Rookie right-hander Anthony DeSclafani takes the mound for the Cincinnati Reds this evening in their contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is his seventh start of the year. His first six outings have gone pretty well, resulting in a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings with a 26/11 K/BB and just 18 hits allowed.
On the surface it looks like DeSclafani is breaking through. This is a far cry from his major league debut exposure last summer, when he posted a 6.27 ERA in 33 innings for the Miami Marlins.
Or is it?
His performance this year is actually very similar to last year, indeed worse in some ways. In 33 innings last year his FIP was 3.77 with an xFIP of 3.88. That's a lot better than the raw 6.27 ERA he rang up. In 31 frames this year his FIP is 3.88 and his xFIP 4.16, considerably worse than the naked 2.03 ERA.
This all shows up in the components: his K/BB last summer was 26/5 and is 26/11 this year: strikeouts are up a hair but his walk rate has doubled. The main difference is in balls in play: his BABIP is an excellent (and unsustainable) .188 in 2015; it was .330 last year. It looks to me like DeSclafani was plagued with some bad luck and/or defensive support last year but that his luck and/or support has been equally good this season.
Overall we are looking at a guy with 64 career major league innings, with a 4.22 ERA, 3.82 FIP, and 3.98 xFIP. His ERA was unnaturally high last year and unnaturally low this year but the two trends converge with overall numbers in line with the base components. His career ERA+ of 90 is exactly what you'd expect despite the surface divergence between this year and last.
If you look at his minor league track record, DeSclafani has been a decent performer in the high minors, posting a 3.61 ERA in 177 combined innings between Double-A and Triple-A over parts of three seasons in the Blue Jays and Marlins systems with a 159/45 K/BB, 167 hits, 3.33 FIP. Translate all that into a rough major league equivalent and you come up with something very close to what he's actually done in his 64 Show innings.
(You could drill further into the batted ball data but we've already thrown enough numbers around and there are a lot of people better at that than I am. Readers with expertise in batted ball data are welcome to take a shot at analysis in the comments section).
Based on the stuff/talent that scouts see, DeSclafani generally projects as a number four starter with four and two-seam fastballs in the low 90s, a slider which has shown some improvement over the last couple of years, a decently adequate change-up, and a slow curve that he could probably use a bit more often. The stuff isn't blistering but it is solid enough when he locates it well and he can roll through a lineup on days his command is on: examples include his first three starts this year when he gave up just two runs in 21 innings with a 16/4 K/BB. On days his command is off that changes as you'd expect: he gave up five walks and four runs in five innings in his last start on May 1st.
The bottom line: we need to look past DeSclafani's pretty ERA this spring and his ugly one last summer. Scouting reports say he's a number four type who can be effective when his command is sharp but who doesn't have a huge margin for error.
Properly understood, that's what the numbers say too.