Will Rick Porcello Take the Next Step in 2010?

Jimmy HascupCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2009

LAKELAND, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  Rick Porcello of the Detroit Tigers poses for a portrait during Photo Day on February 23, 2008 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. (Photo by: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

(Also featured on Rotoprofessor.com)

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 of the Tigers' rotation 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 a 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 strike out 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 struck out 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.


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