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Have the Tigers Ruined Rick Porcello?

Coming out of Seton Hall Prep in 2007, Rick Porcello was an ace in the making.  When scouts combined his age, velocity, and dominance (103Ks in 63 IP as a Senior); they saw a front-of-the-line major league starter. After being draft 27th overall, Detroit wasted no time showcasing their young ace. In order to ensure Porcello developed his other pitches, the Tigers insisted that Porcello stop relying on his curve. With his new approach, Porcello only managed 5.18 K/9 in his brief stint in the minor leagues.  Two seasons later, the strikeouts and the curveball have almost disappeared completely. While it’s still extremely early in his career, is it possible that the Tigers may have ruined Rick Porcello?

Here’s what Keith Law wrote about Porcello in 2009:

He doesn’t miss a lot of bats with the new approach, but generating ground balls keeps the pitch count down, and pitchers who throw strikes and don’t give up home runs can be very successful. But bear in mind that Porcello has the raw stuff to be more of a strikeout pitcher, and when he reaches the majors, he could blend the two approaches and be one of the top pitchers in the game.

That last sentence sums up the main cause for concern with Porcello. While scouts believe Porcello has the ability to dominate, his K/9 rate in the majors is a dismal 4.70. Even more disturbing is Porcello’s disappearing curveball. After throwing his curve 8.1% of the time in 2009, Porcello is only throwing his curveball .2% of the time in 2010.  Unless Detroit is still enforcing the “no-curve rules,” it might be time to start worrying whether his approach has been permanently impacted. It is interesting that the curve was Porcello’s worst pitch in 2009 according to the pitch type values. His reluctance to throw it in 2010, could mean that he has lost confidence in the pitch. The big question is, whether Porcello can be an ace without his curve?

Then again, Porcello is still only 21 years old and has already experienced success in the majors. It’s certainly possible that a) the Tigers are still enforcing the “no-curve rules,” or b) Porcello continues to develop into an ace while in the majors. Porcello did not spend a lot of time in the minors, and he is exceptionally young for his level. Typically, only the most promising players reach the majors at Porcello’s age. However, it is disturbing that his current approach has not produced “ace” results. Just for reference, Mark Buehrle has a higher career K/9 rate than Porcello’s current K/9. As Keith Law stated in his 2009 top prospect list, pitchers that get ground balls and prevent home runs have a lot of value, but Porcello was drafted as an ace and not an innings-eater. Yes, it’s still incredibly early in his career, but there is already some evidence to suggest Detroit may have mishandled their prized pitcher.

*This article was originally written on Foulpole2Foulpole.com