Throughout the season I’ve shared scouting reports on Twitter for opposing pitchers. Since we’re on to the postseason, I’ll be expanding those with more detail here.
The Game 1 starter for the Red Sox is a familiar foe: former Tigers starter Rick Porcello
It’s hard to know what to think about this matchup. Despite his impressive numbers this season, Porcello still has some of the least intimidating stuff in baseball. He’s basically Josh Tomlin, if Tomlin had carried his hot start through the entire season.
That said, Porcello has owned the Indians for a long time. His career in Detroit was always disappointing to Tigers fans, but he still managed a 10-4 mark with a 3.35 ERA in 22 starts against the Tribe.
Like Tomlin, Porcello pounds the strike zone—not quite at Tomlin’s MLB-leading rate, but close. Tomlin led the majors with 1.0 walks per nine innings. Porcello was just behind with a career-best 1.3.
Aside from the improved accuracy, it’s tough to pinpoint what turned things around for Porcello this season.
The most obvious difference was his increased usage of the sinker, which jumped for 18.5% in 2015 to 40.6% this season. That’s obviously a huge difference, but was it was actually a step backwards for Porcello who used to routinely throw the sinker at least 35% of the time. In fact, the 40.6% isn’t even a career high (he was 44% in 2013).
An even more confusing trend is the fact that hitters are chasing Porcello’s sinker out of the zone at a career-worst rate. So he’s throwing it more, fooling hitters less, and somehow still getting improved results. It’s all very confusing.
Perhaps the explanation for Porcello’s turnaround is simply a combination of cutting down on his walks, mixed with just dumb luck. His BABIP dropped to a career low .269 this year—more than 40 points lower than his career average entering the season (.314).
If I’m going to throw out the BABIP suggestion, however, to be fair I should note that Porcello spent most of his career in Detroit. He often had to deal with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, among other feeble fielders, backing him up.
As for how the Indians lineup will fair against Porcello… I’m nervous to say this, but it actually looks like a great matchup.
Despite Porcello’s success against past Indians lineups, this version owns him.
The notables matchup are Jason Kipnis (.323 career BA vs Porcello), Mike Napoli (.318) and Carlos Santana (.293 with 3 HR). Others with a smaller sample size such as Yan Gomes (.385) and Rajai Davis (.375) have also had success.
Lonnie Chisenhall is another great matchup based on his 2016 season. Against sinkers and fastballs from righties, Chisenhall is batting .311 this season—tops on the team among the everyday players.
Regardless of how Terry Francona fills out his lineup, he will have a group of hitters entering this matchup against Porcello with a ton of confidence.