Maybe you didn’t notice what Xander Bogaerts’ home run in the seventh meant. Cooperstown won’t be asking for the ball and few fans will be telling their kids where they were when it happened. So, maybe it was just the moment that took the Red Sox from a likely win to an almost certain win. But it was also the end of Nick Goody’s 20.1 consecutive innings streak without allowing an earned run. It was the end of Nick Goody’s quiet run as the most dominant reliever on the team.
As a team, the Tribe has the third best bullpen in baseball by fWAR, just behind the Yankees and Rays, and five individuals populate the top 75 in fWAR (minimum 20 IP applied for all reliever leaderboards). In terms of win probability added — you know, exactly what you’d hope relievers might provide — five players in Cleveland’s bullpen show up in the top 40. This is a special group.
Brad Hand has been the most buzzed about as he’s converted 29 of 33 save opportunities. But everyone knows that Hand is good; his excellence speaks for itself. I want to talk about the player who still has the best barrels per plate appearance in all of baseball (even that Bogaerts home run wasn’t barreled).
I want to talk about Nick Goody.
When Francona called on him for the ninth last Friday, I was a bit surprised. Nick Wittgren has been the guy for these moments, right? In 40 appearances, he’s got a 2.62/3.37/3.87 ERA/FIP/xFIP split and 0.8 fWAR, that’s really good for a setup guy.
Apparently I’ve been paying attention, but not close enough, because Goody was perfect for this situation. In spite of showing his mortality on Wednesday afternoon, Goody’s streak of 20.1 innings without an earned run allowed, dating back to June 23, is the fifth longest such streak in 2019 and less than two full innings from the longest this year.
On the season he’s been worth 0.6 fWAR, with a 2.15/3.36/4.33 ERA/FIP/xFIP split, K-BB% of 20.3%, HR/9 rate of 0.92, and hard contact allowed of just 33.8%, including no barrels whatsoever (0%, amazing every time I write it). During his no-earned-run streak, of course, he was even better, limiting opponents to just nine hits (three extra-base hits), upping his K-BB% to 24.7%, and keeping hard contact down to 26.7%.
This kind of performance was anything but guaranteed as Goody worked back from his arthroscopic elbow surgery that cost him most of 2018. He had been a big part of the 2017 bullpen, throwing 54.2 innings to the tune of a 2.80/3.45/3.74 ERA/FIP/xFIP. That was good for 0.7 fWAR, which speaks to how good he’s been this year.
Goody started 2019 late, still rehabbing the elbow, and when he got back in game action he looked like what you’d expect from a late starter. His rehab at Columbus, 24.1 innings, saw him notch a 7.77 ERA with eye-watering HR/FB and walk rates. And when he was recalled to Cleveland on June 5, well it wasn’t always so clean. He gave up a home run in his first appearance and proceeded to give up three more runs in 8.2 innings between June 5 and 23, good for an ERA of 4.15. He was not helped in that span by his inability to induce soft contact, with 40% considered medium and 45% of balls hit hard.
The turnaround has come with increased velocity. In those first few appearances, Goody’s fastball was stuck around 91 mph, but since then he’s consistently lived at 93 and even hit a new maximum velocity, touching 95.14 mph on July 27. To go with increased velocity on the fastball, Goody’s slider has reached a new horizontal extreme this year, moving greater than five inches consistently (compared to an average of 3.8 in 2017).
Goody has always worked with the same two pitches, his four-seamer and his slider, but he’s made them better in 2019. Per FanGraphs, his weighted values per 100 pitches clock in at 0.28 for the fastball and 3.72 for the slider this season, the latter being a career high (by a long shot); for reference, his slider is the 16th best among all relievers (minimum 20 IP). Goody checks in at 62nd among relievers in fWAR at 0.6, a heck of a total for a guy most often working the seventh inning.
Because of his injury last year, it’s obvious the Tribe are taking care with Goody this year; for instance, he was not called upon for Tuesday’s extra-innings battle after pitching four innings between August 7 and 11. When he’s called upon, however, Goody has been on the money, and given the way his fastball and slider are playing right now, high-leverage innings seem to be in good hands when he takes the mound.