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ADP Debate - Rick Porcello vs Shane Bieber

While participating in a fantasy baseball draft, you’ll undoubtedly face numerous hair-pulling decisions that could either make or break your season. Here at RotoBaller, we care about your luscious locks, so we divulge into these anxious situations before they happen to make it easier for you on draft day.

Speaking of lack of hair, Rick Porcello and Shane Bieber both don’t put much hair on their fastballs. Averaging 91.3 MPH and 93.0 MPH respectively on their four-seamers, these two pitchers are excellent at getting outs without having the intimidating heat in their back pocket. Being selected as back-to-back pitchers so far in drafts, determining who will provide the better year in 2019 is a messy decision. Grab a chair, and we’ll comb over this hairy situation.

Check out our other ADP Debates when you're done here, including one on highly-ranked pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Jose Berrios.

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Slick Rick the Ruler

After a full season removed from his 2016 Cy Young campaign, Porcello contributed sufficiently to his roto categories in 2018. Going 17-7 with a 1.18 WHIP, he established a career-high 8.94 K/9 with his 190 strikeouts in 191.1 innings pitched. Although he trimmed his 2017 ERA down from a 4.65 ERA to a 4.28 ERA last season, it wasn’t enough to satisfy fantasy owners. The 30-year-old battled home run problems once again, which has become a tendency since joining Boston in 2015. Serving up a 1.27 HR/9 last year, it was clear he let Fenway Park get the better of him as his home HR/9 was an ugly 1.73 at home. Porcello clipped off a bit of his Barrel% from his previous season, but his 7.0% mark was a mirror image of his career average, so much of the same should be anticipated in 2019.

What was most attractive from the 6’5” right-hander last year was his newly acquired knack for the strikeout. He kept batters knotted up with his curveball/fastball combination as he set new bests in Whiff% on both of these deliveries (29.8%/26.4%). It's not surprising to see an increase in swing-and-miss on a breaking pitch, but with Porcello shaving MPH off his fastball velocity annually, it certainly makes you scratch your head as to how it could elevate over 4.5% from the previous season. Despite a four-year low in Chase% on his fastball, his whiffs on chased balls out of the zone skyrocketed over 15% from 2017 to a 41.3% clip in 2018.

A towering climb, for the sake of comparison, his former teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander had the two best fastballs in 2018 according to pitch values. Neither of these aces has ever seen a Chase-Miss% that high on their heaters in any season in either of their illustrious careers. Last season was likely the peak for Porcello’s strikeout rate, and a curl back to his previous 2015-17 pace with the Red Sox of 7.81 K/9 would be more realistic.

With his K numbers sprouting beautifully last season, Porcello has always been razor-sharp at limiting the free pass. His career 2.07 BB/9 is an exceptional mark, especially after 10 big league seasons. He did see a little growth on this number last year as he finished his season with a 2.26 BB/9, a rate we haven’t seen that low since 2011. Still, if a top-20 number is the floor we'll see with Porcello, it bodes well for his WHIP in 2019.


The Good Bieber

In his first taste of big league action last season, Bieber was solid in his debut year for the Cleveland Indians. The 23-year-old went 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 118 K in 114.2 IP. While these numbers may not blow you away, there's a lot to admire in the youngster’s skill set. Starting with his minor league history, he was a cut above the rest of his pitching counterparts in regards to control. Over his 277 career minor league innings, he allowed a measly 19 walks. That's a 0.62 BB/9, an extraordinary number for anyone and especially for a hurler this young. He paired that elite command with a polished 8.45 K/9 in the farm system with a 2.24 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.

It’s clear Bieber was ready for the bigs with those stellar minor league roots settled, so what went wrong with his first brush with Major League batters? It wasn't his ineptitude to get hitters out via strikeout as his 9.26 K/9 in the majors improved on his minor league K/9. Thanks to a little shampoo on his slider generating a 43.0% Whiff%, he achieved a 26.2% Whiff% as a whole, which was over 2% higher than the major league average. Bieber did allow a few more walks than he was accustomed to at a 1.81 BB/9. Nothing to wig out about though, as that number still would have been a top-six mark among league qualifiers. It pained the right-hander that many of those baserunners came around to score, however. An ugly 69.4% LOB% was an outlier to his consistent marks in the high 70s and low 80s in the minors. The most significant effect on this strand-rate was his inability to keep the ball in the yard. After allowing only 12 homers throughout his entire minor league career, he served up 13 dingers at the big league level. His 1.02 HR/9 was still well under the league average (1.16 HR/9), and his 7.0% Barrel% was identical to Porcello's career mark.

It’s not a shocker that the stronger, more conditioned major league hitters took Bieber deep more often. Its almost encouraging that this was his only considerable flaw in his first taste of big league action. All the Sabermetrics were on his side as well. His SIERA (3.45), FIP (3.23) and xFIP (3.30) were all over a full run lower than his actual ERA and his .285 batting average against should have been buzzed down closer to his .256 xBA. With these supportive stats, his ERA will likely recede in 2019 with some positive regression in these categories.


Who Makes The Cut?

Both of these pitchers have similar styles of throwing, terrific walk rates mixed in with a bright ability to get the strikeout when needed. Also, they are efficient at generating the ground ball, but when the ball gets airborne it tends finds a home in souvenir city. With Porcello’s balding velocity, Bieber will prove to be the better strikeout arm with his slider being braided finely with his controllable four-seamer. WHIP and ERA also favor the Indians chucker with his edge in walks and slightly better ability to reduce the longball. Both on prominent teams, win totals should come relatively easy, although Bieber may not get the run support that Porcello will get with Boston. On the pitching side of things, the more hitter-neutral Progressive Field in Cleveland will help balance this out as he won’t likely need as many runs to rely on for the victory.

With Bieber getting chosen at an ADP of 157 and Porcello going as the next SP off the board at 160, it’s more sensible to be a Belieber. Porcello is more groomed at the Major League level, but Bieber has more upside. He’s proven to be a workhorse already at his young age throwing 173.1 IP in 2017 and 193 IP in 2018. The Tribe will let their hair down with Bieber in 2019 as there should be no reason to snip his innings as you would typically see other teams do with their young pitchers. If you take a shot on the young Indians pitcher, you just might be hoisting that championship trophy with your healthiest head of hair yet.

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