If you think the late 1800’s were the best times in America and often think, “Why can’t things go back to the way they used to be in the good ol’ 1880’s” then this viewpoint isn’t for you. But, if you think that possibly, over the past 13o or so years, we have been able to find a few new ways to track the effectiveness of baseball players, then boy do I have something to tell you: Rick Porcello is having a great year.
You can go ahead and look at things like his won/loss record (2-2) and his ERA (5.29) as the classic way to figure that he’s pitching ineffectively. Or, you can realize that a pitcher’s win/loss record is only useful if you’re Hawk Harrelson or Harold Reynolds and that ERA relies way to heavily on things beyond a pitcher’s control, like the size of the park he pitches in, the defense behind him and luck.
While looking at Porcello’s latest outing on BrooksBaseball.net (best of his career so far) and comparing it to his worst outing of the year, a 2/3rds of an inning fiasco in Anaheim when he gave up 9 runs on 9 hits I found a few things that really stood out at me: Despite his short outings and the incredible amount of runs he has given up, he has been pitching well.
How well? Porcello has a career low xFIP at 3.15 which is classified between “great” and “excellent.” What is xFIP? It is what a pitchers ERA would be if all things were equal, ballpark, defense, luck, which usually adjusts up for pitchers in parks in Comerica, Petco in San Diego and Wrigley Field and down for those unlucky enough to have to pitch in Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Ballpark regularly.
What is also surprising is that his K/9 is at a career high, BB/9 a career low and his BABIP is at .314, above league average but not so out of whack that it explains his perceived ineffectiveness (BABIP is Batting Average on Balls in Play, league average is abotu .290, anything high will adjust down to the norm and below up to it over the course of a year, usually, but it means hitters are getting some extra, lucky hits off him right now).
What this adds up to, is the most glaring, out of ordinary number in Porcello’s stats: HR%
Porcello is slightly above his career groundball %, which is about 54%, which makes sense for a sinker ball pitcher and his fly ball % is down from his career average, but in line with last years % and more likely what it should be (his early career numbers are seemingly too high) and that is 22.8%.
However, his Home Run per fly ball % is at 19.4%, while his career % is 11% and league average is 9.5%. This means that an unusually high amount of flyballs hit off of Porcello are becoming Home Runs instead of simply outs, extending innings and driving his traditional numbers in the wrong direction.
Hot streaks and cold streaks are all a part of baseball and during a long season, numbers tend to rise and fall and land in a certain area. While looking at Porcello’s season numbers so far, if baseball holds true and his HR% falls back down to the mean, he will be able to keep his rotation spot and prove an effective starter for a World Series contending team.