Game 22 Preview: Braves at Tigers

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Rick Porcello gets a second chance at pitching in front of a national TV audience today on FOX, this time against Kris Medlen and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta Braves (15-7) at Detroit Tigers (11-10)

Time/Place: 1:05 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Talking Chop

Media: FOX (broadcast map), Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Kris Medlen (1-2, 2.16 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (0-2, 11.08 ERA)

Medlen made headlines last season by winning nine of his 12 starts, all of which came after the All-Star Break. He had a 0.97 ERA in 83 2/3 innings during that stretch, striking out 84 batters while walking only ten. While it's safe to say that these numbers are unsustainable over a full season, it seems that he has swung too far towards the other end of the spectrum so far in 2013. He has struck out a Porcello-like 5.43 batters per nine innings so far this year, and his walk rate has jumped by a full batter per inning. On the other hand, his BABIP is even lower than 2012 at .251. This is particularly strange considering he is allowing line drives at a 23.2% rate, a jump of almost 5% compared to last season. If he can bring his strikeout rate back to its 2012 level while cutting down the walks a bit, he should be a top-tier starter again in 2013.

Oddly enough, Medlen is the type of pitcher that we have envisioned Porcello becoming throughout his career. They both primarily rely on a two-seam fastball in the low 90s, but throws a healthy portion of curveballs and changeups in all counts. There are differences, but they are subtle. Medlen has more snap on his breaking ball, but Porcello's fastball sits a couple of miles per hour faster than Medlen's. Porcello largely shies away from throwing his changeup to right-handers, while Medlen has no issues with letting it fly, especially with two strikes. Overall, Porcello likes to stick with his fastball with two strikes while Medlen prefers his curveball (but throws a better mix in general). Medlen pitched really well last year while Porcello... OK, maybe that difference isn't so subtle. I'm all for adding up their 2012 stats, combining them, dividing by two, and calling it a year.

Last time Porcello pitched on FOX Saturday Baseball, things didn't go very well. He kept the ball down in the strike zone and in the infield (for the most part), but that didn't seem to matter much to a speedy Angels lineup. Another factor working in their favor is that the Angels have been the best team in the American League at hitting fastballs this season, ranking 13.7 runs above average in 2013. Unfortunately for Porcello, the Braves are even better, at 15.5 runs above average. Porcello has been aided by a lot of run support in interleague play throughout his career. He is 7-4, but has a 4.83 ERA in 14 career starts in interleague play. He hasn't gotten much run support in 2013, though. The Tigers have scored just eight runs in his three starts.

The Frankenpitcher experiment from above

Question: What would happen if you combined Porcello and Medlen's stats from last year and split them evenly?

Hypothesis: MLive would need a new whipping boy

Method: Math, Kurt's made-up stats, and the satisfaction that at least Porcello won't be as bad as Jonathan Sanchez was last night

Results:

IP H ER BB SO HR ERA FIP WHIP
Medlen 138.0 103 24 23 120 6 1.57 2.42 0.91
Porcello 176.1 226 90 44 107 16 4.59 3.91 1.53
Krick Porcedlen 157.1 165 57 34 114 11 3.26 3.25 1.26

Conclusion: Yeah, I'd take that.

Outlook

Porcello isn't the strikeout artist that Anibal Sanchez is, but the Braves' propensity for swinging at pretty much everything near the plate last night is a good omen for a pitcher that couldn't buy a strikeout in his last start -- or all season, really. I would like to see Porcello use his curveball and changeup early and often in order to keep the Braves from sitting on his fastball, something that Sanchez did very well last night. The offense will have their work cut out for them, so Porcello will need his 'A' game today.

Prediction

Porcello makes it through the first inning today.

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