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Unsung Hero: The Next Chapter

Will this season be the beginning of the next chapter? Time will tell.

Zack Godley.
Zack Godley.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

His debut was successful.

In 2015, Zack Godley made his debut in the Majors. On a basic level, his 3.19 ERA was the best of the Diamondbacks’ starters. On an advanced level two stats, K% and GB%, showed an unusual simultaneous excellence in both those statistics.

In 2016, he had a small second-season regression (which is common) before 2017 when he reached his zenith. On a basic level, his 3.37 ERA was great, although starters Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke pitched even better! On an advanced level, K% and GB% continued to shine.

He was an unsung hero.

In December of 2017 AZ Snake Pit fans voted him their unsung hero. Most appreciated was…

“Interestingly, Zack’s MLB walk-rate didn’t change much from 2016 to 2017. It was his strikeout rate which did, improving by a third from 7.2 per nine innings to 9.6, and the key there was Godley’s amazing curveball.” — Jim McLennan

“Only one NL pitcher (min 100 IP) was better than Godley at getting swings and misses on pitches out of the zone. That was team-mate Robbie Ray, and the difference there was more than made up for by Godley being better at inducing those out of zone swings.” — Michael McDermott

“Godley has vastly improved his K% and GB% in essentially one offseason. And the changes are huge: his K% has gone 17.9% to 23.6% and his GB% has gone from 53.8% to 59.9%. And this is where things get interesting - the combination of high GB% and high K% is often very rare. Very rare, in fact, that a certain Brandon Webb was once among the best pitchers in baseball (1 Cy Young and 2 runner-ups) because of just this skillset.” — Sean Testerman

In his article, Jim McLennan made a chart of “…the 15 pitchers in the majors who had more ground-balls than fly-balls across their balls in play. Note how Zack [Godley] gets swings and misses over 30% of the time - nobody else is even at 25%.”

Then his career took some unexpected turns.

Zack Godley’s career success was pleasantly surprising per Nate Rowan’s AZ Snake Pit article.

“2017 also gave Godley his first taste of the postseason. After NLDS Game 1 starter Taijuan Walker allowed 4 runs in the 1st inning to Los Angeles, Godley came in and pitched 5 innings of 2 run ball to keep the D-Backs in the game.” — Nate Rowan

In the 2018 season Zack Godley pitched very well, but his K% fell to league average. Perhaps one cause was lesser results with his cutter, which compliments his amazing curve.

In the 2019 season, he showed an improved cutter. Perhaps due to inconsistency in his ground ball rate, at the end of April, he was moved to the bullpen. In August of 2019, he was designated for assignment. He finished the season with the Blue Jays.

He played the 2020 season with the Red Sox. He played the 2021 season with three minor league teams and the Brewers. He pitched 30 innings for the Nashville Sounds with a 2.40 ERA in 5 starts & one relief appearance.

What do his statistics tell us?

The following table looks at K% and GB% from 2015 to 2021. It shows the following:

  • His GB% was above league average with the Diamondbacks from 2016 to 2019.
  • His K% was above league average in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2021.
  • His best season was 2017, when his K% and GB% were each at least 20% better than the league average.
Data from Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.

Let’s look his knuckle curve and cutter fastball from 2015 to 2021. The following table shows:

  • The ratio of knuckle curves to cut fastballs fell from 2.3 (Diamondbacks from 2017 to 2019) to 0.9 (3 other teams from 2019 to 2021). His effectiveness of knuckle curves went down while the effectiveness of his cut fastball went up.
  • His knuckle curves had a better wOBA for the Diamondbacks (ranging from .200 to .297) than the other 3 teams (ranging from .407 to .570).
  • His cut fastball had a worse wOBA for the Diamondbacks (ranging from .265 to .421) than the other 3 teams (ranging from .215 to .327).
  • His overall wOBA for all pitches was worse in 2020 and 2021
Data from Baseball Savant.

The next chapter happens this season.

The Reds signed Zack Godley to a minor league deal. This season, he has a real opportunity to win their fifth starting position. Update - The Reds traded away Sonny Gray for Chase Petty (pitching prospect drafted in the first round of the 2021 draft), which opened a second spot in their rotation.

In 2021, six pitchers will competing for the fourth & fifth rotation spots. They pitched very few innings in the Majors (the total of all six is 16 innings). In 2021, one of the six, Ben Lively, pitched 21 innings for the KBO. Several of the six could be considered depth in AAA to join the rotation if an injury happens.

Will Zack Godley make the adjustments needed to win a spot in the Reds’ rotation? Will this season be the beginning of his next chapter? Time will tell.