Game 80: Putting Porcello’s performance into perspective
Let’s be quick with this, because there’s a day game Wednesday, and Justin Verlander is pitching in it:
The Oakland Athletics came to Detroit leading the league in runs scored (422), walks and on-base percentage (.335), while ranking third in home runs and fifth in slugging percentage. They were tied for fifth in extra-base hits, and they had the AL’s lowest ratio of ground balls to fly balls (0.69). Their run differential was and is the best through this point in the season since the 2001 Mariners team that ended up winning 116 games.
Rick Porcello became just the second pitcher this season to throw a shutout on them. Texas’ Martin Perez was the other, doing so on April 23 with a complete-game three-hitter.
Rick Porcello just missed the three-hitter, having given up a fourth hit in the eighth inning. Everything else Porcello did was hard to match.
His 17 ground-ball outs — again, from the team with the lowest ground-ball ratio in the league this season — tied knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Wily Peralta for the most in a Major League game this season.
His only extra-base hit was a blooper that fell in between Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez and Rajai Davis in shallow left field. His three other hits allowed included one infield single on a ground ball up the middle. Other than Austin Jackson running down a couple drives to center, his outfielders spent most of the evening (and I use that time frame loosely, since it was still light out when Porcello finished this game) as spectators.
His 95 pitches marked the second-lowest total from an American League pitcher in a shutout this season, only one more pitch than Jered Weaver needed to shut down the Astros on May 21. It’s the lowest pitch count for a Tigers starter in a complete-game shutout since Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game against the Indians in 2010, a game that required just 88 pitches.
Porcello not only became the first Major League pitcher to toss a shutout without a strikeout since Derek Lowe two years ago for the Indians, he’s the first to do so without a walk or a strikeout since Baltimore’s Jeff Ballard in 1989, and the first Tiger since Dizzy Trout in 1944.
He not only didn’t strike out a batter all night, he induced just two swings and misses all game, both on secondary pitches — one on a changeup, the other on a curveball. He threw 37 two-seam fastballs (or sinkers), induced 16 swings, none of which missed, got 13 foul balls, 14 others put in play, and only one base hit. That’s the same hit total he gave up on the only slider he threw all night, according to data from MLB.com’s Gameday application and brooksbaseball.net.
It was a classic sinkerballer’s performance from a pitcher who has wandered back and forth from the classic sinkerball style.
“You can move your sinker as much as you want. You have to have offspeed pitches behind it,” Max Scherzer said after the game. “You’ve got to be able to change speeds to be able to get the ground ball, generate the weak contact he’s getting. That’s what we’re seeing. He’s executing not only his sinker, but his other pitches as well at such a high level. His offspeed pitches are the best they’ve ever been.”
He’s had those pitches for a while now. He stopped choosing between the curveball and slider and started throwing both at times last year, and moreso this season. He’s throwing them better now. He’s throwing his sinker better, too, it turns out, thanks to side work with pitching coach Jeff Jones.
“We’ve been working hard on some mechanical issues, slowing things down, staying back over the rubber,” Porcello said. “A lot of times when I get up in the zone, my lower body rushes out ahead of my arm, and then my arm’s dragging behind my lower body and I can’t get through and get on top of the baseball and then everything comes up.
“Jonesy’s been huge for me all year in staying on me to make the adjustments. Right now I’ve got everything working in sync and the ball’s down for the most part pretty consistently and moving the way I want it to. I’ve got to maintain that.”
His last three starts, he’s doing that. He has 38 groundouts and 11 fly outs over his last three starts, covering 24 shutout innings in three different cities against three different teams. He has thrown 131 sinkers in those three starts and given up just five hits from them, compared with seven swings and misses.