What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

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Wednesday gave us five afternoon games, perfect for those of you looking to slack off at work. We still have 10 games left in the evening, however, including one featuring a 20-game winner.

Red Sox starter Rick Porcello will oppose the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman in a 7:10 PM EDT start at Fenway Park on Wednesday night. Along with his 20-3 record, Porcello owns a 3.21 ERA and a 161/29 K/BB ratio in 193 2/3 innings. It’s the best season of the 27-year-old’s career and puts him right in the conversation for the American League Cy Young Award.

Last month, Porcello’s teammate Steven Wright was believed to be the frontrunner for that honor, but he suffered a shoulder injury and hasn’t pitched since the end of August. It’s a weak field for the Award, as Chris Sale is the current league ERA leader at 3.03. Amusingly, Masahiro Tanaka is at 3.04, and both Jose Quintana and Corey Kluber are at 3.05. Comparatively, the National League has nine qualified starters with an ERA below 3.00. Yes, facing a pitcher instead of a DH helps, but the starting pitching talent is also much better in the NL.

Anyway. Getting to 20 wins is a big boon for Porcello’s chances, as the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America still hasn’t unlearned the use of the statistic, so it will have some weight in the process even if it’s not as much as it was a decade ago. J.A. Happ is second with 18 wins, while Kluber, David Price, and Chris Tillman each have 16 wins.

By defense-independent statistics, Porcello falls down quite a bit which opens up the argument we have every year in situations like this: should voters consider “should have” statistics like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, or should they only consider what happened? One of the bigger disparities lies with the Yankees’ Michael Pineda. He has a 5.07 ERA, but due to elite strikeout and walk rates, he has the AL’s best xFIP at 3.31. The gap comes from a ridiculously high HR/FB rate of 17.3 percent and a .344 BABIP, some of which can be blamed on the Yankees’ less-than-stellar defense overall. Porcello, meanwhile, has the AL’s 16th-best xFIP at 3.91 and the sixth-best FIP at 3.45.

Pineda “should have” a better ERA but he doesn’t. Porcello “should have” a worse ERA but he doesn’t. ERA retrodictors are great for predicting the future but they do have flaws. For me, you’d need to have absolute certainty that the statistic was telling the truth, but it’s really difficult to separate individual factors from the results. Was Pineda’s home run rate due to a statistical anomaly, or was he really just leaving a lot of mid-90’s fastballs over the plate? Was his BABIP due to a mediocre defense or were opposing batters just making a lot of hard contact? While we have evidence leaning one way or the other, we can argue about the degree to which the assertions are true. That’s why, for me, I’m still using ERA over FIP and xFIP when I consider candidates for awards. The BBWAA still largely goes that way too, along with still using pitcher wins, which bodes well for Porcello.

Counting tonight, Porcello has four starts remaining through the end of the regular season. He can separate himself from the pack and make the ERA/FIP debate obsolete if he pitches well enough.

The rest of Wednesday evening’s action…

Pittsburgh Pirates (Steven Brault) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jake Thompson), 7:05 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwakuee Brewers (Junior Guerra) @ Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Tyler Duffey) @ Detroit Tigers (Anibal Sanchez), 7:10 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sean Manaea) @ Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura), 7:15 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Houston Astros (Joe Musgrove), 8:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jeff Hoffman) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa), 9:40 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jhoulys Chacin), 10:05 PM EDT