Spring training is never short on stories about guys being in the best shape of their lives, or young kids making a favorable impressions on the coaching staff. But the Rick Porcello hype is reaching a fever pitch, and the first spring training game hasn’t even been played yet.
Jim Leyland made the familiar comments about taking the best players early on, and the brass mentioned Rick Porcello has an outside candidate for the 5th starter spot. I pretty much shrugged off that talk for the following reasons:
- The Tigers already have 3 candidates for the 5th starter spot (Willis/Robertson/Miner) and will already be sending a player with a substantial contract someplace other than the rotation.
- It seemed more like a managerial challenge to both the rookie, as well as the other guys in competition to see how they would respond.
- Porcello spent last year on a strict pitch count limit with a hard stop at 75 pitches. Plus, the hard stop not only held down his intra-game workload, but it held down his seasonal workload at 125 innings. Breaking camp with the team would be a significant jump in required workload.
But then Jim Leyland said…
“You can protect (one) pitcher in the majors — maybe one starting and relieving. … In other words, you can make up your mind that a starter is going to pitch five or six innings and get him out of there — you can do that a few times. You can’t do it all the time. …
Presumably Porcello wouldn’t be at the 75 pitch limit, but even a 90 or 100 pitch limit for a full big league season would be a significant jump in workload. In the minors Porcello was focused on using his 2 seamer to get groundball outs early in the count. He was quite effective in this regard and it had 2 effects. One, he only needed about 14.4 pitches per inning. Second, it limited his strike outs to a low 5.1 per 9 innings. At the big league level he’d be looked to employ his full arsenal and miss more bats (I’d hope anyways), thus driving up his pitch count.
PECOTA player cards aren’t available for pitchers yet, but I’d guess that the system doesn’t love Porcello at this point due to the low strike out numbers. But scouts and people who know these things felt that Porcello had pitches that were big league quality at the beginning of last year.
I’m less concerned with Porcello being rushed due to his stuff needing more refinement (though some time to work on the pitches that were de-emphasized last year might not be a bad thing) and more so from a workload perspective. Unlike the Jeremy Bonderman situation where there weren’t really other options, the Tigers do have a couple other arms to consider for the spot. I wouldn’t be opposed to Porcello breaking camp with the team, but I’d probably prefer more of the Justin Verlander approach where he makes a couple spot starts to fill in for injuries or double headers.