It’s pretty much the consensus these days that we just don’t care that much about a pitcher’s win-loss record. With starts getting shorter and shorter, with a better understanding every day of all the little things that a game can turn on, a guy being a “20 game winner” is as much viewed as a neat confluence of luck and curiosity as it is a demonstration of actual talent.
That said, I don’t care what year it is if you go 3-12 on the year, or if in the 25 games you start, your team goes 10-15 — that’s not great. There are a lot of moving parts there, and defense or wind or weird eccentricities of the field can have a hand in where a batted ball goes, but it’s hard to not look kind of hard at the one common denominator in that. That’s where we find Zach Plesac.
By most metrics, Plesac was comfortably the worst pitcher to wear a Cleveland Guardians uniform for any real stretch of time, and if not for the parade of overmatched rookies we saw all year you couldn’t even start the argument of who might be worse. The stats tell part of the story, but if ever there was a train wreck of a season for a guy, this was it in every sense.
It’s hard to really gauge now where people stood on Plesac when the season kicked off. He was coming off a dreadful 2021 season that included him fracturing his thumb trying to take his shirt off, a year after he violated COVID protocols and gave a wonderful driver’s seat diatribe to his front-facing camera, but there was still a glimmer of hope that he could be a solid mid-rotation guy after two very good years to start his career. Even if his stuff was considerably less than electric, the general idea/Kool-aid flavor was that he was more than the sum of his parts, a true pitcher that thinks his way through the game and uses everything in his repertoire along with a preternatural sense of the game as a whole to limit mistakes, slow down the running game, and keep the team competing.
Again, looking back now, it’s hard to see where this whole “thinking man’s pitcher” thing came from.
It was a bad year. Only Cal Quantrill allowed more runs than Plesac’s 74 and allowed his 78 in over 55 more innings. He set a new personal high in walk rate at 6.7%, he logged his second worst strikeout rate at 17.6%, his line drive rate was a career-high 26.4%, and his win probability added was a miserable -0.9. In essence, his 131.2 innings cost the Guardians as a team a win in the aggregate. That WPA was the 18th worst in baseball and would have been higher if he’d gotten the chance to throw a full complement of innings.
What happened though? Nothing really, it just turns out that he never had a repertoire that was any good. His fastball has slipped from a merely average 94 mph to less than good 92 mph even as the average MLB fastball has gone up in velocity over the last few years. His slider — ostensibly his out pitch — has horizontal break 75% worse than the average MLB slider and 16% worse vertical movement. Again, that’s just the average slider. He doesn’t come close to what some of his teammates can do. His changeup we can forget about, his curve is more like a meander, and putting that together you just get a bunch of batting practice.
So there’s the not being good, stuff-wise, that certainly doomed him. But also, he just seemed to self-sabotage over the course of the season. He punched the ground and broke his hand after giving up a homer in Boston in May, and ended up getting dropped by his agency as the season wore on. His best stretch of starts was a four-game set between June 17 and July 4 that saw him log a 1.50 ERA over that stretch (with a corresponding 3.90 FIP), and he followed that up with eight games that held a 5.62 ERA over 41.2 innings, and then he went on the IL.
It’s not so much about what you can say about Plesac, but more about what do you do with him? The door is quickly shutting on his role as anything more than an occasional spot starter once some of these heralded arms climb out of the minors, and even then there are probably better options that can at least throw the ball harder. To see a career just collapse in front of you, that’s what this whole season was for Plesac. That’s sad certainly, and not at all where we thought this guy would end up after he was so good for two years, but the writing is on the wall. If he wants to improve, to find what makes him special, he’s in the right place. Cleveland has been turning pitching dross into gold for over a decade, and he can see if there’s an opportunity there.
Otherwise, it’s not a stretch to say this is likely the last we’ve seen of Zach Plesac as anything real for the Cleveland Guardians.
Zach Plesac’s 2022 stats
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.