The perplexing case of Dovydas Neverauskas

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Dovydas Neverauskas
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Dovydas Neverauskas /

Right-handed relief pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas made his Major League debut for the Pirates in 2017 and the results were perplexing.

On April 24, 2017, Dovydas Neverauskas became the first Lithuanian born player in the history of Major League Baseball. On this night he allowed a run on two hits and a strikeout in two innings pitched against the Chicago Cubs. With this performance, a core piece of the future of the Pirate bullpen had officially arrived in the Major Leagues.

After many years of being primarily just a fastball pitcher in the minor leagues, Neverauskas also added a curveball in 2017. This curveball quickly became his best pitch. He threw his curveball 22.9 percent of time last season

According to Baseball Prospectus, Dovydas Neverauskas had the second best pure stuff of any rookie pitcher in 2017. Neverauskas’ stuffed rated out at 1.94, behind just former Pirate draft pick Walker Buehler, and he was in the one-hundredth percentile. His averaged fastball velocity was 96.4 miles per hours, while his breaking pitches averaged a break of 17.8 inches per pitch.

Baseball Prospectus was also very found of Neverauskas’ slider in 2017:

"Lithuania’s first MLB player is a beast of a man, probably harnessing his velocity from his rage at watching Jonas Valanciunas’ Itty Bitty Baller commercials. A lot like Walker Buehler, this is a pitcher with insane slider velocity and well above average fastball velocity. For those of you counting at home, that’s two legitimate monsters the Pirates now have for Stuff – Felipe Rivero, and Neverauskas. Oh… and that Gerrit Cole guy isn’t too bad either."

Despite having great stuff, the results for Neverauskas in 2017 left a lot to be desired. While he allowed just 24 hits and averaged just 2.84 BB/9 in 25 1/3 innings pitched, he allowed too many home runs (1.42 HR/9) and did not generate many strikeouts (6.04 K/9).

While holding left-handed hitters to a .326 on-base percentage and a .316 wOBA, right-handed hitters owned just a .310 on-base percentage and a .322 wOBA against Neverauskas. He was also excellent with runners in scoring position holding opposing batters to a .240 on-base percentage, .208 slugging percentage, and a .203 wOBA in such situations.

His big issue was two-fold – he allowed too many home runs and he did not generate enough swings and misses. These two factors led to Dovydas Neverauskas owning a 3.91 ERA and a 4.93 FIP despite his excellent stuff and control.

A big reason for the home run issues Neverauskas had last season was that he allowed hard contact 35.4 percent of the time. As for the lack of strikeouts, Neverauskas generated swings and misses just 7.4 percent of the time in 2017.

With the pure stuff Dovydas Neverauskas owns, he should be able to generate a higher swing and miss rate than this. There is no reason this number should not be at least league average (9.5 percent) for Neverauskas. While it may not sound like much, a two percent increase in swings and misses would lead to more strikeouts (duh) and in turn fewer home runs.

During his 2017 rookie campaign, Dovydas Neverauskas excelled in every area except two: home runs allowed and swings and misses generated. These are, obviously, two important components of being a Major League pitcher. Luckily for Neverauskas, he has the stuff to fix these issues in 2018 and beyond.

It is the great stuff that Neverauskas owns that made his 2017 season so perplexing. A pitcher with the stuff and ability that Dovydas Neverauskas owns should have better results than he had in 2017.

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Beginning in 2018 the Pittsburgh Pirates will rely upon Dovydas Neverauskas to be a big part of their bullpen. Neverauskas has the stuff to be a more than solid reliever for the Pirates, however, it is up to him to generate more swings and misses and to cut back on home runs allowed. If he does this, then Dovydas Neverauskas should be a core member of the Pirate bullpen for multiple years.