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Zach Plesac is racing toward acedom

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Four starts, including two against the best offense in the American League, are showing a guy who is much more than the sum of his parts

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Workouts Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago White Sox are an incredible offensive team. They’re no worse than third in baseball in wRC+, offensive WAR, isolated slugging, home runs, runs scored, the list goes on. They pace the entire American League in all these stats too, with comfortable leads across the board. The pitching might still need a bit of work, but it’s pretty evident their rebuild is coming together pretty nicely. They are a terror to opposing pitchers.

Except, it appears, one solitary man. Zach Plesac has faced the White Sox for 14 innings across two starts. That’s more than any other pitcher that’s seen them, so you’d think Chicago would have gotten a hang of him. After all, familiarity breeds mashing, as the baseball saying goes. If this was something you thought, you’d be wrong.

Plesac has shut out the White Sox across those 14 innings, striking out 18, walking one, and allowing just eight hits, two of which were for extra bases. He’s started four games this year, but already twice he’s faced this behemoth of an offense, and made them look like little leaguers. Plesac had an error in judgement after one of those starts, but we’re getting to the point where his skill at getting batters of any talent level out is simply unimpeachable.

Plesac is not a friend to those that like to simply scrape Statcast and make judgements. His fastball is basically average at 93 mph, and nothing he throws is any kind of elite. In fact, taken by their solitary selves, everything he throws besides that decent fastball is comfortably below average whether in movement or velocity:

Zach Plesac Pitch Movement

Year Pitch Inches of Drop Inches vs. Average % vs Average Inches of Horiz. Movement Inches vs. Average % vs Average
Year Pitch Inches of Drop Inches vs. Average % vs Average Inches of Horiz. Movement Inches vs. Average % vs Average
2020 4-Seamer 14.8 0.9 6 7.9 1 15
2020 Changeup 28 -2.1 -7 12 -1.2 -9
2020 Slider 31.2 -3.5 -10 1.9 -2.3 -55
2020 Curveball 49 -3.6 -7 2.1 -6.9 -77
2019 Changeup 28.1 -2.2 -7 11 -2.6 -19
2019 4-Seamer 14.9 0.8 5 9.4 1.8 24
2019 Slider 35.4 -1.6 -4 1.7 -3 -64
2019 Curveball 55.1 0.9 2 7.3 -1.2 -14

The more you look into it, the more confusing it seems. Typically a starter on a dominating streak — and by any metric, whether against the White Sox or otherwise, Plesac certainly is — will have something that pops out as some sort of go-to pitch to get strikeouts or to trick hitters. Typically that pitch has some massive outlier type of movement to it, like Shane Bieber’s curve dropping 6.8 inches better than average. Plesac gets some movement, but it’s all below average.

That’s what makes his mental game so impressive. One has to assume he’ll continue to develop his pitches, but right now he is working with a merely alright set of tools. How he uses them is paramount, and that’s what’s working for him. Plesac is a danger to throw anything, at any time:

So already, you’re not able to sit on anything. Plesac is throwing a fastball 37.3 percent of the time, the 16th lowest rate in the majors. It’s higher than both Bieber and Aaron Civale, which tells you what the Indians are looking for in their pitchers. It’s also pretty wild to think that a pitcher with only 25 starts under his belt has that advanced a repertoire for him to trust all four pitches so much. Even Bieber was throwing the fastball more than half the time his first year or so. Plesac being ahead of Bieber’s career trajectory in any way at all has to be troubling for really any hitter in the game.

The reason ti al works, aside from his trust, is how the pitches all nest together so comfortably. Along with Bieber and Civale, Plesac has a simple, repeatable delivery that helps hide his pitches inside each other, tunneling wonderfully to create deception right out of the hand. Hitters are seeing a very tight release point:

And it results in things like this, courtesy of Pitching Ninja:

This is just his curve, but the change and slider are just as tough to deal with. Those don’t have a hump either, so they’re basically the fastball until the last minute. Like his slider:

That’s just kind of mean, really. They pair so well. Just as well as the change:

The changeup is running about six inches closer to the batter, and is about eight mph slower. Hunter Dozier was not up to the task. The neat thing about this GIF, you could kind of tell that Dozier wasn’t expecting a fastball (he struck out looking). He’d seen two changeups in that area earlier in the count, but also a couple sliders. Plesac pitched him backwards and beat him with it.

This understanding of how his pitches work together, how to use them against hitters, and how to get people out - not just strike them out, but to get them out of their comfort zone - these are typically attributes of a pitcher with several more years under their belt. it helps to have a guy like Roberto Pérez behind the plate to help him work past hitters, but this is still evidence of a preternatural maturity on the mound. Cleveland seems to know what they’re doing.

He’s certainly not a finished product right now, but this level of control, command and confidence in what he can do to hitters, this early, means the future is wildly bright for Plesac.