Chris Bassitt is Oakland’s best starting pitcher. Who knew? Through 4 starts his ERA sits at 2.55 and he has 31 strikeouts to just 7 walks. There are in our minds, no doubt.
1. Is it legitimate?
2. Is it sustainable?
To answer the first question I’ll turn to a few metrics to help us determine whether or not he has earned his performance thus far.
His strikeout rate is the highest of his career at 31.6% while his walk rate is the lowest it’s ever been at 7.1%. Both of those are very good. His K-BB% is 12th-best in baseball among starters with at least 20 innings pitched. He’s ahead of future hall of famer Justin Verlander and Boston ace Chris Sale. Also very good.
By FIP, however, he doesn’t look as good. At 4.22 his FIP is 1.66 points higher than his ERA suggesting a big gap in his performance from his actual pitching quality. I think his 1.82 HR/9 is to blame for this discrepancy and because of his bloated 23.8% HR/FB there is a reasonable expectation to see some positive regression there. His exit-velocity allowed is in the top-10% of major leaguers at 85.3 MPH suggesting batters aren’t reaslly getting the better of him. And wouldn’t you know it, by xFIP, which instills a league-average HR rate, Bassitt looks much better at 3.16. That xFIP is again 12th-best in baseball. His SIERA, which may be an even better in-season performance predictor, is also 12th-best in baseball at 3.22. For the sake of comparison, Marco Estrada is last in baseball in both xFIP and SIERA.
WIth the exception of a few more home runs than expected, Bassitt is doing well at the things he can control: strikeouts and walks. His 12% swinging-strike rate is not only the highest of his career it places him among some of the games best hurlers. Four of Bassitt’s offerings garner whiffs at a rate higher than 13%. His curveball has been especially good at inducing swings and misses at 18.5% and allows just a .042 wOBA. His average curveball velocity is down two ticks to a very nice 69 MPH. Batters are chasing his pitches out of the zone at an above-average rate of 34.3%.
My conclusion here is that what Bassitt is currently doing is legitimate. He is limiting not only hard contact, but any contact in general. He also hasn’t sacrificed his control to do so.
Next we need to determine if what he’s doing will stick. Off the bat I say yes, to a degree. His strikeouts and walks should continue as long has he continues to miss bats at the current rate. We should see some positive regression in the way of home runs, which is also a good thing. But Bassitt has gotten lucky in a few areas: BABIP, LOB% and health.
His .222 BABIP is much too low to be sustainable, especially compared to his career mark of .292. Additionally he has stranded 100% of runners so far. Granted, home runs aren’t considered balls in play and don’t count toward BABIP, so perhaps there is an even trade off to be had. But if a few more batted balls start falling for hits, especially with runners on, he may take a step back.
Bassitt has now started 7 games in all in 2019. So he has so far been healthy. In 2018 he pitched more than 120 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery between the minor leagues and major leagues. There is a reasonable expectation that we can see a bump to perhaps 150 innings in 2019, assuming no other health issues crop up. But for pitchers the worst possible indicator of future injury is past injury.
Bassitt looks excellent right now, but both the eye test and most metrics. With the way he’s pitching I can’t imagine taking him out of the rotation even Marco Estrada making his way back to the big leagues and Daniel Mengden excelling at triple-A. However, if the wheels do start to fall off it’s good to know there is some amount of depth to pull from.