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How is Nick Goody so good?

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The relief pitcher emerged from nowhere to be a valuable tool for the Indians. Is he any good?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Goody finally gave up some runs this past weekend, ending a very weird little period in the saga of the 2017 Indians bullpen. Sure, sample size and all, but it was just weird that Andrew Miller didn't have the lowest ERA. Now Goody has tumbled all the way down to... second best ERA in the Indians bullpen. Surely this is much more maintainable, though hopefully not because everyone else decides to start working on their batting practice fastball. That would be taxing to Miller. But what's the deal with Nick Goody? He's not really this good, is he?

This whole question stems from the fact that Goody this year has a .43 ERA, compared to a 4.66 ERA a year ago. His DRA (Deserved Run Average, calculated by Baseball Prospectus) last eyar was 5.97, compared to 3.44 this season. Bullpens are fickle by their very nature, so there could just be a bunch of noise and this is all silliness and sample size. After all, he has a grand total of 55 2/3 career big league innings. Even in just a glimpse though, we see some truth. There’s glimmers in Goody.

Goody is a two-pitch pitcher, the very four-seam/slider combo that has been perfected by his teammate Miller. Unlike Miller though, Goody doesn't have that Grim Reaper breaking pitch, nor does he tickle 98 on a good day with his fastball. His four-seam is essentially league average at about 92 mph, and his slider is in the mid-80's with middling movement. And yet, he's striking out nearly 30 percent of hitters and has given up that one earned run. He's amassed nearly the same the innings pitched this year compared to his 2016 season (21 this year, 29 last season) and has thrown more than half the number of pitches (298 against 535) compared to a year ago. It's probably not enough to judge a pitcher in general, but it's definitely representative against last year.

For a pitcher of Goody's middling stuff, one must look elsewhere to see if there is change that is making him better. My first thought was pitch mix. However...

Nick Goody pitch usage

Year Fastball Usage Slider Usage
Year Fastball Usage Slider Usage
2016 52.15% 47.85%
2017 50.34% 49.66

He definitely hasn't gone insanely in one direction or the other, but at the same time this equalizing of his pitches could be quite helpful. Four or five points in pitching is a real thing, and it can mean a meatball per outing traded out for something off-speed with movement. Goody's pitch mix is still so close to being the same, it's hard to believe it's caused him to become Pitch God. So we dig deeper. Here's how he used his pitches last year depending on count:

And here's this year:

When I found this, it unsettled me for some reason. I thought I’d clicked the wrong button. It's just so similar. You'd think there'd be some divergence since to this point his 2017 has been so divergent from his career to this point. But no, he is quite predictable. This is who he is. As I mentioned when discussing the difficulty of forecasting what you'll see from Andrew Miller, Goody throwing an even split of two pitches could make him harder to plan against. Basically unless you work a deep hitter’s count, it’s a total coinflip every pitch.

There's two obvious reasons we could go with for Goody's subterranean ERA. First, he's been "lucky". Meaning, he has a .191 BABIP right now. Not only is that woefully untenable even with Francisco Lindor (even with five Francisco Lindors, no matter how amazing that reality would be), the run he gave up was a homer. Those, by their nature of going out of play, are not included in BABIP. There will be regression in the future for Goody. Last year his BABIP was only .311 though, so it’s not as though he was super unlucky. He just wasn’t good. But based on other factors, mainly his strikeout rate and lowered walk rate, he he should . That walk rate, a mere 6.5 percent, gives him a K%-BB% sandwiched between the Padres' Brad Hand and the Cubs Brian Duensing and is 25th among all relievers. Both have been very good for their own teams, not that you’d notice Hand in particular since Padres. He’s got a 2.19 DRA along with a 1.64 ERA and 2.69 FIP, while Duensing packs a 3.20 DRA with a 3.04 ERA and 3.17 FIP. This tells me there’s success to be found in Goody.

He’s also found success in creating less damaging types of batted ball compared to a year ago. His ground ball rate is up nearly 10 points to 31.9 percent while his line drive rate has fallen nearly seven points to 14.9 percent. He’s a fly ball pitcher (53 percent fly ball rate) which is bad news in the AL East and Yankee Stadium in particular. In Progressive Field though, that works in his favor, as well as Target Field and Comerica Park. Whether it’s locating better (and I have no evidence showing that) or just better situation, he’s definitely controlling hitters better.

It’s hard to really understand how a guy with pretty middle of the road stuff is having such a good year other than “sample size” but this is two years now where he’s gotten more than 25 percent of hitters out. I like to think his equalizing his pitch usage to such an extreme degree has allowed him to actually throw the ball out of the zone more (46 percent of the time he hits the zone, compared to 48 a year ago) and keep hitters truly off balance. Really good hitters are going to get him eventually, and he’ll shape up to be maybe the fifth best reliever in the bullpen by the end of the year. Which isn’t his fault simply because the Indians have a bunch of good relievers. But for a guy who seemed to come from literally nowhere and kind of looks like he just bluffed his way onto the mound, he’s done a great job of making the team keep him around. Unlike Miller or Allen, he simply uses wiles to get by. That’s neat. It’s hard to do, but it’s neat. Nick Goody is neat.