The Dude Walks Alone.
It took Harrison a couple years to finally stick in the Rangers’ rotation, but when he finally got the chance to start full-time in the majors, he didn’t let it slip away. In his first season accruing more than six starts, Harrison pitched 185 innings while posting a 3.39 ERA and 3.52 FIP. His strikeout rate was nothing too special (6.1 K/9), but he managed to get his walks under control (2.8 BB/9) and make batters hit an above-average number of groundballs (48%). He’s no flame-throwing ace, but he’s an effective, above average starter.
Harrison has a wide repertoire of pitches: a four-seam fastball (93 MPH), two-seam fastball (92 MPH), cutter (87 MPH), changeup (83 MPH), and curveball (78 MPH). Since he’s a left-handed starter, he primarily uses his two fastball and cutter against same-handed hitters, while he rarely uses his cutter against righties. Instead, against opposite-handed hitters, he throws his fastballs slightly less often and uses his curveball and changeup around 15% of the time each.
Even against lefties, Harrison rarely uses his cutter when he’s behind in the count. When he falls behind, he instead gets very fastball heavy, favoring his four-seam fastball over his two-seamer. Against right-handed hitters, he only uses his curveball early in the count, and he throws his changeup primarily when the count is either even or he’s behind. If he gets ahead of a right 0-2, 1-2, or even 2-2, his preferred out-pitch is his cutter.
In many ways, Porcello is a similar pitcher to Harrison. He also doesn’t have a high strikeout rate (5.1 per nine) and keeps a low walk rate (2.3 per nine), while inducing hitter to pound the ball into the ground a decent bit (51%). His 4.14 SIERA is quite close to Harrison’s 4.09 SIERA, with the main difference being that Harrison is slightly better at getting whiffs than Porcello. So if you want to judge Porcello based on his 4.76 ERA this season, just remember that his .316 BABIP is the main difference between him and the pitcher he’s facing tonight.
Once you delve into pitch selection, though, these two pitchers begin to differentiate themselves. Porcello only throws four main pitches: a four-seam fastball (90 MPH), two-seam fastball (90 MPH), slider (83 MPH), and changeup (81 MPH). Occasionally he’ll mix in a 75 MPH curveball to lefties, but it’s a rare occurrence considering he only threw 50 curves all season long.
Porcello loves his two-seamer, throwing it 40% of the time against both hands. While the pitch may not miss a lot of bats (7-9% whiff rate), it does induce a heck of a lot of groundballs (57-64%). And as you’d expect, Porcello’s best pitches for getting whiffs are his slider (against righties, 30% whiffs) and his changeup (against lefties, 25% whiffs). His slider is also decently effective against lefties, getting 23% whiffs and inducing grounders 50+% of the time, but he doesn’t throw it terribly often against them.
Despite his mediocre fastball velocity, Porcello’s low strikeout total might actually have more to do with his pitch selection than anything. This season, he’s thrown his slider and changeup most often early in the count; in other words, he gets less and less likely to throw his breaking balls with every ball he throws, especially against lefties. If he gets ahead early on he’ll attack the hitter with his breaking balls, but if he gets two balls on the hitter, he becomes much less likely to screw around with his curve or change. And if the count gets to three balls, well, he’s almost exclusively a fastball pitcher (even in 3-2 counts).
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