Rick Porcello | Pitcher | #21
2014 salary: $8.5 million
2013 statistics: 4.32 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 177 IP, 18 HR, 42 BB, 142 K, 2.14 BB/9, 7.22 K/9
Projected role: Rotation
Rick Porcello is an intriguing potential breakout candidate for 2014. It seems like we’ve been saying that a lot since he’s been here, haven’t we? Just because Porcello hasn’t yet taken the next next step, as far as his development is concerned, doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for optimism. You could even argue that Porcello had a breakout year in 2013, when he improved on a slowly-but-steadily rising K/9, further shaved down his FIP, and was worth 3.2 fWAR.
I’ve always considered Porcello a bit of a chameleon throughout his Tiger tenure. When he was drafted, all the scouting reports I saw raved about a fastball that could touch the mid-to-upper 90s, a devastating sinker, and three secondary offerings. Porcello was projected as a top-of-the-rotation talent, someone who would be around for years to come.
Then some semblance of reality set in. Porcello will probably never be that top of the rotation guy we envisioned when he fell to the Tigers in the 2007 draft. I think most fans have come to terms with that. Porcello could be a very nice #4 or a decent #3 and, with a rotation like the Tigers have, even minus Doug Fister, that’s pretty darn good.
The potential for Porcello’s 2014 season is intriguing as he’ll be entering his fifth season at just 25 years of age. Conventional sabery wisdom says the Tigers’ new-look infield defense should only help Porcello who—according to conventional sabery wisdom—was the victim of bad luck and immobile, inefficient defenders. I should add, however, that this assumption—that Porcello has been harmed by porous defense—doesn’t quite bear out under scrutiny.
The popular theory has been that the Tigers’ terrible infield defense hurt Porcello and the departure of Jhonny Peralta/trade of Fielder/move of Cabrera back to first base will remedy that. However, if you take a look at Porcello’s hit trajectory for 2012, for example, his batting average on ground balls was .242, which was right around league average. If the Tigers’ infield defense was truly Porcello’s biggest problem, that number would be much, much higher.
“But how can this be? His BABIP was .344 in 2012! That just screams bad luck and crappy infield defense!” you might say.
Well, consider this: Porcello’s batting average on line drives was .761. His LD% sat at 24.2%, which is well above league average. For context, a league average LD% is 20%. Line drives go for hits about 75% of the time, for obvious reasons (y’know, being that they’re line drives and all). So, basically Porcello was giving up 4.2% more line drives than the average pitcher in 2012, and it had nothing to do with infield defense.
“But why are we talking about 2012? What does this have to do with 2013?”
Good question! Well, I have this theory. The theory is that the Porcello of old lacked an out pitch, primarily against left handed hitters who have traditionally clobbered him, and these left handed hitters did a lot of damage.
Porcello has thrown a slider at various times in his career, but it’s been fairly ineffective and heading into 2013, he scrapped the pitch in favor of a curveball. The curveball was much slower than his slider and, according to Porcello, he changed the way he approached left handed hitters. He became far less predictable, mixing speeds and throwing off the batters’ timing.
The results suggest Porcello’s new approach worked out. In 2012, lefties put up ugly, ugly numbers against him:
In 2013, they put up a far more respectable and manageable line:
Porcello even improved against right handers, holding them to a measly .237/.263/.335/.599 line (compared to the previous year: .294/.322/.403/.725). This could be a bit fluky and could correct itself somewhat in 2014, though. His HR/FB% was a bit high in 2013 compared to his career numbers, so look for that to possibly regulate in 2014 too.
ZIPS predicts Porcello’s career high 7.22 K/9 to drop to 6.61, but even if that prediction bears out, 6 K/9 and 2 BB/9 is more than acceptable from your #4 starter. Also, for some reason, ZIPS also predicts him to make a handful of bullpen appearances, and projects him for 29 starts.
Basically what I’m saying is the key to Porcello further improving on his promising 2013 season is consistency and unpredictability. If he can do that, he’ll take that major step we’ve all been waiting for.
I’d expect to see about 180 to 190 IP, 31 starts, 13 or so wins, and a low-4/high-3 ERA from Porcello for 2014. I also expect the fanbase to be both frustrated and cautiously encouraged by him.
And then we can have this exact conversation all over again come November.