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

  • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

    I once read that Porcello will need to increase his strike out rate to find the ace within. Seems like that is playing out so far this year.

  • Chris Hannum

    You hit the nail on the head with the second complaint, Matt. It isn’t so much that a lot of Tigers are underachieving (like this guy suggests), though a few obviously are, it’s that people had irrational expectations for a lot of Tigers. That or an extremely narrow definition of underachieving.

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      I’d say Jhonny Peralta has met expectations. Has be been great? No, but I don’t expect him to be great, I expect him to do about what he’s done.

  • Robert Kornfeld

    Sooooooo wondering what you think of Max today ? Hmmmm? Lets see, Shut out the New York Yankees for 8 solid innings, a team that over its first 28 games has only been shut out twice……a team that has hit 45 home runs in its first 28 games……a team that has scored 7+ runs a game in 6 of those games? After hearing Yankee Skipper ?Girardi state that Sherzer has incredible stuff, YES, I think Scherzer has incredibly exceeded expecations. This is a solid #2 pitcher. I think you had best take out that comment “lucky ERA”……. Certainly you jest ! He’s a power pitcher who can dominate. I agree that he needs to develop more consistency, but one need only have seen last nights “Yankee Demolition” to know that Scherzer is truly the “real deal”. As far as Porcello, lets just be honest and say school is still in session for him. Lots to develop, but a fastball is a must, and he frankly doesn’t have a major league version of one yet. Throwing 89-90 is not gonna cut it in the long run, other teams look like hitting machines against him. His developmental upswing is certainly there…but if Leyland were honest with the press, I think he’s probably say that after his second start (and 9.45 era), and with Andy Oliver (Triple A with Toledo) pitching lights out over there, Porcello was just a stones thow away from another visit to Toledo. Is Porcello “exceeding expecations”…. lets talk again after today, when the bombers look to recoup after last nights “Scherzer Squash”, and take it out on Rick.

    • http://www.motorcitybengals.com Matt Snyder

      Four of those home runs came of off Max…

      But seriously, I never said that Scherzer wasn’t capable, or that he wouldn’t turn it around, I merely said that his ERA and W-L record weren’t telling the whole truth.

      Max did exactly what he needed to do to turn the secondary numbers around. He kept the K’s up, limited walks, eliminated home runs. Keep it up.

    • Chris Hannum

      The silly thing is that unless Porcello is contending for Cy Youngs, as far as a lot of people are concerned he’ll be falling short of expectations.

  • Tom

    Why are you using FIP instead of xFIP? xFIP works much, much better at smaller sample sizes.

    • http://www.motorcitybengals.com Matt Snyder

      xFIP regresses home run rates toward league average. While this may be good for predicting the future, it doesn’t help us out with the fact that Max has already allowed those home runs.