Detroit Tigers News

Rick Porcello Didn’t Take a Step Back in 2010

msnyder
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If you’re used to judging seasons by the back of bubble gum cards, then the obvious conclusion is that Rick Porcello was worse, and probably significantly worse, in 2010 than he was in 2009. But I think that’s simply not true.

We’ve all seen pitchers hang a breaking ball that get’s fouled off for a strike. We’ve all seen hitters get fooled by a perfect pitch but somehow reach with a single when their “excuse me” swing makes contact and the ball bloops in front of the outfielders. Do the results of the plays make the first pitch a good one and the second one a bad one? Obviously not.

The imaginary plays above are some examples of random variation in baseball. Sometimes the ump calls that pitch a strike, sometimes the shortstop makes a ridiculous throw to beat the runner, sometimes the ball gets lost in the sun, sometimes the fence is a little bit closer on the road, and sometimes a one hitter is a perfect game. It’s random variation; it happens.

And no, this isn’t a BABIP rant.

Obviously:

2009: 14-9, 3.96 ERA
2010: 10-11 5.01 ERA

Right, I already mentioned this. Let’s move on.

Not as obviously:

2009: 12.4 K%
2010: 11.9 K%

Yeah, this one’s worse (and too low in general), but it’s not that much worse. A half of a percent over a season is only like three or four strikeouts. It’s not really any different than last year, but that number does need to come up several percentage points (Justin Verlander‘s MLB average is around 21%) if he’s going to be a number one or two.

2009: 7.2 BB%, 3.2 HR%
2010: 5.7 BB%, 2.5 HR%

These numbers are both a tick better than last year. The difference of 0.7% in the HR% doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but it’s a four home run (or so) difference, and that seems like a lot to me.

Walks, strikeouts, and home runs are the three components of FIP (fielding independent pitching), a sort of ERA replicator that attempts to control for the areas of the game that the pitcher is responsible.

2009: 4.77 FIP
2010: 4.32 FIP

So, FIP would guess that Rick’s ERA in 2010 would have been lower than it was in 2009, but we see that it has as much to do with a fortunate 2009 as an unfortunate 2010. Combining the two years gives us a FIP of 4.56 and an ERA of 4.46. Pretty close.

2009: .267 BAA, .281 BABIP
2010: .282 BAA, .301 BABIP

OK, so there’s a little bit of BABIP in here. Most of the year to year difference in BABIP (and therefore BAA) is noise due to our friend randomness, but in case you don’t believe me and you think he’s been getting hit harder, check these out:

2009: 17.1 LD%, 29 XBH%, .416 SLG
2010: 17.3 LD%, 25 XBH%, .413 SLG

His line drive rate is nearly identical at 17%, so it doesn’t appear that hitters are squaring up on the ball any more than did last year. We also see this with his extra base hit percentage and slugging percentage. He’s actually giving up fewer bases per hit this year than last year (and we already saw that he’s less prone to the home run). This means he’s giving up more singles, which isn’t really the result of getting blasted.

His ground ball rate did take a step back (from 54.2% to 49.7%), but his GB/FB ratio is still 13th in the American League (minimum 150 IP) and he was still above average in inducing double plays, so it’s not anything that jumps out to me as a concern. Did we really expect him to continue being the best ground ball man in the AL right away?

I just don’t see anything here that sticks out saying “wow, way worse”. No, he didn’t really take the big step forward that we all wanted to see, but he really wasn’t worse than he was last year. He probably got a little bit lucky his first year and a little bit unlucky this year. He still has plenty of things to work on (namely the strikeouts), but I still think he has a very promising future in the Tigers rotation.

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