Many times during the baseball season we’ll hear that a pitcher is currently undergoing or falling victim to a failed “mechanical adjustment”. Generally more common with starters, we heard this very thing early last season about Tigers starter Max Scherzer. He said that he was able to see on video that he wasn’t getting the correct “extension” on his pitches, went to the minors briefly, and came back the Tigers best starter in the second half.
The way Justin Verlander is pitching this year, the only title up for grabs now is second best starter on the staff. Still, I’m sure no Tigers fans would mind if Scherzer or Rick Porcello solidify that spot, but the way they’ve both been throwing of late would give anyone pause.
Scherzer was able to bounce back with a quality start against Toronto at home on Monday (7 IP 6 HA 2 ER 1 BB 9 K), but now he’s looking at some serious home and road splits. For the year, he has a 3.13 ERA in 10 home starts and an ugly 6.64 ERA in seven starts on the road. Despite a higher strikeout rate on the road, he’s getting torched away from Comerica Park as opponents are OPS’ing .920 against him (compared to .704 at home).
Obviously, Comerica Park is a pitcher’s park and all of the Tigers starters have better numbers at home, but with Scherzer it’s tough to tell what the Tigers have at this point.
The Diamondbacks were willing to part with him at such a young age that most people around the game assumed the only reason he was even available was that Arizona was afraid of his delivery and they thought he’d get hurt. Having seen Scherzer pitch a lot over the last two years, he doesn’t seem like a guy who struggles at all to hold his stuff. Max is certainly a max-effort pitcher, but he doesn’t seem to be overdoing it and he rarely fades away in games. Usually, he’ll come out just like on Monday throwing all three of his pitches from the word go and not look back.
When he struggles, it’s been the command that comes back to bite him. His worst home starts with Detroit have come both times he’s faced the Boston Red Sox. In each of those starts he didn’t have his control and changeups were served up over the middle of the plate. In his last road start against the Dodgers, he threw some lazy strikes that were just begging to be hit.
I’m sure this was a question Arizona had about him two years ago: can he be consistent enough in the strike zone or is this a guy who needs to be effectively wild? Even now, that’s tough to answer. He’s still young, but it’s fair to wonder if Scherzer is ever going to ascend to being a consistent top of the rotation pitcher or settle for Matt Garza 2.0.
Porcello, on the other hand, is not a max-effort stuff guy like Scherzer. He’s part of the Madison Bumgarner/Henry Rowengartner association of pitchers who threw in the mid-90’s before they turned 18, but have since abandoned the high heat. Porcello has been rocked silly in his last three starts giving up a total of 21 runs (18 earned) and failing to complete five innings as his ERA has climbed from a respectable 3.61 to 5.06. His problems seem oddly more easily correctable than Scherzer’s as he just needs to stop catching so much of the plate with his pitches and get more sink on his fastball. I’ve been banging the ‘Porcello needs to miss more bats’ drum for quite some time now, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards as he’s retired just 45 batters on strikes this year in 83.2 innings. He’s only recorded two strikeouts over his last three horrendous starts, but if ‘Ricky P’ wants to keep doing it his way he’ll absolutely need to be effective in the strike zone (re: the bottom of the strike zone). If not, he’s going to continue getting shelled, in which case I recommend he invest in a helmet. How many line drives up the box did the Mets hit on Tuesday? I think I counted six.
It’s possible that both of these pitchers’ mechanics have just been off a bit. Minor mechanical adjustments are something you hear a lot about in this game and a lot of the time you wouldn’t even notice the difference (you know, except for the results). For big guys with moving parts like Scherzer and Porcello, a slight mechanical adjustment could be all they need to get back on track and not let this June swoon carryover into the second half.