Baker-Porcello: A Study in Batted Ball Contrasts
Tomorrow's one game playoff between the Tigers and Twins features an interesting pitching match up. Rick Porcello and Scott Baker exist on opposite ends of the fly ball- ground ball spectrum. Porcello who throws a 'sinking' two-seam fastball over 60% of the time and gets grounders on 54% of his balls in play compared to just 29% fly balls. Baker throws a 'rising' four-seam fastball and gets grounders on just 34% of his balls in play to 47% fly balls. That puts Porcello in the top five GB% for starting pitchers and Baker in the bottom five. You can see an explanation for this difference by looking at the frequency distribution of the heights of their fastballs.
Recall there is a tradeoff in ground ball rate and whiff rate for fastballs based on the height of the pitch. Porcello works down in the zone where he gets grounders, but not many whiffs and consequently has one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. While Baker works up in the zone, gives up tons of fly balls (a good number of the desirable infield variety), but has an above average strikeout rate.
So tomorrow's game is not only an exciting one-game playoff of utmost importance to both teams, but a nice demonstration of the strikeout/ground ball trade off based on fastball height.