If you’ve been able to watch the White Sox at all these past few weeks, you’ll notice a familiar face in the rotation who seems to be a completely different pitcher. After a brutal 2017 season, Rule 5 Draft Pick Dylan Covey has looked to have transformed into a completely different pitcher this season. He has some White Sox fans buying in:
But still, he has yet to convince some others……
Alrighty, well, where do we go from here? Is Dylan Covey a legitimate success story for this rebuild, the Arrieta-type gem that the White Sox were able to guy unearth? Or, will the boys from the 108 and Sox Machine end up being featured on a later edition of “Overreaction of the Week”? This is technically this week’s “Overreaction of the Week” piece, but it’s time to dive into the numbers and find out if this new Dylan Covey could be here to stay.
Why I’m Buying It
Here’s the thing, everything different you see in Dylan Covey this year stems from one major change: the increased use of his sinker. Dylan Covey’s repertoire is as follows: sinker, change up, curveball, and four-seam fastball. In 2017, he threw his sinker just 28% of the time, while throwing his four-seam at about the same percentage – 29%. This season, Covey has throw a fastball just 3% of the time, while throwing his sinker an incredible 64% of the time. He has also added an average of 1-2 mph on his sinker.
The movement of a sinker is written in it’s name: the ball naturally falls to the bottom of the zone. This results in more ground balls being hit by the batter. Dylan Covey’s numbers support this: his GB/FB ratio has increased from 1.3 to 2.58, and the percentage of balls hitters are getting on top of has increased 8%. Additionally, the average launch angle off the bat has decreased from 8.7 degrees to 5.7 degrees. Per BaseballSavant, this launch angle decrease usually leads to a decrease of 50-80 points in both BA and wOBA, depending on which way you round your Launch Angle. This is consistent with Dylan Covey, as opponents are hitting just .254 off him this year, as compared to .303 last year, while wOBA against has decreased nearly 130 points (.408 to .270). Hitters are swinging at 4% more pitches outside of the zone, while hitting these pitches 8% less of the time than in 2017. In total, hitters are swinging and missing at 3% more pitches than they were last year.
In short, Covey is commanding the zone and attacking the zone more often – he is throwing nearly 60% first pitch strikes. He is using his sinker to fool hitters, both early in the count as well as later in the count when they might be expecting an offspeed pitch. His ability to increase his ground ball rate has projected him to display a SIGNIFICANT decrease in the amount of home runs he gives up this year. These are all good things. Plus, Dylan Covey was the 14th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, just one pick after Chris Sale, so it’s not unheard of that he is achieving success.
Why I’m Not Buying It
Outside of his change in pitch repertoire, Dylan Covey 2018 is not much different from Dylan Covey 2017. The average exit velocity on balls his against him hasn’t change – 89.3 mph last year, and 90.0 mph this year – and neither has the hard hit % against (39.9% to 41.0%, according to BaseballSavant).
BaseballSavant has this cool stat called Meatball % – which is exactly what it sounds like. It measures how “fat” a pitcher gets with pitches. Covey’s Meatball % has jumped from 6.8% to 8.3%. However, his Meatball Swing % (what percent of meatballs a hitter swings at) has dropped 10 percentage points – from 83% to 73%. The trend seems to be that Covey is getting away with being “fat” with pitches this year, assumedly because he is fooling more hitters. This seems indeed to be the case, as the percent of “barrels” (think balls hit in the “sweet spot”) has decreased 6 percentage point from 8.2% to 2.9%. My concern is how long this might last – pitchers don’t get away with meatballs forever.
There’s more statistics – both good and bad – that I could’ve referenced here to continue to tell the story of “the real Dylan Covey”. But, in short, the main difference between 2017 Dylan Covey and 2018 Dylan Covey is his increased use of his sinker. It has wicked movement as we’ve seen, and increasing the amount of times he has thrown it has added to his ability to fool hitters or even get away with mistakes left in the middle of the plate. My biggest worry is the small sample size thus far; I expect these hitters to adjust to the change in Dylan Covey’s pitch sequences, which will require him to adjust right back to the hitters. Seeing that he was a 14th overall draft pick, I believe he has the maturity to battle through struggles he might face if/when hitters adjust.
It is clear Covey is a different pitcher than he was last year, and these positive changes have led him to earn a starting job for the time being. The expected numbers look good for Covey as well – I’m not necessarily expecting a regression MONSTER, per se. However, I’m also not convinced he will continue to pitch like the best man in the White Sox rotation. It would be a serious win for the team if he ends up being a long-term back end rotation piece. It’s also too early to judge whether or not he will be. But, the numbers look good.
My verdict: cautious optimism.
Featured Photo from NBC Sports Chicago