • However, over 2015 and 2016, Godley posted average strikeout numbers, below-average walk numbers, and about average groundball rates as a very cutter-heavy pitcher. As a result, he bounced back-and-forth to the minors and never really cemented as anything special.
  • In 2017, Godley reinvents himself and currently has the 5th highest SwStr% and 6th highest GB% in the game while maintaining a better-than-average walk rate.

It's pretty obvious to see why Godley isn't getting the attention that he deserves. Most people are skeptical (and rightfully so) when a random player has a breakout, especially at Godley's age. But we've already seen articles about how good Godley's curveball is. The data is painting a very similar picture for his cutter and changeup.

We're sitting on something incredibly special in Zack Godley. He's got about an average sinker, two elite pitches (cutter and curveball), and a potential third (changeup) in the works. We have him under team control for FIVE more years. The only downside is that Godley is already 27.

Take a moment and think about how great Brandon Webb was. Won one Cy Young and finished second twice. Godley is suddenly looking like he can be better than Brandon Webb. I know these are incredibly bold words but Webb never showed anything close to the strikeout potential Godley is showing.

The best Diamondbacks pitcher may not be Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray. It might be Zack Godley. It might only last a few years, but this ride might be very, very special.