The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2017. After going 69-93 in 2016, the Snakes posted a 93-69 record last year en route to capturing the first NL Wild Card spot. While some of the credit certainly deserves to go to the effectiveness and health of the offense, it was the incredible turnaround of the starting rotation that truly propelled Arizona into October. In 2016 the Diamondbacks’ staff carried a horrendous 5.09 ERA, tied for the worst in baseball. Last season Arizona’s starters combined for a 3.67 ERA, trialing only the Dodgers and Indians. Some would be quick to say that the turnaround started with the resurgence of Zack Greinke. Others would point out that the breakout of Robbie Ray, presence of Taijuan Walker, and bounce-back season from Patrick Corbin made all the difference. But there was one other massive difference; the transformation of Zack Godley from unknown gas can into the most underrated pitcher in the MLB.
Godley has always depended heavily on his sinker and curveball, but in 2017 he took that reliance to a different level. He threw those two pitches 67.8% of the time last year, also mixing in a straighter fastball and the occasional changeup. Remaining true to the sinkerball stigma, Godley excels at getting grounders. His sinker generated a 64.3% groundball rate, the 15th highest rate among the 131 pitchers to throw at least 200 sinkers last season per BaseballProspectus. As with most groundball specialists, Godley wasn’t particularly prone to home runs or walks in 2017, allowing just .88 longballs per nine innings despite calling the launching pad that is Chase Field his home, while handing out 3.11 free passes per nine.
There was one massive difference in Godley’s arsenal from 2016 to 2017; his curveball. Last season Godley’s hook was one of the most dominant in the game. According to Fangraphs Pitch F/X rankings, Godley had the second most effective curveball in the majors, trialing only AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber. The pitch had an astounding 45.63% swing-and-miss rate, second to teammate Robbie Ray. 109 of Godley’s 165 strikeouts were recorded on his curveball, more than any other pitcher in the MLB. Even when batters were putting the pitch in play the damage was practically non-existent. Hitters mustered a meager .151 average and .229 slugging percentage against the pitch. He isn’t your typical pitch-to-contact groundball machine. Godley has a dominant weapon to rack up whiffs.
Godley lives below the strike zone, largely by design of course. 44.35% of his pitches in 2017 were below the zone. He got batters to swing at 33.1% of his pitches that were out of the zone, solid but nothing to write home about. Where he really jumps out is his swing and miss numbers. Batters had a 46.6% O-Contact rate against Godley, meaning they came up empty on over half of their swings on pitches out of the strike zone. Only Kluber and Ray had higher marks among pitchers to log at least 140 innings. When counting pitches thrown in the strike zone, Godley’s Contact rate only rises to 69.7%, trailing just Kluber, Ray, and NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. That’s right, batters made contact more frequently against strikeout machines like Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Luis Severino than they did against the underappreciated Godley.
Want some examples of Godley’s devastating hook?
Here’s Godley embarrassing Matt Carpenter with a curve in the dirt
And doing the same to Tommy Pham, the very next hitter.
All season long, Godley was making very good hitters look terrible.
He limits walks and homers, he gets grounders, and he’s turning himself into one of the better strikeout pitchers in the game, what more could you ask for in an arm? Look for the Diamondbacks to contend with the Dodgers in 2018, and look for Godley to build off of his stellar 2017 season. The 3.37 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 9.58 K/9 were no fluke; it’s time to pay attention to Zack Godley.