Middle of the order hitters (lineup spots 3–5) had a Well-Hit Avg of just .056 (3/54) against Aroldis Chapman in 2016. (MLB Rank: 3rd of 170 qualified RP; League Avg: .166)
Chapman inked an unprecedented five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees to match his unprecedented triple-digit heat. The lefty’s work against opposing teams’ most lethal hitters certainly helps his case for landing the richest relief contract of all time. Chapman’s opponent Well-Hit Average against the heart of the order (lineup spots 3–5) is actually far lower than his overall Well-Hit Average in 2016 (.108). He didn’t surrender even one extra-base hit against batters in those lineup spots. Would-be sluggers just can’t lay off his stuff: middle-of-the-order hitters chased 44.4% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, compared to Chapman’s overall 33.3% opponent chase rate in 2016.
Right-handed batters struck out 112 times in 346 PA (32.4%) against Rich Hill in 2016. (MLB Rank: 3rd of 142 qualified SP; League Avg: 20.6%)
Not that long ago, Hill was a control-challenged lefty specialist who flamed out of organized baseball and ended up in the Atlantic League. Now, the Long Island Duck turned top free agent starter is nails against lefties (.522 OPS against in 2016) and righties (.532 OPS) alike, helping him earn a three-year, $48 million deal to stay in LA. Hill’s signature curveball baffles all hitters, but his fastball was dramatically more effective against opposite-handed batters last year:
Hill’s Fastball by Batter Side, 2016
Kenley Jansen had a Strike Pct of 72.3% (724/1002) in 2016. (MLB Rank: this leads MLB of 170 qualified RP; League Avg: 63.3%)
Jansen might not sport triple-digit velocity like Chapman, but he has made his own case to be paid $15-plus million per year thanks to his exquisite control. The converted catcher pounded the strike zone in early ball-strike counts (61.8% of his pitches were thrown in the strike zone in such situations, compared to the 46.2% MLB average for relievers), and then lured hitters into chasing off the plate once he had the advantage. Opponents chased 45.2% of Jansen’s pitches once they were behind in the count last season, well above to the 38.8% average for all MLB relievers.
Opponents hit 32 groundballs out of 39 balls in play (82.1% Groundball Pct) against Mark Melancon’s non-fastballs in 2016. (MLB Rank: this leads league of 155 qualified RP; League Avg: 47.8%)
While Melancon doesn’t fit the fire-breathing closer archetype, the newly-signed Giant has achieved elite results by being historically stingy with the long ball. Among relievers with at least 400 career innings pitched during the new millennium, The Shark has surrendered the eighth-lowest home runs per nine frames (0.5). Hitters struggle to get Melancon’s cutter and curveball off the ground, much less go deep, because he buries those offerings at their knees. Melancon tossed 78.3% of his non-fastballs to the lower third of the strike zone in 2016, compared to the 68.3% MLB average for relievers.
Ivan Nova has not allowed a walk in his last 83 PA’s against a RHH dating back to September 3, 2016 (Miguel Gonzalez has the longest active streak with 140).
Timing is everything when it comes to free agency, and nobody had a better-timed breakout in 2016 than Ivan Nova. Upon being traded from the Bronx to Pittsburgh last summer, Nova morphed into a latter-day Greg Maddux (he issued 0.42 BB/9 with the Pirates, compared to 2.31 BB/9 with the Yankees). He nibbled in New York (39.6% of pitches thrown in the strike zone), but he showed better control of and trust in his stuff after being dealt to the Bucs (49% in-zone rate).