On Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Expectations

I happened across an MLive.com article by David Mayo last night, and while there were several things in it that I disagreed with, one point stuck out to me in particular.

The cold fact about the Tigers is that, excluding relievers, only four players — Cabrera, catcher Alex Avila, outfielder Brennan Boesch and pitcher Max Scherzer — have met or exceeded expectations.

Cabrera, yeah. Avila, of course. Boesch, yep. Wait a minute… SCHERZER????

I had to go and check out his statistical line, and sure enough he’s 4-0 with a 3.82 ERA. I guess those two numbers “meet expectations”, especially if you’re particularly wooed by pitcher wins, but if we dig a little big deeper with Max, I have a hard time believing that he’s actually pitching to our preseason standard of being a solid number two starter.

There are 54 “qualified” starting pitchers in the American League, and only four of them have walked more batters per nine innings than Scherzer has (4.30). Of those same 54 starting pitchers, only four others have allowed more home runs per nine innings than Max (1.69).

His strikeout numbers have been good (he’s fifth in K/9), so that has helped to limit the damage, but walks and home runs allowed are two huge components of pitching, and he has struggled mightily in both respects. This is shown in his team-worst (among starters) FIP of 4.93 (ranks 47 out of 54 in AL).

So, yes, the traditional numbers may look good, but he seriously needs to change how he’s pitching, because my expectations were that he’d also have good secondary numbers. And he doesn’t.

And that brings me to my second complaint about this “meeting or exceeding expectations” list: what the heck were his expectations for Rick Porcello?

Porcello’s ERA on the young year is better than his career average ERA, he’s improved his strikeouts by two per nine innings, he’s maintained his low walk rate, and he’s also been a bit better in home run prevention. He has maintained or improved in every facet of pitching, but somehow this did not meet Mayo’s expectations?

In contrast to Scherzer and his “lucky” ERA, Porcello’s secondary numbers look very good. Rick’s FIP and xFIP are mere points higher than those of Justin Verlander. And no matter your opinion on whether or not JV is pitching like a “true ace”, you have to admit that he’s pitching pretty well. For Porcello to be approaching his defense independent numbers says a lot about Rick’s improvement.

We need to get past simply glancing at W-L record and ERA as primary criteria for measuring how well a pitcher has pitched, especially in one month’s worth of game data. Max Scherzer has not been the best pitcher in the rotation like these traditional numbers suggest. Let’s hope he turns some of these trends around tonight against the Yankees, and let’s hope Rick Porcello continues his strong start tomorrow.

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Tags: Max Scherzer Rick Por

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