M-SABR All Stars: MLB’s 2022 All-BB% Team


Contributions from: Nolan Bruce, William Gregory, Christopher Putnam, Daniel Pardi, Tim Kulawiak, Devin Wiles

What is BB%?

BB% is fairly self-explanatory. It’s the rate at which a pitcher walks batters. We’ve assembled another All Star team with that statistic in mind. These are the top control artists in MLB; four starters and six relievers that win with accuracy.

The Pitching Staff

Starting Rotation

SP – Corey Kluber, TBR (3.0 BB%)

William Gregory

Corey Kluber isn’t purely Klubot anymore. He’s a bit more human than that. I guess he’s a Kluborg now. The Rays got the most innings out of him since his third place Cy Young season in 2018. He was aggressively average. 

Kluber’s fastball velocity has fallen to around 89 MPH, which is more than three ticks slower than it was in his prime. As a result, Corey barely (37th percentile K%) strikes anyone out anymore.

At age 36, he’s become a master of control. The reason he’s this team’s number one option, his walk percentage, is predictably low. It’s second only to reliever Joe Mantiply who will be featured down below.

A big reason why his walk rate is so low is that even with the decrease in velocity, he’s held a Chase% and OOZ Swing% that are better than his prime seasons. He’s eliminated waste pitches by being able to locate well and live off nibbling on the corners of the strike zone.

He’s throwing a fastball stuck in the eighties, but even in this power surge they’re not meatballs because of his control. Kluber still possesses exit velocity numbers consistent with the rest of his career, but given his extremely low K-rate, he’s just allowing too many balls in play. This has led to his 2022 xSLG percentile of 26th being 40 points lower than his career average.

Kluber signed a $10 million dollar deal with a club option for 2024 along with a couple performance incentives this offseason. He should be reinforced well by the Green Monster gobbling up most of the long balls he gives up at home. The 19 expected homers he would have given up in Fenway in 2022 is tied for fourth-least out of all ballparks.

The former two-time Cy Young winner should be a better version of Rich Hill for the Sox in 2023.

SP – Aaron Nola , PHI (3.6 BB%)

Nolan Bruce

Aaron Nola is what you get when you combine quality stuff with excellent command. Nola led the NL in BB/9 and led all of baseball in SO/W ratio. It is a dominant 10.3 SO/9 that pairs with Nola’s low walk rate to form that league leading ratio.

When the ball was put in play, it also fared well for Nola. He finished amongst the league leaders in xWOBA against and Hard Hit % against, so it was rare that a hitter would do damage even when they made contact. Pair this batted ball success with his league-leading SO/W ratio, and you see why Nola’s xERA was a career low 2.74.

As for why Nola’s actual ERA was all the way up at 3.25? You can blame the Phillies defense for that. They ranked 29th of 30 in Outs Above Average with -34, and 25th in Defensive Runs Saved.

Despite this, Nola finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting and has solidified himself as one of the premier pitchers in the league. After a stellar playoff run, Nola has shown no signs of slowing down as we enter the 2023 season.

SP – Kevin Gausman, TOR (3.9 BB%)

Tim Kulawiak

Take a look down Kevin Gausman’s BB% by year for the first 9 years of his career, and you’ll see numbers consistently in the 6-8% range. Then take a look at his FIP over those years, and you’ll see numbers mostly in the 4-4.5% range, outside of his two years in San Francisco, where he committed to his nasty splitter. Now look at those numbers for 2022:  3.9 BB% and a 2.38 FIP. Both of those marks are the best of his career by no small margin. 

His BB numbers weren’t bad before, sitting usually around or a little above league average, but his production was that of just another guy.  If not for the status of a fourth overall pick, Gausman would have been a pretty nondescript big leaguer, even getting DFA’d during the 2019 season. 

However, his fortunes started to shift after signing with Giants in 2020, where he started throwing his splitter at a much higher percentage, turning it into one of the most valuable pitches in baseball. 

His splitter-fastball combo was lethal, pushing his strikeout numbers way up, and leading to vastly improved run prevention. But throughout this improvement, his BB% remained at its previous levels.

Flash forward to May 7th 2022, and Gausman is in the headlines not for his splitter, or fastball, or strikeouts, but for issuing his first walk of the year after 35.1 innings. That’s pretty good for a guy who used to sit around league average for walks. He didn’t quite keep that pace going for the rest of the year, but remained super stingy with walks, leading to a FIP good for second in all of baseball.  

With two really strong pitches and a newfound ability to fill up the strike zone, expect this version of Gausman to be among the best pitchers in the league for years to come. 

SP – Justin Verlander, HOU (4.4 BB%)

Daniel Pardi

I hope it doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that the AL Cy Young winner is tied for fourth in the league for lowest walk rate. However, not giving up free bases is a skill Verlander has honed recently in his 17 season career. In his 13 seasons with the Tigers he averaged a respectable 7.3 BB%. It wasn’t until being traded to the Astros that Verlander’s walk rate fell significantly where he has averaged 4.6% in Houston. 

Verlander’s spectacular K% and Chase Rate are the obvious reasons for preventing walks but everything about his 2022 campaign contributed to him winning the most prestigious award a pitcher can get.

Taking a deeper look at what the Astros have done for his performance it’s clear the organization took Verlander’s previous success and turned it into perfection. Some notable improvements include an increase in K% from 22% in Detroit to 33% in Houston, a drop in opposing batting average from .235 to .185, and an ERA+ jump from 124 to 182. Verlander was already an established pitcher when he got traded from Detroit but it’s clear the Astros were able to unlock another level of his game.

Everything from velocity, frequency, and spin has remained relatively constant in his time with both teams suggesting Verlander’s control has just become that much better with time. 

Verlander signed a 2-year $86 million deal with the Mets this offseason that includes a vested option for 2025. His performance in New York will be the determiner of whether the recent success was a product of a new environment or one he made himself in response to better pitching analytics.

The Bullpen

RP – Joe Mantiply, ARI (2.5 BB%)

Devin Wiles

Simply speaking, Mantiply has become the epitome of control.  Between a breakout 2021 campaign and 2022, the journeyman reliever dropped his strong 9.6% walk rate to a miniscule 2.5%, good for best in the league. What is particularly impressive about Mantiply, though, is that literally every single one of his metrics which involve batter contact also improved drastically.

Oftentimes, the pitchers who avoid walks the most have a tendency to get hit around, missing over the heart of the plate consistently. Take Tigers starter and long reliever Tyler Alexander, for instance. Despite always finishing near the top of the league in walk rate, “Todd the Painter” is always in the bottom of the league in strikeout rate, whiff rate, barrel percentage, and opponent slugging.

Mantiply, while being a low velocity, low walk lefty just like Alexander, has somehow managed a 99th percentile chase rate, 94th percentile barrel percentage, and 72nd percentile whiff rate.  How is Mantiply able to generate the low walk, high strikeout results as power pitchers like Jacob DeGrom do?

In short, the crafty lefty has one the nastiest, high movement pitches in the game.  Mantiply’s sinker, the pitch he throws the most (44.1% of the time), has observed movement which is unmatched. Elite in both vertical and horizontal break, combining the spin on this pitch with his low three-quarter arm slot, Mantiply is able to start his sinker off the plate inside on righties and allow it to work back to the inside edge.  Against lefties, he can do the same on the outside while also allowing this pitch to dive into the back foot of the hitter. This results in a high chase rate, added to his elite control.

Combine this with one of the best changeups in the game and you have an extremely difficult pitcher to read, despite having below average velocity and spin rate on all of his pitches.  There is something to be said for a low, awkward arm slot, and Mantiply is up there with the best of these sorts.

RP – Emmanuel Clase, CLE (3.7 BB%)

Devin Wiles

Carl Willis is a genius. The 62 year old Guardians pitching coach, now in his second stint with Cleveland, has coached five Cy Young Award winners, good for the second most in MLB history. This year, though, his greatest feat may lie in the bullpen. The Guardians had an astounding five relievers with 50+ innings on the mound this year in the Top 70 in xFIP. These included (in reverse order) Eli Morgan, Enyel de los Santos, Taylor Stephan, Sam Hentges, and Emmanuel Clase.

Heading this group, Clase has become one of, if not the most dominant reliever the MLB has to offer. The league leader in saves, the Guardians closer has, over the last two seasons, a 1.33 ERA in 142.1 innings.  This is a number unmatched by quite the margin.  The next closest reliever with at least 100 innings over 2021 and 2022 is the Blue Jays Jordan Romano, with an ERA of 2.13.

What’s even more impressive is that Clase has the second most innings out of the bullpen over this two season span (with the most in 2022). The Royals’ Scott Barlow has him beat here by six innings, with much lower production, though.

In 2022, as noted, Clase is second among all relievers in walk rate to a soft-throwing lefty. Oftentimes, it is the case that the pitchers with the best control are not elite in terms of velocity. None of the starters and four of the relievers in this article rank in the top quarter of the league in fastball velocity (Clase, Foley, López, and Brasier).  

As for Clase specifically, he finished fourth in the league this year in this metric, behind only Jhoan Duran, Andrés Muñoz, and Jordan Hicks.  He was also in the 100th percentile for both fastball spin rate and chase rate. A high swing and miss pitcher, it is mind-blowing how Clase could have accounted for a mere 3.8% walk rate.

Clase has set himself apart in the MLB and is in an elite tier of relievers with possibly only Edwin Díaz. The question which arises, though, is whether or not the young arm entering his age 25 season can have continued success at such an elite rate.  What can be almost guaranteed, though, is that Cleveland will remain a pitching powerhouse year after year.

RP – Erasmo Ramirez, WSH (3.8 BB%)

Christopher Putnam

Erasmo “The Eraser” Ramirez did it all in 2022, posting a 2.92 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, and a career low 3.94 xFIP in 60 games for the Nationals. He accomplished this in a variety of roles, including long relief, middle relief, and setup work. 

Prior to 2022 Erasmo bounced around the league, making stints with the Mariners, Rays, Red Sox, Mets, and Tigers over the course of a decade, largely as a reliever with a handful of starts among the mix. 

His fastball generally hovered around 90-92 and his command was spotty. After the Nationals took a chance on him with a minor league deal in March of 2022, he displayed multiple changes that made him a very effective reliever in 2022.

After his first appearance for DC in late April, he consistently logged a fastball at 94 mph with elite command around the strike zone, only walking 14 hitters over 86.1 innings. Ramirez had a rough June, logging 13 innings while surrendering 5 home runs, 15 hits, and a .981 OPS to the tune of a FIP north of 8.00. 

Once the calendar flipped to July however, he locked it down for the remainder of the season.  From July 1st to the preliminary days of October, The Eraser dominated with a 3.15 FIP over an impressive 52.2 innings over the stretch.

After a crushing 2022 season for the Washington Nationals, Ramirez led the charge for the only bright spot of the Washington Nationals, their uncharacteristically solid bullpen. Over the 2022-2023 offseason, the Nats decided to bring back Ramirez on a one-year deal, and he looks to continue his success in 2023.

RP – Jason Foley, DET (4.3 BB%)

William Gregory

I’ve already said it, and I’ll keep saying it. If the mid-2010s Detroit Tigers had 2022’s bullpen, they would have won two World Series. Instead they rolled out a can of coke, a fat dude, Velveeta pasta, a big city in New Mexico, and Joaquin Benoit.

In addition to Jimenez, Lange, and Soto, the relatively unknown Jason Foley was a part of last season’s pen.

The former undrafted starter worked his way up from playing ball at Sacred Heart University to the Show in only five years. Foley showed promise last season with a 2.61 ERA, albeit in only 10.1 innings of work.

Getting a full reliever’s workload of 60.1 innings this year, Foley was a quality, low-leverage, righty arm for the Kitties. He gets hit extremely hard, evidenced by an awful fifth percentile finish in HardHit%, but interestingly enough, his Barrel% was in the 90th percentile. Hitters only mashed three homers against him, a 0.3 HR/9 clip, so the outcomes make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is how strange a profile Foley possesses in comparison to what you’d traditionally expect. I get the point of this All Star Team is to highlight the guys who don’t walk anybody, and Foley hardly does, but the thing is that he also throws gas.

You’d expect a sinkerballer that sits at 96 to be a little wild (I’ll miss you Greg Soto), but Foley is in the 95th percentile BB%. He’s able to control that fireball of a fastball, however he rarely gets guys to whiff or chase, leading to hitters leveling his pitches into the caverns of Comerica Park.

That is probably the biggest hole in his game right now. The home park he’s playing in is killing his splits. On the road he allowed opposing hitters a .571 OPS, while in the not-so-friendly confines it’s raised to .789. Most of the production (14/60 EBH; .100 ISO) comes from piss-missle singles that find bigger gaps in Comerica’s outfield, though, so not a ton of doubles and triples.

I am legitimately excited for this 28 year old back-end reliever in 2023 because I want to see if he can sustain a truly unique style of play. Hopefully the new outfield dimensions in Detroit don’t hurt Jason Foley, the Control Freak.

RP – Adam Cimber, TOR (4.4 BB%)

Tim Kulawiak

In an era of bullpens filled top to bottom with fearsome, fire-throwing late inning relievers and greater value put on advanced analytics than baseline stats, Adam Cimber cuts a clear contrast. The 32 year old righty delivers from a submarine arm slot, floating in his fastball at an average of just 87 MPH. He doesn’t get many swings and misses, doesn’t strike too many guys out, and gives up pretty high levels of hard contact. 

But ignore all of that and Cimber presents as a fantastic weapon for the up and coming Blue Jays, throwing 70.2 innings of 2.80 ERA ball in 2022, with an astounding (and largely meaningless) 10-6 win loss record over an MLB leading 77 appearances. 

Cimber achieves these great stats through his sterling control. This reflects in his strong BB%, the reason for his inclusion in this team, but also in a strong first strike %, and fairly consistent location of his contrasting sinker-slider combo. Cimber tunnels his sinker (30% usage) with his slider (35% usage) so that both head towards the middle of the plate, before the slider breaks away from a right handed hitter, and the sinker breaks in. Consistent location of these two pitches on either side of the plate makes their inverse breaks even more effective. 

With this ability in his pocket, as well as a consistently located four seam fastball with little movement, Cimber constantly fills the strike zone, yet still avoids lots of damaging contact, his barrel % registering in the top 6% of the league.

One difficulty often associated with submariners is their inability to retire batters on the other side of the plate, lefties for the right handed Cimber. The typical sinker-slider repertoire of a submariner just doesn’t typically play as well to a lefty as to a righty. Cimber has strangely solved this through doubling up on his slider against lefties, a strategy that seems counterintuitive given its break into a lefty hitter but surprisingly has led him to massive success against lefties

With this ability to get both sides out, you can see why Cimber has grown into the strong middle to late inning relief option he was in 2022, a strong BB% leading the way.

RP – Eli Morgan, CLE (4.5 BB%)

Christopher Putnam

An 8th round pick in 2017 who made his big-league debut in 2021, Eli Morgan adds to the ranks of successful young pitchers the Guardians have developed since the shortened season. He isn’t a household name yet as Emmanuel Clase gets most of the recognition for the Guardians pen, but Morgan is heading down that same path as Clase did a couple of years ago, with a slightly different approach. 

Relying on his fastball, changeup, and slider in 2022, Morgan produced an effective 3.38 ERA and 3.58 FIP in 66.2 innings for the Guardians. His expected statistics were even more impressive, as his xERA and xFIP sit at 2.90 and 3.54, suggesting he’ll take another step forward in 2023.

Morgan doesn’t rely on velocity to overpower hitters like some of his fellow relievers in the Guardians pen, but he uses his 92 mph fastball to consistently paint the top of the zone in a way that opposing hitters struggle to hit. His changeup and slider also prove to be deadly, with both of those pitches possesing xwOBAs below .250 in 2022. 

In a time when many MLB teams try to stack as many hard-throwers in their bullpens as possible, Morgan’s softer, more location-based approach synergizes perfectly with the flamethrowers populating the Guardians’ bullpen.  This strategy has proved successful, since opposing hitters are forced to make more in-game adjustments to changing velocities and sequencing styles.

How would this team do?

This is an eclectic group of pitchers, as one might expect from guys whose primary calling card may not be the strikeout. Led by Verlander and Clase, this staff has the makings of a great one. We’d just have to see how the other guys hold up.

To see how this staff would fare if rolled out in the 2023 MLB season, we will add the ZiPS WAR projections for each of these pitchers (21.7 fWAR; 1st in 2023, 5th in 2022), plus the contributions of the three missing pitchers (Max Fried [4.4 BB%], Reynaldo Lopez [4.5 BB%], and Ryan Brasier [4.9 BB%]), and give them an average lineup (2022 = 19.0 fWAR). This process results in a 40.7 total fWAR projection for the upcoming season.

This total would rank eighteenth in MLB in terms of projections for 2023, right between the White Sox and Brewers. If we look at what this means in terms of a win total projection, we could expect this team, if healthy, to finish around .500. Although, if this team wound up making the playoffs, you wouldn’t want to deal with that rotation and shutdown bullpen.

Categories: Articles, M-SABR All Stars


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