Will Rick Porcello Take the Next Step in 2010?

by Jimmy Hascup

While most 20-year-olds are in the midst of their college careers, a different type of career has begun for a Detroit Tigers pitcher.  One of the more highly touted prospects coming into this season, Rick Porcello slid into the fifth spot and proved that even the least experienced arms can have success in the major leagues. The former 2007 first round draft pick wasn’t in the Professor’s top-35 pitchers, nor is he likely to be awarded the Rookie of the Year, but that doesn’t mean his season was any less spectacular:

14 Wins
170.2 Innings
3.96 ERA
1.34 WHIP
89 Strikeouts (4.69 K/9)
52 Walks (2.74 BB/9)
.281 BABIP

Even when the Tigers acquired Jarrod Washburn to lesson the strain on Porcello and give them a solid lefty for the pennant push, Porcello was still the better pitcher. In fact, with the season on the line against the Twins in the one-game playoff, Porcello may have had his most encouraging start of the season on the biggest stage of his career, up to this point. Porcello took it upon himself to lead the Tigers to the playoffs: 5.2 innings allowing four hits and a run, while striking out eight.  Ultimately it didn’t work out. It could have been a blessing in disguise for the Tigers, as the 170.2 innings was already a career-high for the righty. Though it did get me thinking, was this final start a precursor for what’s to come?

While I think Porcello will become one of the league’s better pitchers in time, he will still only be 21 with two years of professional seasoning under his belt, so expectations for next season need to be sensible.

As a matter of fact, some of the young righty’s rates indicate he may have been “lucky” to have such a low ERA. Removing the defense from the equation, Porcello had a 4.77 FIP, which is a bit disconcerting. Normally n FIP that is .5 more than an ERA raises a red flag for me. Porcello’s is over .8, so his defense definitely helped his cause this year.

The .281 BABIP against him is below the .300 league norm. He also stranded 75.5 percent of his baserunners, which indicates he may have been a bit lucky at keeping runs from scoring.  The league high is 85.2 percent by J.A. Happ and there are numerous starting pitchers with K rates of over seven neighboring Porcello. This means they are able to wiggle out of jams by striking guys out; Porcello isn’t at that point yet. His K/9 rated as the eighth worst in baseball. Even though he had a similar 72.6 percent strand-rate in A-Ball, Porcello had the league’s best ERA of 2.66 and the fourth best WHIP, 1.19, so he knows how to get batters out.

While he has good pure stuff: a low-to-mid 90s two and four-seam fastballs, a change-up, curveball and a slider, Porcello didn’t strikeout as many guys as you’d expect considering his repertoire. For one, Porcello stuck with his best pitch, his fastball, 77 percent of the time. Considering it was by far his best pitch this season, worth 0.81 runs, it’s no wonder Porcello utilized it most frequently. It’s a fine approach for a pitcher who really is still developing his pitches. Still, even in his only year in the Tigers’ farm system, Porcello only struckout 72 batters in 125 innings.

What may be his detriment strikeout-wise, may also be the reason he was so successful this season. Not many pitchers this young throw 170-plus innings. Porcello’s boring fastball enabled him to induce groundballs at a 54 percent rate, ranking him fifth in the major leagues. When your defense is as exceptional as the Tigers’, it’s definitely a great recipe for success.

Despite having such superb groundball rates, the 6-5, 200 pound youngster gives up way too many long-balls for my liking. His 14.1 percent rate is second worst in baseball. Until he develops his secondary offerings, it’s going to be a very real reason to be worried.  Class-A hitters had a 6.6 percent HR/FB rate against Porcello, but the hitters in the major leagues are smarter, stronger and more talented. I’d expect that rate to decrease slightly next season, which should give us a better idea of how Porcello’s other pitches are shaping up.

A High-School All-American at Seton Hall Prep with a 9-0 record and 103 Ks in 63 innings as a senior, Rick Porcello has moved up the rungs of the baseball ladder at an extremely fast pace. The only glaring weakness in Porcello’s game is his lack of strikeouts. While high school statistics aren’t necessarily a good basis for judgment, I have to think his K rates will continue to rise, as his knowledge of major league hitters grows and he refines a strikeout pitch.

I’d expect continued growth for Porcello next season. He’s fearless and doesn’t seem fazed by major league hitters. Taking his game to the next level revolves around mixing in his other pitches. We’ve already seen how a one-pitch pitcher operates: see Mike Pelfrey for a clearer picture.

What do you guys think of Porcello for next season? What about for his future?

My projections: 13 W, 3.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 5.37 K/9

To read the previous article, click here.

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent, balanced analysis. I think your projections for next season are right on.

    Due to his extreme youth and inexperience, Porcello was on a very strict pitch count all season. In order to make it through five innings against big league hitters in fewer than 90 pitches, he needed to pitch to contact and induce grounders – and he did that. The best lineups (NYY, BOS) tended to mash him up, but they tend to do that against almost every SP out there. Yes, the Detroit defense was a huge help to him – but he’ll be pitching in front of that defense next year as well.

    His performance in the 163rd game demonstrated that he has more K ability than he generally showed during the season. He’s not Neftali Feliz in that department, but I do expect him to get more Ks in the coming seasons while keeping his walk rate down. He’s always going to be a sinkerball pitcher, in all likelihood, but he has the potential to be a really great #2 for Detroit behind Verlander.

  2. Keith says:

    The Tigers had and will have a good defense. Look our C, SS, and 3B cannot hit. We might lose Polanco, which will hurt, but our defense isn’t going anywhere. He knows the Comerica dimensions will protect him so he’s not afraid of fly balls. I really don’t think the defense/FIP stuff is going to be the thing to watch next year.

    Porcello jumped up almost 100 innings so next year might be horrid. He was only in HS 2 years ago and this year he won 14 games! We need to keep in mind he’s 21, he was supposed to be in AA Erie this year, and he wasn’t allowed to throw to many curve balls all year (until the Minnesota play off game). I wouldn’t be surprised if his ERA jumped a half point but his k/9 increases to the high 6s low 7s.

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