Coming into 2020, the question around the pitching was wondering if Rick Porcello, Marcus Stroman and Michael Wacha could combine to give the Mets roughly 200 innings of league average pitching, to replace what the Mets got last year from starters no longer on the team. Turns out they needed even more replacement innings when Noah Syndergaard was lost for the season and the early injury to Stroman eliminated any chance to meet even the original goal. And then Porcello and Wacha were lousy and, well, you can see how the team is six games below .500 with six games to play.
But is it fair to lump Porcello and Wacha in the same boat? For the season, Porcello has a 5.46 ERA and Wacha has a 6.75 mark. Neither one of those are anything to write home about but it seems more accurate to say that Porcello’s been bad while Wacha has been horrific. And then we have to consider that Wacha’s ERA as a SP is even worse, as his ERA has been helped by a nice bullpen appearance. As a starter this year, Wacha has a 7.50 ERA in six starts, which produced just 24 IP.
Furthermore, Porcello has been pretty much what we were hoping to get in his last nine starts of the season.
His first two starts were dreadful, as he allowed 9 ER in 6 IP. But since then, Porcello has a 4.50 ERA with peripherals much better than that. He’s got 8 BB, 45 Ks and 4 HR in 50 IP, which translates to a 3.03 FIP. There have been a couple of clunkers in his last nine starts – 3 IP, 4 ER against the Marlins and 4 IP and 5 ER against the Orioles – but there have also been four Quality Starts, including two games where he went seven innings.
There have been 1,614 games played so far this season and only 178 times has a pitcher completed at least seven innings in a start. That works out to 11% of the time. There have been only 85 pitchers this season to go seven innings in a start and Porcello has done it twice, making him one of 46 hurlers to have multiple 7-inning starts in 2020.
Does that make him one of the top 50 pitchers in the game? No, it doesn’t, not even close. But Porcello gives you the potential for a Quality Start each time out and that’s … something. Sure, it’s an indication of how low the bar has been set for pitcher expectations here in 2020. We can scoff and poke fun at this or we can recognize the reality of the situation.
There are too many pitchers who teams feel need to be replaced before they face batters a third time in a game. Porcello is one who doesn’t immediately fall into this category and that may not sound like much, but it has real value. In four of his 11 starts, Porcello did not throw a pitch in the fifth inning. Yet, he’s tied for 22nd in the NL in innings pitched. When it comes to innings, Porcello is an SP2 here in 2020.
This is nothing new for Porcello, who has been remarkably durable throughout his career, never making fewer than 27 starts in a full season in a career that started back in 2009. In 2020, 12 starts is what you’d get if you took your turn every day in a 5-man rotation and Porcello is on target to reach that. It’s the equivalent of 32 starts in a normal season.
When the Mets signed Porcello, the hope was that he’d be the team’s fourth or fifth starter and provide league-average or better results, giving them a comparative advantage to other clubs. With the way the season unfolded, the Mets needed Porcello to be their second starter and outside of innings, he hasn’t given them that type of season.
But he should be judged on what he was brought in to do, not on his inability to meet unrealistic expectations.
To date, Porcello has a 1.7 fWAR. If we multiple results by 2.7 – the figure that would bring our 60-game season to a 162-game one – that would be a 4.6 fWAR. If Porcello had delivered that in a normal year, we would be thrilled. Of course, fWAR uses FIP as one of its inputs, so maybe not everyone would be thrilled. Yet again, if this was a normal year, perhaps Porcello would have enough time for his results to match his peripherals.
He doesn’t walk guys (2.25 BB/9) and he’s done a terrific job of eliminating the gopher ball (0.64 HR/9) this season. But Porcello has been done in by a .363 BABIP and a 60.2 LOB% here in 2020. MLB pitchers have a .290 BABIP and a 71.8 LOB% this season. Lifetime, Porcello has a .308 BABIP and a 69.5 LOB% so no matter how you look at it, he’s been unlucky or, if you hate that word, underperforming in a completely unexpected way in these categories.
My opinion is that from a bottom-line perspective, Porcello has essentially done what he was brought in to do – be a bottom of the rotation starter. If his results matched his peripherals, we would consider this to have been a great value signing. Is it enough to bring him back in 2021 and beyond? That’s a reasonable question to ask. And that’s something that would have seemed to be a firm “no” after the way his season started.
And “no” is how you would answer that question with regards to Wacha.