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Toronto Blue Jays v Chicago White Sox - Game Two

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The Curious Case of Jesse Scholtens

The White Sox rookie hurler is enjoying great success, but is it sustainable?

Jesse Scholtens has been a diamond on a very rough pitching staff in 2023.
| Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The story of the 2023 White Sox will not be written about the players who carried the team to the finish line. Every outlet, publication, and tabloid will inevitably write about a failed front office, stalled group of potential stars, and a squandered contention window.

That makes what Jesse Scholtens has provided to this team in 2023 all the more impressive.

Through 17 appearances (three starts), the tall rookie righty has produced a 3.06 ERA, eaten up 50 innings, saved one game, and delivered quality starts that have allowed this embattled White Sox team to stay competitive in games despite a decimated bullpen and a starting rotation that was the chief victim of the Sox’s latest midseason sell-off.

He’s managed to do all of this despite sporting some of the least impressive peripheral statistics in baseball this year.

Jesse Scholtens’ 2023 Statcast data
Baseball Savant

A quick peak at Scholtens’ Baseball Savant page shows that the only true elite element to Jesse’s game is a well-above-average extension number. There has been a lot of talk in baseball circles about the effect elite extension combined with high spin rates and low vertical approach angles can have on pitchers who throw seemingly average offerings.

However, this discussion does not apply to the subject of this article. For one, Scholtens sports downright bad spin rates across the board. So, though he releases the ball closer to the plate as a result of his elite extension, he loses a lot of perceived velocity to a fastball that doesn’t spin particularly well.

The practical result of this is a 92.6 mph fastball that, due to his extension, has the potential to look around 96-97 to batters in terms of perceived velocity, but fails to reach those figures by a wide margin due to below-average spin.

Advanced pitch data for Jesse Scholtens
Baseball Savant

In actuality, Scholtens’ fastball appears to batters to have an average velocity of 93.9 mph; or merely 1.3 mph faster than its actual recorded velocity. If we grant Jesse a perceived 94 mph fastball with bad spin, we still have an average pitch on our hands, despite his extension.

Why, then, has Jesse’s fastball been the third-most valuable pitch among White Sox hurlers?

White Sox pitch value leaderboard (by pitch)
Baseball Savant

All signs point to the big “L” word — luck — in a small sample size.

As we can see above, Sox regulars Gregory Santos, Dylan Cease, and Michael Kopech only have about 10 points of deviation between their actual batting averages against and expected batting average against numbers. Their xSLG’s are typically deviated by around 40 points, which is well within league norms. Scholtens, on the other hand, is benefiting from a batting average against that is nearly 40 points better than his expected numbers and a slugging percentage against that is a whopping 94 points better than expected based on the quality of contact he has allowed. (Touki Toussiant sports similar deviations to Scholtens, before we pencil both into the 2024 rotation.)

The explanation? The three regular Sox pitchers have accumulated more innings and appearances than our article’s subject and Mister Toussaint, by a wide margin. The effect of luck is diluted the more you attempt the thing you’re getting lucky at, so if Scholtens continues on the pace he’s set, his actual numbers will likely inflate to be within the same margin of deviation that Cease, Santos, and Kopech are in.

The result? Another average pitcher.

Jesse Scholtens’ 2023 rate statistics

The highlighted figures above show the reality of Scholtens’ situation. He has a 3.06 ERA, but a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) at 4.53 and an expected FIP at 4.86. For our readers who may not be privy to such metrics, FIP is a statistic that removes the inherent randomness of balls put in play and focuses solely on factors a pitcher has the most direct control over such as walks, strikeouts, and home runs. In other words, without the luck and defensive performance that Scholtens has enjoyed in his starts, he would be rocking an ERA that’s likely up around 4.00. Taking this a step further, his .274 batting average on balls put in play (BABIP) is a full 25 points lower than the league average this year. A figure like that may be sustainable if the pitcher in question is able to limit hard contact, but Jesse hasn’t been able to do that so far this year. He resides in the bottom-third of the league in terms of limiting hard contact, showing that batters have been able to square up the ball with regularity. Sooner rather than later, it stands to reason that these batted balls with find their way to the outfield grass or further.

Jesse Scholtens’ average exit velocity
Baseball Savant

Jesse Scholtens is not a bad pitcher. In fact, he’s far from it. He’s an exceedingly average pitcher who’s enjoying a small, 50-inning stretch of surprisingly good luck. While all of us as White Sox fans hope that this streak continues in perpetuity, the reality of Jesse’s situation is that nothing he has done on the mound has indicated that the success he’s experienced is sustainable for the long term.


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