Alright, it’s time for me to finally shove some more Nick Pivetta down all of your throats. Can you believe I haven’t once written about him since his switch to the bullpen and run of absolute dominance? Apologies to everyone who’s been apprehensively waiting for this one, but the moment is finally here, and it’s glorious.
In case you live under a rock and missed it, Pivetta set a few records in his lights-out relief appearance against the Oakland A’s on Monday. His 13 strikeouts in relief—accumulated over six innings— set a franchise record, and he decided to tack on a Major League record just for the fun of it. Pivetta’s 13 strikeouts without allowing a hit in relief were the most by a pitcher in the majors since the mound was set at its current distance in 1893.
After accumulating a 6.30 ERA in about two months of starts, Pivetta has completely turned his season—and possibly his career—around. Even with inflated numbers to start the season, he currently holds career highs in season ERA, WHIP, average against, BABIP against, and ERA-. So, what has changed since his move to the bullpen? Not much appears different when you look at his pitch usage, velocity, movement, and the like, besides one new addition.
In May, Pivetta switched out a splitter that he’s thrown for his entire career for a sweeper. Though its velocity and vertical movement compares closely to that of his splitter, everything else about this new addition has completely changed. Its spin rate has gone from an average of 1,000-1,200 with the splitter to ~2,400 with this new pitch. Its usage has risen a bit each month, as it started at less than 1% when he barely picked it up in May and it now sits at 7.8% so far in July.
The pitch now has the most average horizontal break of any pitch in his arsenal (12-14 inches), more than his retooled curveball, and much more than his splitter which had an average break of -4 inches.
Much more important than these changes are the results that he’s achieving with this pitch. Of all of his pitch types this season, the sweeper has the lowest AVG, xBA, SLG, xSLG, wOBA, xWOBA, and Whiff%. These results are significant, but it should be kept in mind that over the course of the season, Pivetta has only thrown it 2.5% of the time. Still though, as the usage has climbed each month, the results have stayed the same, or improved, so these results aren’t just due to hitters being confused by the pitch with its initial introduction.
But what does this mean? Is the introduction of this sweeper the saving grace for Pivetta? Probably not, but it’s certainly not hurting. Last season, he threw his split-finger at a similar rate (2.2% of the time), but the results were drastically different, as opponents hit .529 on it, with a .401 xBA, 1.059 SLG, and a .672 wOBA. It was also his hardest-hit pitch, with an average exit velocity of 96 mph.
As previously stated, it is very unlikely that the introduction of this pitch saved Pivetta’s season, but it does almost directly coincide—timewise— to his move to the bullpen, which is the other factor to his complete resurgence as a trustworthy inning eater. So how has he changed statistically since his move to the pen? Let’s take a look.
Pivetta has had a complete overhaul of his numbers across the board. He’s thriving in the bullpen, really saving the Red Sox in this time of need with so many problems with injury and/or sucking within the rotation (I’m looking at you Corey Kluber). Not only has he been a statistical leader in the clubhouse, but he holds some impressive positions across league statistical leaderboards as well.
Nick Pivetta’s MLB rankings since his first relief appearance on May 21 (min. 30.0 IP):— J.P. Long (@SoxNotes) July 18, 2023
.124 opponent AVG (1st of 137)
0.83 WHIP (1st)
2.31 ERA (8th, 1st in AL)
13.37 SO/9.0 IP (4th, 2nd in AL)
Possibly most importantly, these results aren’t just the product of a new pitch, but rather his own mental adjustment in being designated to a new role. We’ve seen a fair share of starter- turned-relievers develop the yips before or after their transition and begin to distrust themselves, but for Pivetta the exact opposite seems to have happened.
I have clearly never been a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. Still, I’ve watched plenty of games across my lifetime—as have all of you—which show in their own right the completely different routines between that of a starter and a reliever. I would imagine that making the switch after having spent the majority of your career in a specific role is not an easy to do, and even Pivetta didn’t want to give up his own spot in the rotation. But, he completely accepted his new role, turned it into an opportunity to positively contribute to a team on the cusp, and has run with it—despite accusations that he was not a team player for expressing less than excitement for his new position within the team.
There is undoubtedly not a single person on this planet that takes more joy from this complete turnaround than me—besides maybe like his wife or mom, I guess. It doesn’t matter what his role is in the coming months (though I do believe if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), he has shown what he can truly be, and even without the title of starter, he has provided long outings, eaten innings, worked with openers, or entered high leverage situations whenever needed.
This change was a very smart move on Boston’s part, as any increased versatility that he can provide is a clear plus since he is such a determined, focused, and especially competitive player. So cheers to you, Nick. For turning it around when most people gave up on you, talked about DFAing you, or requested you be non-tendered next year. Just don’t forget, I always believed.
One note just for fun: since I wrote my letter of encouragement to him on this very site—which he clearly read and now has hanging in his locker as a point of inspiration— he has an ERA of 2.90, compared to 6.23 prior, so you all have me to thank.