It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down hitter after hitter every time they take the mound. But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost. In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.
Player: LHP Kyle Crockett
Breakdown Time Frame: June 27th to August 8th (2014)
Performance: 0 earned runs over 11.1 innings pitched with 13 strikeouts against only 3 walks and 10 hits, resulting in a 0.00 ERA and 1.15 WHIP
Below the Surface: Kyle Crockett was the first player in the 2013 draft class to reach the majors, with good reason. The perfect storm of ridiculous talent, speedy progression and need at the major league level had him pitching his first game in the big leagues on May 16th, 2014; less than a year after the Tribe selected him in the fourth round of the June amateur draft out of the University of Virginia. He was sent back down due to roster crunches, but then got his chance again on June 13th and has built a fantastic case for a permanent spot in the bullpen. Since June 27th, he has not allowed and earned run. He’s posted a FIP of 2.17 with a 10.32 K/9 ratio during that time while cutting his ERA down by over a run and a half (2.89 on June 24 to 1.31 on August 8th). It’s not just the earned runs that make this streak impressive, though. During that time, he’s also managed to strand 76% of inherited runners.
Crockett, like most left-handed pitchers, has always been tougher vs. lefties, and he’s faced far more lefties than righties since June 27th, so that’s a large part of why he’s doing so well. But another interesting thing to look at is the types of batted balls he’s generated during his streak . His ground ball rate is actually pretty low, at only 39.3%, and his line drive rate is actually higher than league average at 25%. This leaves a fly ball rate of 35.7%; not good in comparison (normally we’d like that to be a lot lower than his ground ball rate). However, in Crockett’s case, fly balls are a good thing. For most pitchers, the dangerous thing about fly balls is that they’re far more likely to turn into doubles, triples and homers. We certainly haven’t had to worry about the homers much with Crockett; he gave up a home run in his first major-league appearance and hasn’t let one up since. When your HR/FB% is 0, fly balls obviously become a bit less intimidating. But to make that fly ball rate even more innocuous, we can note that during his scoreless stretch Crockett generated an infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) of 40%, a number that would seem inhuman if it weren’t such a small sample size. Infield fly ball rate is a statistic that measures the percentage of fly balls that remained in the infield, which we might more commonly refer to as pop-ups. Inducing weak contact on the ground is good
unless you’ve got the Indians defense behind you, but weak pop-ups on the infield are even easier outs, and as an added bonus, runners can’t advance on them. If Crockett can keep inducing weak pop-ups over a larger sample size, he’ll have great success at the major-league level for years to come.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward? It’s hard to imagine much of this changing. Crockett has a fantastic track record in his career of stranding runners, though admittedly most of that career is in the minor leagues and at the University of Virginia. Still, he never allowed more than a run per season at any level of the minors. It would be nearly impossible to maintain the aforementioned 40% IFFB rate, but inducing weak pop-ups can indeed be a skill, as pitchers such as Matt Cain and Jose Quintana have proven in recent years. Such a skill can really come in handy in situations where there’s a runner on third and less than two outs. There’s no reason to think he can’t make use of the skill at a slightly regressed rate. It’s also worth mentioning that his opponents batted .357 on balls in play (BABIP) during his hot streak, a number that’s known to involve a bit of luck. We can probably expect that number to regress to league average, and that will only help Crockett’s dominance. Bottom line, don’t expect him to keep up this scoreless streak forever, but his ceiling as a late-inning major-league reliever is pretty high. Crockett is likely to be a key fixture in the Tribe bullpen who will dominate in high-leverage situations next to Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw for years to come.
Notice a hot streak or slump we haven’t broken down yet? We try to keep an eye out, but we don’t catch everything! If you see a player get hot or cold for a few weeks at a time, and you’d like us to break it down, leave a comment or send us an e-mail to [email protected]