Rick Porcello, Zack Wheeler and the anonymous experts

Yesterday the New York Post published an article by Mike Puma in which he talked to two anonymous “talent evaluators with strong knowledge of the NL East,” to discuss which club in the division had the best rotation. On the surface, a decent idea for a column. In reality, a reminder of why this blog started in the first place.

There is a time and a place for anonymous sources. If someone’s life would be in danger if their name was disclosed with their opinion – that would be an obvious case for anonymity. An opinion on a baseball team’s potential rotation in a shortened season? Eh, probably not.

My beef with anonymous sources is that these guys are trotted out like they’re experts on the subject and we have no way to confirm that. What are these sources’ track records in making predictions like these? Why is what these people have to say any more relevant than what, say, Metsense has to say?

All right – all we can do is judge them by what they actually say. The subject is what Rick Porcello will bring to the table for the Mets. Here’s evaluator #1:

It’s an every other year thing.

Yes, the last few years Porcello has been better in even numbered years. But he had 14-win seasons in 2009 and 2011 and a 13-win season in 2013 with an ERA better than his career average. It’s a statistical anomaly that Porcello has performed better recently in even-number years. If you want to be taken seriously, you’ve got to bring more to the table than pseudo-science. This is what the obnoxious guy at the bar passes off as wisdom – not what we should expect from an expert.

Here’s more from evaluator #1:

“He got away from his strength. I think he got two-thirds of the way through the season and he realized that ‘This isn’t working, I have to go back to what helped create success.’ I think he went back to using his two-seamer and he finished stronger and got better result. I think he’s probably learned a lesson from that and he’s going to go back to his strengths instead of trying to create something that he’s not.”

A normal major league season is six months long, from April thru September. In Porcello’s last start in July, he gave up 6 ER in 5.2 IP and in his first start in August, he allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP. So, the idea that he turned things around in the final one-third of the season is off to a good start. But in the final two months of the season, Porcello surrendered 29 ER in 52 IP for a 5.02 ERA. While that was an improvement on his season-long numbers, let’s not pretend that a 5.02 ERA is anything on which to generate excitement. And if we eliminate that August 5 start, Porcello’s ERA in his final nine games was 5.48 – nearly identical to his 5.52 ERA for all of 2019.

Evaluator #2 didn’t have much on Porcello that made it into our article, with his only contribution being, “Porcello will help them.”

But where #2 stood out was with his quote on Zack Wheeler and what his addition to Philadelphia means. He stated, “J.T. Realmuto will really help Wheeler.” This seems like a reasonable assumption, given that Wilson Ramos was no defensive whiz and Realmuto is considered one of the top backstops in the game.

Since Realmuto just changed teams last year, we have the ability to see how pitcher did with and without him calling the games. Let’s start with his old team – the Marlins.

Sandy Alcantara showed promise with Realmuto in limited action in 2018 and made the All-Star team without him in 2019.
Pablo Lopez had a 93 ERA+ in 10 starts in 2018 and an 83 in 21 starts in 2019
Trevor Richards had a 4.42 ERA with Realmuto in 2018 and a 4.50 ERA without him until he was traded in 2019.
Caleb Smith had a 92 ERA+ in 2018 with Realmuto and a 94 ERA+ without him in 2019

There’s just not a lot there to suggest Realmuto is a difference maker. Let’s look at his new team, the Phillies:

Jake Arrieta had a 104 ERA+ in 2018 without Realmuto and a 97 ERA+ with him
Zach Eflin had a 95 ERA+ in 2018 and a 109 in 2019
Aaron Nola went from a 173 to a 116 with Realmuto
Nick Pivetta went from an 86 to an 84
Vince Velasquez went from an 85 to a 92 but his overall number in 2019 was boosted by a banishment to the bullpen, where he performed better than he did as a starter.

That’s nine pitchers and only one saw a bump which you might attribute to Realmuto and that was from a guy going from age 24 to age 25, which is not what we’ll see with Wheeler. We’ve seen extended stretches of greatness from Wheeler the past two years but not a full season. Can Realmuto help him get there? Sure, that’s a possibility. It’s also possible that he’ll perform like Arrieta. But it’s not anything to bet the mortgage on either way.

So, our two experts give us either platitudes or things that at best can’t be proven and at worst are demonstrably false. Whenever a sportswriter trots out anonymous sources, put your skeptical meter on high alert and read the piece with an even greater critical eye than normal. Anonymity should have its cost.

3 comments for “Rick Porcello, Zack Wheeler and the anonymous experts

  1. July 2, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    MLB network should have a show called scouts say the damnest things

  2. TJ
    July 2, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    I consider myself rather anonymous, so perhaps you can consider me “evaluator #3”.

    Wheeler is better than Porcello. I base this on emperical evidence. Both were free agents last winter. Wheeler got paid over ten times as much as Porcello.

    Perhaps I should forward Mr. Puma my e-mail, for those really slow news days. Then again, I should thank him for helping to create Mets360.

    • Eraff
      July 2, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      Nice Work TJ…Nice Work! Can I “Not Quote You” ?

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