BALTIMORE -- Some Rick Porcello outings have produced a sinking feeling. He needs more of that.
Baseball’s becoming a power-based game all around, from velocity for pitchers to extra-base hits for hitters. Lifting the ball is a matter of launch angle, of upper-cutting.
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Sinkers, then, aren’t going to miss bats or produce weak contact and whiffs as much if hitters are more often swinging into them, getting underneath them.
“I do think it’s harder. I think hitters, I think swings have changed and I think guys are more trying to lift the ball,” Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I think you see many more low-ball hitters in today’s game than you did 10-15 years ago.”
That doesn’t mean Porcello, who starts tonight against the Orioles at Camden Yards, and his ilk are just hung out to dry. The game was like this in 2016, too.
“He’s still a sinker-ball guy with the ability to elevate,” Willis said. “We need to make sure we keep it in that regard: sinker-ball guy with the ability to elevate, not a guy that’s gonna elevate and occasionally throw a sinker. But right now, you know, his sinker’s not quite where it needs to be. I think he’s thrown some two-seam fastballs that maybe aren’t sinking, that are getting viewed as four-seamers, and they probably are two-seamers. So, it’s just getting action to the pitch back.”
Assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister echoed the same sentiment generally about guys who rely on sinkers.
“If you’re going to pitch as a sinker-baller, you just have to make sure it actually has sink on it,” Bannister said. “I think the guys who are throwing two-seamers without enough depth on them are having a tougher time now. So you really just have to sell out to throwing the pitch with as much depth as possible. It’s harder to throw an average sinker nowadays, just because hitters are going for more risk-reward.
“You look at basketball and the Golden State Warriors, it’s just more 3-pointers. Even if they miss them, they’re going for the 3-point shot, and hitters nowadays, they’re willing to strike out for the homer. So, if you are going to throw more into the upward swing nowadays, you just have to make sure you can get below the barrel, because they’re gonna hit it harder because they’re swinging harder, especially in two-strike counts.”
Rick Porcello’s strikeouts are up in 2017, to 9 per nine innings from 7.6. His walk rate is basically the same, at 1.7 per nine, compared to 1.3 last year. But he’s given up a ton of hits (88), the most in the American League. He gave up 193 all last season when he went 22-4 on the way to winning the A.L. Cy Young Award.
Per BrooksBaseball.net, hitters have a .407 average against his sinker this year. Last year, they hit .294. The batting average against every one of his pitches, in fact, is up. Some of that must be a luck factor, because a .370 average on balls in play is incredibly high. But Porcello and Willis haven’t approached his bullpens that way.
Here’s the other side of it: Porcello (3-6, 4.21 ERA) is getting more whiffs per swing on every one of his pitches this year too, although the difference with his sinker is small.
“A little up in the zone, a little flat,” Willis said generally of Porcello. “I really, I don’t think he’s that far off. But I think more times than not, mechanics issues sometimes come from mental issues. And you know, Rick’s a perfectionist and he wants to go out...and put the ball on the ground. And he wants to go out and control the count. And he wants to go out and be in control and command of the entire game. And right now, he’s getting some tough counts. He’s giving up some hits.
"Sometimes then you try to overcorrect, you try to do a little more. That’s when mechanical issues start to creep in. So, I don’t think it’s anything glaring as far as being complicated. I think it’s simple, and think we got to figure it out.”
Willis did not want to identify specifics of mechanical changes.
“There are things we’re talking about in the bullpen,” Willis said. “A lot of times you have to realize too, going kind of back to mental — effort level, effort level’s huge.”
In this case, he means too much effort.
“When you try harder, your body muscles tend to tense up and lose a little bit of flexibility,” Willis said. “There are things we are talking about, but I really really don’t think he’s far off. And I really feel extremely confident when he takes the mound.”