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Antonio Senzatela and the three true outcomes

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Do you dislike three-true-outcomes (TTO) baseball? Do you get annoyed at the fact that almost a fourth of all plate appearances end in a strikeout, home run rates are still at some of the highest levels we’ve ever seen and almost every batter seems to be determined to be patient up there? Well, my friend, if that describes you accurately, I have the pitcher just for you.

Antonio Senzatela is a good pitcher. That much should be clear by now. Over his career, his adjusted ERA+ is 103, meaning he’s been slightly above average at run prevention (100 is average), and since the start of the 2020 season, after revamping his workout routines, Antonio Senzatela has a 4.04 ERA (120 ERA+, which is great) across 238.1 innings of work. However, one of the beautiful things about baseball is that there is more than one way to get outs or get on base, and Antonio Senzatela takes that to the extreme. Let’s see why:

The Pro-Action Pitcher

From 2020-22, Senzatela has struck out 14.6% of all batters faced. Among pitchers who’ve tossed at least 150.0 innings in those three seasons, that ranks second-to-last, with only lefty sinkerballer Dallas Keuchel (14.2%) “ahead” of him. And you want to know something else? Of the 20 pitchers with the lowest strikeout rates in that span (min. 150.0 IP again), Senzatela is the ONLY one with above average fastball velocity (94.5 MPH), and only one other in the top 15 (Milwaukee’s Adrian Houser, who averages 93.7 MPH on his sinker) is above 93. That makes Senza a unicorn in many ways: he throws pretty hard, yet he doesn’t strike anybody out, and his fastball isn’t a sinker, which generate less swings and misses by default, but rather a four-seamer, making him an even bigger outlier.

One of the main reasons Senzatela doesn’t strike out a lot of batters is he attacks the zone and doesn’t walk any hitters either: his 5.0% walk rate since the start of 2020 is the 10th-best in the Majors. Because he throws so many strikes, batters swing early and often against him, and they don’t often miss: of the 146 pitchers with at least 2000 pitches thrown since 2020, Senzatela has the 10th-lowest swinging strike rate (9%) and just over 19% of the swings against him miss, one of the lowest rates in baseball. This, it seems, would spell trouble in today’s game, where batters have maximized the damage they do when they make contact. There are no more slap hitters who aren’t power threats populating big league lineups: all 9 spots, to one degree or another, can hit the ball out. Therefore, that combination of little to no strikeouts, little to no walks and very high contact rates against would logically lead to quite a lot of home runs against... right?

Keep The Ball In The Yard

Nope! Since the beginning of 2020, Senzatela is tied for the 10th-best home run per 9 innings rate (0.79 HR/9) in the Major Leagues. He also has the lowest strikeout rate (14.6%) of the top 10 by miles; the next closest is Alex Cobb at 22.8%, a full 56% higher. The only other pitcher in the top 20 with a sub-20% strikeout rate is Adrian Houser, who’s still well ahead of him at 17.6%. This is the thing that keeps the equation positive for Antonio Senzatela: he may allow a lot of contact (he’s one of only six pitchers to allow at least 10 hits per 9 innings since the start of 2020), but he doesn’t allow a lot of power to come from that contact: his ISO against (ISO stands for Isolated Power, which is just Slugging % - Batting Average, a measure of how many extra bases you hit for) is .139. Only two other pitchers with a sub-20% strikeout rate have managed a lower ISO against: Cal Quantrill (.134) and Kwang-Hyun Kim (.130).

Baseball Savant

There you can see just how Senza diverges from the trend. I took the liberty of marking some of the outliers (LOL, Corbin Burnes and Mike Foltynewicz), and that red line is the main trend, what you would expect on average.

So, all in all, we have a 14.6% strikeout rate, a 5% walk rate, and a 2.1% home run rate, all combining for a 21.7% three-true-outcome rate. For reference, the Major League average since 2020 has been a 35.3% three-true-outcome rate. That means that, on average, Senza generates 39% more balls in play than the average pitcher, as he continues to fight the good fight for the sake of the game of baseball itself. Can it get even better? You bet!

The Punchline

So far in 2022, the Venezuelan is taking things to a whole new level on the three-true-outcome front. In his first two starts, he’s faced 38 batters. He has allowed zero home runs, walked just one batter, and struck out two unfortunate souls. He also hasn’t hit a batter, so in other words, 35 of the 38 batters he’s faced (92.1%) have put the ball in play. His WHIP is 2.04 (he has allowed 16 hits in 8.1 innings), and yet his ERA is 2.16. It was even better midway through his start against the Cubs: at one point, Senzatela had faced 32 batters in the season, and he hadn’t struck out a single one (while also walking one and allowing zero homers). And to make it even better, the batter he K’d for his first 2022 strikeout was none other than Japanese phenom Seiya Suzuki, who’s currently hitting .400/.543/.960. Baseball!

And here’s the final punchline: there have been exactly 100 pitchers in baseball this season who’ve faced 38 batters or more, and Senzatela has the second-lowest TTO rate, behind only Zack Greinke, who’s faced 41 batters and walked two, allowed zero homers and K’d just one. In fact, Senza has less than half as many walks+homers+strikeouts (3) as the next guy on the list (Jake Odorizzi, with 6), and only five others are at less than 10. And yet, Greinke has also hit a batter, which puts his % of balls in play against at 90.2%, behind Senzatela’s 92.1%. You just can’t beat the man at what he does. He’s literally in the 100th percentile as of right now.

★ ★ ★

Pitch clock shaving 20 minutes off minor league games while scoring nearly same; stage set for MLB introduction in 2023 | ESPN.com

I still hate the pitch clock on a philosophical level, but much like the Universal DH, it seems inevitable. It’s shaving 20 minutes off games on average, and will make games flow a bit better. The big question is what happens with the effort level pitchers employ now if they don’t have extra seconds to recover? Do they throw with a bit less effort? Do we see a slight downturn in velocity?

Rockies, Kyle Freeland Agree To Extension | MLB Trade Rumors

Good for Kyle, good for the team. This now means the entire core four of rotation arms (Márquez, Senzatela, Freeland, Gomber) are all Rockies through at least the 2024 season.

Don’t Intentionally Walk Anyone With the Bases Loaded | Fangraphs

Not related to the Rockies, but some fun reading on the whole situation that led to Corey Seager getting intentionally walked by the LA Angels with the bases loaded... in the fourth inning, with one out, while the Halos were losing. Weird!

On The Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 2, Round Rock Express 3

A closely contested ballgame that took just over two hours to complete and featured multiple lead changes. The Express (9-4) took it in the end by the slimmest of margins, a 3-2 final that saw Albuquerque (5-8) strand the tying run in scoring position in the top of the ninth inning. Both starters were terrific, as Isotopes lefty Dillon Overton (6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) and Round Rock’s A.J. Alexy (5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 HR) allowed just two solo homers in their combined eleven innings of work. A pair of dingers accounted for all of Albuquerque’s scoring in this one, as old friend Jesús Tinoco got the six-out save for the Express. The Isotopes will look to get back on track today, sending righty Matt Dennis (1-1, 7.00 ERA) to the mound against the Express’ 22-year-old right-hander Cole Winn (0-0, 1.13 ERA).

Double-A: Somerset Patriots 0, Hartford Yard Goats 4

An all-around dominant pitching performance by Hartford (5-5), as they held the Patriots (6-4) to just two hits and three walks across nine shutout innings. It was all started by 24-year-old Karl Kauffmann, who tossed six brilliant no-hit innings (6.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K, W) to collect his first win of the season and now holds a 0.84 ERA through two starts. The Yard Goats managed just two extra-base-hits all game, both by Michael Toglia, who had a terrific game (2-for-4 with a double, a triple, 3 RBIs and a run scored), but that and a balanced attack (all but one batter had at least one hit) it was all they needed, as their pitching staff shut down Somerset for good. Among the good news was Riley Pint, who tossed a 1-2-3 7th inning, throwing 10 of his 16 pitches for strikes. He has walked no batters (though he has hit three) and struck out five in five innings out of the pen so far as he makes his way back into baseball following his unretirement. The Yard Goats will look to keep their momentum today with right-hander Mitchell Kilkenny (0-2, 12.96 ERA) facing off against fellow righty Mitch Spence (0-1, 6.75 ERA).

High-A: Hillsboro Hops 5, Spokane Indians 7

The Indians (4-6) hung on to this one after a wild back-and-forth shootout with Hillsboro (5-5) that saw 12 combined extra-base-hits (including six total homers), multiple pickoffs and stolen bases, an outfield assist and lots of lead changes. Lefty Austin Kitchen (6.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 4 HR, W) was the recipient of a somewhat lucky win, as he didn’t outpitch the Hops’ Scott Randall (5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR), but got the run support at the right time. The most impressive performances for Spokane came in the form of top prospects Zac Veen (2-for-3 with a double, a homer, a walk, an RBI and a run scored) and Drew Romo (3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored), as well as Grant Lavigne (1-for-3 with a homer, a walk and two RBIs and a run scored) and Bladimir Restituyo (2-for-4 with a double and a run scored). Restituyo has an OPS well over 1.000 so far this season. Righty reliever Fineas Del Bonta-Smith impressed too, tossing two perfect innings in relief and striking out three of the six batters he faced. The Indians have won two in a row and will try to make it three today, as they send out righty Mike Ruff (0-1, 4.50 ERA) to the mound to face off against another righty, 22-year-old John Carver (0-0, 1.93 ERA).

Low-A: Lake Elsinore Storm 5, Fresno Grizzlies 6

Fresno (7-3) is now rolling, having won four of their last five, as they held on to a one-run win against the Storm (5-5) in the opener of their six-game set. Neither starter was all that effective, as Fresno’s Cullen Kafka (4.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 0 HR) and Lake Elsinore’s Levi Thomas (5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K, 1 HR) both struggled to reliably throw strikes. It was the bats that had to drive this one home for the Grizzlies, and they were led by their leadoff man, 19-year-old Adael Amador, who went 1-for-2 with a homer, two RBIs, two walks and a run scored. The young, switch-hitting shortstop is currently slashing .371/.477/.600 with more walks than strikeouts. 20-year-old Juan Guerrero (2-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored) and catcher Braxton Fulford (2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored) were the other two spearheads of the lineup, which managed eight hits and five walks. The two teams combined to go just 6-for-23 with runners in scoring position. Today, young righty Case Williams (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will take the mound to make his second start of the season for Fresno. The Storm’s starter is TBD at the moment of writing this piece.

★ ★ ★

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