Looking for Chase Whitley comps

With CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda all on the shelf, the Yankees have had to dig pretty deep into their starting pitcher depth to fill out their rotation. Twenty-four-year-old Chase Whitley is one of the pitchers called upon to fill the void. Whitley had worked almost exclusively as a reliever prior to this season, but has handled the move to the rotation well so far. After throwing 26.1 innings of 2.39 ERA ball in triple-A Scranton, he’s posted an equally impressive 2.42 ERA and 3.67 SIERA in his first five starts with the Yankees.

Whitley won’t blow many batters away, but he does have a decent repertoire of pitches. Per PITCHf/x, he throws a four-seam and two seam-fastball — both of which average around 90 MPH — and also mixes in a slider and a changeup. Given this four pitch combination, it’s easy to see why the Yankees thought he might be able to make it as a starter.

To find comps for Whitley, I looked for seasons from a right-handed starter since 2008 where at least 95% of pitches thrown were one of the four in Whitley’s arsenal. Then I turned to PITCHf/x to find out how often these pitcher’s pitches fell within one standard deviation of Whitley’s average velocity, break length, break angle, and spin for each pitch type so far this year. These are the pitchers who threw the highest ratio of pitches comparable to what Whitley’s been throwing. I used a minimum threshold of 400 pitches — about as many as Whitley’s thrown this season.

Pitcher % K% BB% ERA SIERA
2011 – Brad Bergesen 25% 12% 7% 5.78 4.81
2010 – Adalberto Mendez 24% 10% 11% 5.11 6.07
2013 – Dan Straily 23% 19% 9% 3.96 4.25
2009 – Shairon Martis 22% 9% 10% 5.25 5.85
2011 – Ross Ohlendorf 22% 14% 8% 8.15 4.67
2013 – Taylor Jordan 20% 13% 5% 3.66 3.79
2012 – Bartolo Colon 19% 15% 4% 4.00 4.10
2011 – Bartolo Colon 19% 19% 6% 4.00 3.67
2010 – Ross Ohlendorf 17% 17% 9% 4.07 4.67
2013 – Kyle Gibson 17% 12% 8% 6.53 4.71
2013 – Luis Mendoza 16% 14% 10% 5.01 4.64
2012 – Drew Hutchison 16% 19% 8% 4.60 4.09
2013 - Bartolo Colon 16% 15% 4% 2.65 4.10
2012 – Ross Ohlendorf 15% 17% 11% 3.43 5.01
2009 – Clayton Mortensen 15% 8% 9% 5.15 5.18
Average 19% 14% 8% 4.21 4.64
2014 – Chase Whitley 100% 17% 3% 2.27 3.67
MLB Starter Average N/A 18% 8% 4.22 4.18

There a couple of repeats on this list. Bartolo Colon and Ross Ohlendorf have used Whitley’s same four-pitch combination for years now, causing both to pop up for three separate seasons. Overall, this group is nothing to get excited about, and other than Colon and Dan Straily, its really just a bunch of back-of the rotation starters who don’t miss many bats. For many of these pitchers, the remainder of their careers were spent toiling in the minors. Five out of the eleven – Bergesen, Martis, Mendez, Mendoza, Morteson — saw very little major league action following their Whitley-esque seasons, combining for -0.1 fWAR over 166 innings. It’s too soon to say what will become of Gibson, Hutchison, and Jordan.

Whitley probably won’t ever be anything more than a back-end starter, and the more likely scenario has him as a middle reliever long-term. Still, the Yankees have to be thrilled with what they’ve gotten out of him so far. Sabathia and Pineda are still a ways away from rejoining the team; and even when they do, Whitley probably won’t be the one who gets bumped from the rotation. He’s done more than enough to prove he’s better than Vidal Nuno — and possibly David Phelps as well. So for the foreseeable future, Joe Girardi has little choice but to trust in Whitley every fifth day. With any luck, he’ll be able to maintain the magic for a little longer, but its only a matter of time until he comes falling back to earth. And my money’s on it happening sooner rather than later.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs; PITCHf/x data courtesy of Baseball Savant

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