This Porcello Kid

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


  1. Bill

    February 22, 2009 at 7:37 am

    I’m just happy we have prospects ready to make an impact if needed. Aside from Verlander, all of our projected starters bringing 170-200 solid innings is an iffy proposition at best. But I just don’t think they should take a chance ruining this kid because he’s clearly going to be something special. Given the limitations the team gave him last year, I think that’s the Tigers plan anyway.

    Even though he was 20 in 2006, Zumaya had already been in the system since his age 17 year AND had pitched 150 innings the previous year. Verlander had about the same workload his first minor league year but had a few years of college ball added on to his development. Unless this kid is some kind of Gooden/Beckett freak I say we see how he goes with his full complement of pitches in AA/AAA and if we’re still in it by the time rosters expand, bring him up. I see no harm in giving him a role like Price had for the Rays last year in their run.

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  3. Mike R

    February 22, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I’m 100% against Porcello breaking camp with the team. I see no benefit.

  4. scotsw

    February 24, 2009 at 10:20 am

    He’ll probably see some time in Detroit this year, but not until the summer at best. He may do a few spot starts, or come out of the ‘pen in Aug/Sept. That’s what the Tigers did with Andrew Miller.

    The biggest issue is pitch counts and innings pitched. The science is pretty clear that arms need to work up to a heavy workload in a player’s mid-20s.

    I feel SURE we’ll see Porcello in a Tigers uniform this year at some point, but I’m also SURE they aren’t going to put him in a position where there is heavy pressure on him. That’s not the way this franchise works. And I’d be stunned if he broke camp with the team… If he starts the season in the rotation, and pitches well, then what?

    Perry, on the other hand, could be a great fit. As a bullpen arm, and at age 22, he has a real opportunity to break through this year. Dolsi and Rapada are both good players, but neither is dominant, and Perry could simply shove them aside.

  5. Chris in Dallas

    February 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    I’d bet on Perry before Porcello for sure, mostly because he was drafted out of college. Unless you’re a freak like Beckett or Gooden or whatever, a college kid is going to be ready faster (cf Price, David for a recent example)