In the same way that hitting the ball hard as often as possible is a good thing for hitters, suppressing hard-hit balls is a great way for pitchers to make a living.
And in the same way that we’ve gained more understanding of hitters’ ability to do that, we’ve also been introduced to advanced metrics that tell us how well pitchers keep hitters from making solid contact.
Does it automatically mean success? No, but it’s part of the equation, and all six of the pitchers at the top of the leaderboard have had varying degrees of success this season.
Let’s take a look at the leaders, and what we might be able to glean from their standout ability in relation to their seasons as a whole.
Editor’s Note: Stay ahead of the competition from wire to wire with rankings, customizable projections, trade evaluator, exclusive columns and more in our Season Pass. And start using optimized lineups on Yahoo!, DraftKings and FanDuel with our DFS Toolkit!.
Among pitchers with at least 150 batted ball events, Alcantara leads the league with an average exit velocity of 84.9 mph. And he’s had some stellar outings that speak to that ability -- notably the eight scoreless innings he threw against the Rockies in his season debut, and a two-hit shutout of the Mets a few days ago. That’s the good. The bad, then, is that virtually every other outing this year has been subpar, yielding a forgettable 4.50 ERA. Not what you want from the poster boy for opponent exit velocity. Alcantara’s issues seem to be twofold: he both walks too many, and doesn’t generate enough strikeouts. Despite a 95-mph fastball that surely helps him keep that exit velocity in check, he rates out poorly in the CSW metric measured by Pitcher List and is striking out shy of 16 percent of batters faced. The ability to depress exit velocity is a great tool to have in his bag, but until the 23-year-old starts getting some outs that aren’t put in play, he’ll remain a volatile pitcher.
Now we get to the stars, right? Well, maybe not exclusively, but the soon-to-be 25-year-old surely fits the bill. Berrios ranks behind only Alcantara in average exit velocity at 85.5 mph, and unlike Alcantara, Berrios is bringing more to the table than just heat. Berrios has struck out 22 percent of batters faced while walking a microscopic 3.8 percent, and he’s got a 3.20 ERA in 11 starts. Part of Berrios’ success in the batted ball department likely stems from the fact that he’s getting more batters to swing at pitches out of the zone, and they’re making more contact with those pitches as well. Getting a batter to swing at and hit your pitch is a boon for soft contact. He has yet to really put it all together for that dominant, ace-like season, but with so many weapons at his disposal, the question is likely when, not if.
And now for something completely different, we have Williams. The right-hander isn’t a fantasy stud or a metrics darling because he doesn’t strike out a lot of guys and doesn’t have elite stuff, but in the midst of his third season of doing what he does -- inducing soft contact, suppressing runs -- perhaps it’s time to start giving him some credit. After posting a 3.11 ERA over 31 starts last season it was easy to write him off as fluky, what with his relatively low BABIP and his above-average ability to limit homers, but this year he’s the owner of a 3.33 ERA through nine starts with a more reasonable BABIP and even fewer home runs per fly ball than last year. The lack of strikeout ability is always going to limit his ultimate ceiling and make him susceptible to the whims of a round bat hitting a round ball, so we’re not talking about a guy who’s likely to hold even his current 3.33 ERA at season’s end. It’s probably at the point where we can expect him to have an ERA south of 4.00, though, with the requisite wins and quality starts that go with it, and there’s some value in that.
One of this season’s most pleasant surprises is Perez, who’s ridden a new, elite-level cutter and a few extra ticks of velocity to new heights despite this being his age 28 season. The southpaw has gained nearly 2 mph on his fastball while throwing the cutter one-third of the time with devastating results, including the 86 mph average exit velocity that ranks fourth-lowest among qualified pitchers. Unlike some others on this list, strikeouts are also a part of Perez’s new look, helping him to a 2.95 ERA and 3.67 FIP across 58 innings of work. It almost seems unfair to pin so much of his success to one pitch, but the numbers bear it out: Martin Perez was a bad -- not even pedestrian; bad -- pitcher as recently as 2018, and now, he’s one of the best in the league through the season’s first two months. Until batters learn to hit the new cutter or Perez forgets how to throw it, this success appears legitimate and here to stay, too.
Lucchesi is another example of a guy who, like Alcantara, seems to have a lot going for him on paper but who has yet to fully figure it out. The southpaw is both among the best in the league at keeping exit velocity down and is also striking out nearly one-fourth of the batters he sees, but his 4.25 ERA says there’s still work to be done. Unlike Alcantara, Lucchesi’s problem isn’t walks so much as it is dingers, of which he’s allowed seven in 55 innings thus far this season. That may speak to a control issue, and could also lend less credence to the idea that he’ll remain on this list for long. He’s doesn’t have a long track record, after all, and in his first full year in the bigs Lucchesi had an 88.3 mph average exit velocity, which would put him 33rd out of 69 qualified starters this season, squarely in the middle of the pack. He’s throwing his third pitch, a cutter, more often than he did last year, which should help keep hitters off balance, but he’s still too inconsistent to have sustained success. Of the guys on this list, the smart money is on Lucchesi to be the one to drop off before year’s end.
Lynn was an absolute afterthought as recently as May 4 when, after a win over the Blue Jays, he held a 5.75 ERA in seven starts. He’s since turned in three straight quality starts and has four in his last five outings, and his 4.67 ERA is contrasted with a 3.48 FIP on the season. Lynn has long been fastball-heavy, but this year he’s mixed his three fastballs -- a four-seamer, a sinker and a cutter -- more evenly, with better results. A .335 BABIP adds even more fuel to the idea that Lynn has nowhere to go but up. Buyers beware, though -- he pitches in a hitter’s park in Arlington and has one of the league’s worst defenses behind him. Depressed exit velocity or not, there will be some frustration with relying on Lynn based solely on his surroundings. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be streamed or even used regularly over the next few weeks as long as he continues to go well, but he may ultimately be best-used as a matchup-contingent streamer in most leagues.