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Brushing Up On Rick Porcello

fly balls = good. ground balls = bad.

I think putting Rick Porcello in the Detroit rotation is batshit insane. In my opinion, even the best prospects need a good dose of Double-A. Most of them need Triple-A. Porcello is very talented, but he is NOT Dwight Gooden or Bob Feller. The wonderful spring training he had resulted in a 2.30 ERA, which is sharp, but also a 8/5 K/BB and 17 hits in 15.2 innings, hardly a dominant ratio set. Maybe it will work, but it is not a risk I would take if I was the Tigers braintrust.

-John Sickels

That quote's a great place to start, if only to see the normally reserved Sickels swear.  Porcello is raw, in a similar situation to that of fellow 2007 draftee Aaron Poreda: more or less without an out pitch and totally reliant on a superior fastball.  Porcello at least has a legitimate change-up and a curve that flashes as more than decent.  He's younger and projects better than Poreda...but that doesn't mean he's ready.  I honestly don't know why the Tigers think he'd be any better than Nate Robertson (who's currently piggybacking Porcello's starts).  The Tigers recent history with maintaining their pitchers' health isn't that great.  Considering the money they invested, I have to imagine they planned on Dontrelle Willis manning this spot until Porcello had really matured.  Dombrowski has overestimated his training staff and pitching coaches' abilities and this seems to be yet more of the same.

Nonetheless, Porcello should be fun to watch.  If the pitch f/x is right, he really does have a big sinker that ranges from 90-94 with lots of boring action.  He threw 66 fastballs of 86 total pitches. Of the 17 balls that were put in play off it, 11 were groundballs, 2 were pop ups, 2 were line drives and 2 were fly balls.  If he's putting the fastball where he wants it, he will be able to get outs regardless of the status of his offspeed stuff.  He was able to do mostly that in the early going, but he seemed to run out of gas as the game went on.  By the fifth he started coughing up gopher balls: one on an elevated fastball and the other on a hung curve. He only threw 125 innings last year and will turn 21 after Christmas '09.  His opener will probably be a typical outing for him, his fastball control will leave him somewhat once his legs start to give. 

It looks like he's been coached very specifically to avoid walks. Taking pitches will probably be difficult in the early going, but even if it means hitting in a tough count, getting to see his fastball more will probably pay off later.  It's a good one and familiarity with it will be important.  Porcello threw it 77% of the time last start, so it will take a lot of offense to force him into throwing offspeed pitches when he doesn't want to.

All in all, it looks like solo shots and GIDPs are in order, as usual.  This will be a particularly interesting test for Josh Fields, as his struggles with the fastball have been well documented here.  He's been flashing the leather of late --which is great to see-- but if he can get around on Porcello's heat, I'll be genuinely impressed.  Alexei will get a chance to get off the ground as well, as he's guaranteed to get exactly what he wants.  Thome's downfall is breaking stuff.  Same with Carlos and JD.  This is a fastball hitting team and there's not much Porcello can do to fool Sox batters.  Strength versus strength, he might say:

Rick Porcello: I'm kind of—at least I try to be—aggressive. I go after hitters and try not to back down from anybody. I'm the type of pitcher who pitches a lot off his fastball. I'm the type of guy where there really aren't going to be a lot of surprises. It's more of a, 'Here it is, try and hit it' sort of mentality that I have when I go out there. I'm going after guys. They know what I'm going to throw, so it's my best against their best, and that's the way I like it.

-Interview by David Laurila (behind BP pay wall)

More pfx stuff on Porcello here.  The dude used the default pitch recognition labelling, which sucks, but other than that it's useful stuff.  If he's actually got two fastballs, it doesn't show in the raw data that I yanked from brooks (linked above).