The following is a transcript of a segment from this week's episode of the Statcast™ podcast. To hear more from Statcast™ expert and columnist Mike Petriello and MLB.com director of content Matt Meyers, subscribe by clicking here.
In the theme of pitchers and catchers reporting this week, Petriello and Meyers discuss those positions and who they are most excited to see in 2017.
Petriello: One pitcher I'm excited to see -- we talk about Seth Lugo a lot, as like the King of Spin -- but before Seth Lugo, there was Garrett Richards. In the first season of Statcast™ in 2015, we kind of talked about Garrett Richards the way we talk about Seth Lugo now, because he came out there and he had really high spin on multiple pitches. So if we look at the two seasons of the Statcast™ era, I looked at 261 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 curveballs. Unsurprisingly, Seth Lugo is No. 1. Garrett Richards is No. 2. That's whose record that Seth Lugo broke last year.
You look at four-seamers, it's kind of the same thing. He has the ninth-highest spin rate of 331 pitchers to throw at least 500 fastballs. I mean, that's really, really good. But he only made six starts last year. He's trying to be one of the very few guys who has injured their elbow and rehabbed it. We saw his teammate Andrew Heaney try to do that, and it did not go well. He ended up having Tommy John surgery. Lots of guys have tried it. It's worked for [Masahiro] Tanaka so far. It worked for [Adam] Wainwright for a number of years. It doesn't really work that often.
And if this Angels team is going to be any good, they need [Richards] to be healthy and they need [Tyler] Skaggs to be healthy. They need [Matt] Shoemaker to be healthy. They need all three of them to be healthy and productive. So I hope we get to see that version of Garrett Richards. Because once upon a time, he was one of the most interesting pitchers in baseball.
Meyers: Yeah, and last year around this time, Mike and I had many heated debates about why I thought the White Sox were going to be sneaky good, and for about a month, it looked like I was going to be right -- and then I was clearly wrong.
Petriello: It never looked that way, I'm sorry.
Meyers: Let me have it, Mike.
This year, I'm of the belief that the Angels could be sneaky good. I'm not saying they definitely will be, but I see a clear path to contention for them. It involves a lot of things going right, such as Garrett Richards being able to stay on the mound. But obviously for this prediction to look good, they need Richards to stay on the mound.
Petriello: And Skaggs. And Shoemaker. Let me put it this way: I think their defense is much improved, for sure. And obviously Michael Trout is wonderful. But if we were to do a 1-to-5 ranking of our predictions for each division, and you excluded No. 1 teams -- like obviously the Cubs -- I think Angels/fourth place would be my highest confidence prediction. Because they're better than the A's, but I can't see them being better than those other three teams right now. If everything goes right -- but we talked about this -- if everything goes right for every team, then every team is a World Series contender. There's a lot of risk there.
I think you have one more pitcher to talk about that you're excited about.
Meyers: Yes. The pitcher that I'm excited to see is Marcus Stroman. I sort of expected the breakout last year. It didn't really happen, but he had his moments, and the thing that makes him really interesting is of all pitchers who had 250 batted balls against last year, he had 40 percent that were a negative launch angle, so basically hit straight down. Grounders. And traditional ground-ball percentage, he also led the league: 60 percent. And I think that's just going to be a recipe for a successful pitcher, and he's shown that he can work with that formula.
Obviously sometimes you are subject to the vagaries of balls in play. In this day and age when most starting pitchers are effective via the strikeout, [Stroman] is sort of following a little bit of a different model. There are fewer of these two-seam-type pitchers out there these days, although the Blue Jays have another in Aaron Sanchez. But I'm really interested to see what Stroman can do.
What's interesting about him also from a Statcast™ perspective is that his two-seamer doesn't really have low spin. Usually what you want on a two-seamer -- four-seamer you want high spin for the defied gravity, rising fastball effect -- for a two-seamer, you want low spin so it dives and dips. But his is like 2,200 or 2,250, which is about average.
Petriello: Well, I agree with you on Stroman, but I think for an opposite reason than the one you described.
So a couple weeks ago, I wrote about pitchers I thought would have breakout seasons, and I didn't want to name those guys here -- James Paxton was one, Jon Gray -- and I picked Marcus Stroman, because I agree with you, totally. But what was interesting about him, in the second half of last year, he kind of stopped throwing that two-seamer so much. He started using the slider more. His slider is awesome. He gets ground balls and strikeouts with it, which is a really neat trick to pull off.
So I think that he can still be the ground-ball guy, but you add strikeouts to that -- all of the sudden, that's a star. And I'm really excited to see that. I agree with you. It feels like we're about two seasons past where the breakout should have been, but it's still there. I think it's going to happen this year.