Vintage Porcello

Rick Porcello wasn’t given much of a chance. With the Detroit Tigers down 2-1 heading into last night’s game, many wondered whether Jim Leyland should throw Justin Verlander on short rest instead of the 22-year-old Porcello. Porcello has been somewhat of an enigma since entering the league. Though he was widely considered one of the best pitching prospect in his draft class — an ace with a true strikeout curveball — he’s turned into more of a back-end starter in the big leagues. Despite Porcello’s struggles in the majors, Leyland stuck to his guns and turned to Porcello to even the series. Though the Tigers failed to win the game, Porcello didn’t let his manager — or his team — down.

The biggest knock against Porcello since he’s reached the majors is his lack of strikeouts. After he was drafted, the Tigers ordered Porcello to stop throwing his curve and focus more on getting ground ball outs. The approach worked, but perhaps not in the way the Tigers expected. Porcello excelled at getting ground balls, but the strikeouts — along with the curveball — vanished. When Porcello is able to rack up the strikeouts — like he did last night — it’s a true reminder of the type of pitcher many projected just a few seasons ago.

If you followed the Twitter-verse during the game last night, it was hard to ignore all the tweets about Porcello. After his first three innings; Jason Churchill, Kevin Goldstein and Buster Olney all wondered if this was the best they had ever seen Porcello. At his best, Porcello should be able to combine strikeouts and grounders.

Sure enough, Porcello delivered in both areas last night. Porcello nearly matched his season-high in strikeouts, racking up six in 6.2 innings. Instead of reviving his curve, Porcello relied on his slider to rack up the strikeouts last night. Of his six strikeouts, four of them came on sliders. The pitch gave Rangers’ hitters a lot of trouble last night.

When he wasn’t using his slider to pick up strikeouts, Porcello pounded the zone with his fastball. As usual, the ground balls came in bunches. Against the Rangers –one of the best home run hitting teams in the majors this year — Porcello forced 11 ground ball outs. It’s rare to find a pitcher who can induce ground balls at such a high rate, while also managing to post strong strikeout numbers. Last night, Porcello displayed that rare talent.

Unfortunately, Porcello’s promising start last night will be overlooked. Porcello struggled in the sixth inning, leading to the Rangers scoring three runs and ultimately winning the game. Had he not made a throwing error — which caused the Rangers to eventually take the lead — we might be talking about Porcello’s “resiliency” or how Jim Leyland’s bold decision to hold Verlander until Game 5 paid off.

Still, for five innings we got to see what the scouts projected just a few years ago. Outside of one poor inning, Porcello reminded the baseball world of his true potential. While it’s more than likely Porcello “is who he is” at this point, it’s starts like these that should give Tigers’ fans hope that there’s still a little more growth in the 22-year-old. With a few more starts like this, no one will question whether Porcello should be starting a post-season game.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

37 Responses to “Vintage Porcello”

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  1. Telo says:

    I would’ve bet my wallet that the first article of the day would’ve been about the Miggy IBB. But I supposed Dave called dibs on that, and we’ll see it soon enough…

    Porcello was awesome. That 2 seamer was really diving all night, and he located well for the most part.

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    • Telo says:

      Also, hard to be vintage when you are 22 and haven’t hit your peak, but I’ll assume you were being ironical.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      or how about how Jim Leyland thought that intentionally walking beltre to face napoli was a good idea.

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      • Telo says:

        But iirc there was 1 out and a man on 2nd, which makes it far less insane than cracky mcwashingtons IBB

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      • Bob Loblaw says:

        IMO it was not nearly as poor an idea to walk Beltre as it was Cabrera.

        Wash chose to walk Cabrera (as the tying run) with no one on and only one out; whereas Leyland walked Beltre with a man on second and one out.

        The thought behind walking Beltre to get to Napoli is setting up a double play.

        Granted, Beltre hasn’t done much with the bat since he got hurt, but facing Beltre vs facing Napoli is close to a wash.

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      • NS says:

        “facing Beltre vs facing Napoli is close to a wash.”

        Except not at all. Not even close. Napoli is Texas’s best hitter, besting him by 65 points of wOBA.

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      • Bill says:

        You weren’t walking Beltre to face Napoli (you were going to see Naploi anyway). You were walking Beltre to essentially face Cruz.

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  2. well says:

    I like the slider and sinker, but why is his 4 seam velocity so low? At the end of the 2009 season Porcello was throwing his fastball a lot harder, like 93, 94.

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  3. theformat says:

    Telo, why are you so crticial of a website that you don’t pay to view? Did you apply for a job and get turned down?

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    • Telo says:

      …was I critical? Is this Russia? This isnt Russia.

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      • theformat says:

        Clever, a dig on communist Russia. No need to flex your intellectual muscle, I just want to know why you can’t keep your comments content related.

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      • Telo says:

        It’s from caddyshack…..I’d recommend you see it immediately…but you may be a tad on the wiener side to enjoy a movie like that

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      • theformat says:

        the king of trolls is calling me a weiner, honestly not offended

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    • So You Know It's Real says:

      theformat, were you recently hired as the out-of-line-comment- enforcer? Or are you waiting to hear back about your resume/application?

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      • theformat says:

        no I’m just tired of reading comments about editing, and digs on Dave. I rarely comment, but always see Telo and never call him out on his bullsh*t. I was not hired, nor did I apply, I am constantly on the site, and read Telo WAY too often. Its unfortunate there is no way to block him.

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    • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

      first of all, he wasn’t critical. unless you’re referring to a comment in a different article anyway.

      second of all, since when is it not ok to criticize free content? this very website bashes the MSM and ESPN all the time? does anyway pay to watch people talk about RBIs and Win totals on Baseball Tonight?

      whether you’re the worldwide leader or a blog, when you put your content out there for all to read, criticism is fair game. if you dont like that, dont speak your opinion.

      spare me the “why dont you go ask for a refund” garbage…. its tired

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  4. Kyle says:

    Smalll sample sizeeeeeeeeee

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  5. Woodrum's UZR Article says:

    Is there a link regarding the tigers ordering him to ditch the curve and become a groundball pitcher?

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  6. Pat G says:

    Kyle is right, check out game 163 from 09…. he was unreal, but it didnt carry over to 2010… 5.2 innings 8 strikeouts… im pretty sure i reached for him a few drafts because of that performance, don’t overweight one game

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  7. JG says:

    So, uhh, I guess being almost exactly league average from ages 20-22 means you’re a back end starter now?

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  8. Mike Rogers says:

    Game 163, in Minnesota was easily his best . HItting 95+ on the gun that day, 8 K’s, 2 BB’s in 5.2 IP. Granted, the Texas lineup is much better than the Twins 2009 lineup, but I’d venture a guess that Porcello at home last night and being ont he road in Game 163 would negate that difference in lineup strength.

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  9. The Nicker says:

    I would add that this is fairly typical of Porcello starts, even from this year, in that Porcello really struggles with teams the third time though the order.

    Granted, the periphs were impressive, particularly his ability to get ahead in the count by throwing strikes with all three pitches. I wonder if watching Fister has had a positive effect on his approach.

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  10. Matt C says:

    I think the key for Porcello is to work on his stamina. Here’s the velocity graph from his game and you’ll see that he doesn’t hold his velocity that deep into games.(even though he seemed to do a little better with it this game)
    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/cache/speed.php-pitchSel=519144&game=gid_2011_10_12_texmlb_detmlb_1&batterX=&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=.gif

    As you can see he was starting out hitting 94+ at times and sitting at around 92-93 with the FB the first couple innings only to drop down to around 90-91 the last couple innings. Now I know that 2 mph drop off may not seem like much when the vast majority of your pitches are 86-90mph being able to “dial it up” to 94 can make a world of difference, and I think you could notice that with the way he looked the first few innings. If he could maintain that velocity the whole game or atleast longer than he does now he could be a potential number 2 or 3.

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    • Kyle says:

      Totally agree. For some reason his fastball loses velocity like crazy, and he could learn from Verlander. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be an ace or at least a solid number 2 pitcher in any rotation eventually.

      His PLUS pitches are easy to sit on when he’s barely hitting 90 mph in the 5th inning. I’m also surprised he hasn’t learned how to finish off hitters like most young pitchers figure out is important. He throws better in playoff games usually(when it comes to velocity and his stuff)but occasionally makes a horrible mistake that burns him. National League teams should be calling to see if he’s on the market… just think what he could do for the Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers or Padres.

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