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How long can Zach Plesac be this good?

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A look beyond Zach Plesac’s excellent surface numbers

MLB: AUG 07 Rangers at Indians - Game 1 Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After starting the season in Double-A Akron, Zach Plesac has given plenty of reason to believe in him. With a 3.41 ERA and a .213 average against, one could almost see him as the next young rising star in the Indians rotation. The eye test clears Plesac easier, between his live fastball and one of the best pickoff moves in baseball.

Obviously, we’re smarter than this, and we like more context. That’s where things get dicey on the promising rookie.

Plesac boasts an unsustainable .221 BABIP, and as far as quality of contact, perhaps a graphic would tell the story best:

Baseball Savant

Not great, especially with a 5.23 FIP and 5.22 xFIP.

Plesac’s .341 xwOBA places him 41st in baseball, in between Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris. For your consideration, the MLB average xwOBA is .319. His .308 actual wOBA (-.033) gives him the fourth-largest difference among pitchers who have faced 250+ hitters.

If there is an encouraging sign within the 24-year-old’s expected stats, it is that there is less of a discrepancy between his slugging against and expected slugging (-.028). This indicates that the total damage against him would not be far greater than what he has already suffered.

Pleasac’s uncharacteristic 9.4% walk rate also adds rather heavily to his xwOBA, which also indicates some positive regression among more of the less promising signs. Unfortunately, we cannot just assume it will regress towards his sub-6% walk rates of the past.

The righty does not have a ton of plus-stuff, as indicated by his Statcast profile. Plesac’s fastball is somewhere between effective and electric, though it lacks even average spin rate. He often uses it as his put-away pitch, to the tune of 28 of his 47 strikeouts on the year. It is his only pitch above league average in terms of both vertical and horizontal break.

Without putting too much weight into pitch values through 66 innings, Plesac has had success with his changeup and slider. They each lack much spin, too, though less spin can positively impact off-speed pitches in different cases. Regardless, he needs more than his fastball to survive.

Yet without a ton of plus offerings, and considering the quality of contact against him, it is hard to see a ton of upside in the current version of Plesac. In one regard, that is OK, considering his youth. Otherwise, considering the state of the Indians and what they have to play for yet, things get a little dicey.

Compared to the two years prior for the Cleveland Indians, trading a starting pitcher made least sense in 2019. With no divisional cushion, and numerous issues afflicting the stable of starters, the Tribe starting five was more a patchwork held together with Elmer’s Glue, standing on a relatively strong foundation. Yet Chris Antonetti jettisoned the team’s only proven starter not to spend time on the disabled list this season, and one would infer that he did so with confidence in what remained.

In no way does Plesac’s underwhelming profile render the Trevor Bauer trade any worse. The team still dealt from a position of strength, and added considerably at positions of need. In a perfect world, the trade never would have been needed, but the Indians’ world is far from perfect.

They will still count on a lot to go right with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco to make waves in the postseason, but counting on Plesac does not seem to be a surefire bet either. With Jefry Rodriguez still working his way back, Danny Salazar likely not coming back, and Adam Plutko being what Adam Plutko is, Plesac and Aaron Civale remain hopeful youth.