Earlier this week we took a look at the various ways Rick Porcello can notch strikeouts despite his less than staggering K totals. If you read it, you might have been surprised he actually has a number of “out” pitches in his arsenal. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to write a counter-point article discussing the ways Porcello ran himself into trouble. There were certain things off the bat I knew would surface in this post, but as I back-tracked and rummaged through some of his starts, I found some other interesting things as well.
I wanted to steer clear of the obvious. It doesn’t take an expert to realize if you’re leaving the ball in the middle of the zone it’s going to get crushed. Every pitcher is going to have off-nights, and more often than not, these are the nights where the offensively challenged ball clubs boost their totals, and the good offenses put up crooked numbers.
In the case of Porcello, I could remember plenty of instances over the course of the 2011 season discussing a game, where somebody would inevitably say, “His sinker wasn’t sinking.”
It’s interesting going back and watching some of these games, the incredible variance in the bite on Porcello’s sinkerball. To borrow one of humanity’s commonly used phrases, it can be like night and day. There are indeed some nights where the offering is this close to being completely flat. So without trying to sound like an obnoxious no-it-all, if this is the case, why does he throw it so frequently? If a baseball is coming towards a big league hitter 90 mph thigh-high with no bite, that is basically 5 o’ clock batting practice.
As I noted in the previous post, there are other tools available in Rick’s tool shed. The four seamer for one. If you have the track record of consistently throwing 90 mph down in the zone, mix in the fastball up in the zone with a tad bit of rising action. If a certain hitter is more comfortable with fastballs on the outer-half, pump them inside. If the hitter likes it on the inner-third, then obviously go away. Take a guy like Justin Verlander. Seldom did the 2011 MVP have all of his pitches working for him in the same night. If by the third inning he realized the curve wasn’t working out, he’d stop throwing it.
Seeing as how Rick’s bread and butter pitch is the sinker, he, along with the coaches may not want to see it abandoned completely during a certain start. I would just like to think they’re cognizant of the fact some nights Rick simply doesn’t have it working.
Again I’ll admit, when I was watching these games, I didn’t specifically know what I was looking for. But at some point, I noticed something intriguing I had to check out. In the earlier post I highlighted a start Porcello had against the Indians where he had an especially good start. I noticed the next time he faced the Indians a couple of months later, the Tribe lit him up for a sizable amount of runs. There are two instances of pitch selection that I found interesting.
In Porcello’s good start, he had success against Carlos Santana and Lou Marson pitching them both inside. Now in that same quality start, he ended up getting taken deep by Santana on a change-up on the outside corner. Fast forwarding to the rough outing, he was again taken deep by Santana on the same pitch. Earlier in the at-bat, he jumped ahead by pounding him inside. It’s one thing to play an inter-league game and be a little less informed on the scouting report, but against a divisional opponent, I don’t see where there’s an excuse. You have to know the Indians lineup better than that.
Porcello had dominated Marson the same way by busting him in. In the same game on an 0-2 count, Porcello gave him a 90 mph fastball on the outside part of the plate. Marson, who could of easily left the strike zone on a slider outside punched the ball into right field safely for a single. This is another instance where I would of liked Rick to make the hitter beat him on pitches he was previously uncomfortable with. At the very least, leave the zone on an 0-2 count, and then go back to what was working before.
This is the re-occurring issue that concerns me the most. More often than not, by the fifth inning or so, the life on Porcello’s two seamer clearly begins to diminish. You will also notice the change-up won’t dive as much either. Sometimes these things happen sooner. There’s late tailing action on the two seamer that bothers hitters early in the game, but when it wears off, the effectiveness nosedives. If Porcello can find a way to adjust to these things mid-game, he doesn’t necessarily need to take a premature seat on the bench.
One has to wonder if the Tigers’ coaching staff worked with Rick on starting off games working his fastball at 90-91 mph in an attempt to try an get more innings out of the youngster. If you can remember, with the season basically on the line in game four of the ALCS, Porcello started off that outing humming them in at 94.
As a Tiger fan, you have to hope this is a case of a 23-year-old kid who just needs to strengthen his arm and grow into his body, but the thing is, Rick Porcello is 6’ 5” 200 lbs. How much more growing is left to do for this guy?
Rick Porcello has a lot of talent. Even for a prospect in an organization that can‘t wait for you to pitch in the show, making it at the age of 20 and being handed the ball in a one-game playoff is an astonishing feat. But the past two seasons, the bottom line is this; 2010 ERA – 4.92 / 2011 ERA 4.75. Entering his fourth season now, Porcello needs to make these numbers dip a little if he wants to stick in the rotation.
It’s easy to see by the impressive groundball rates that the sinker is a pitch that works for Porcello. Whether the Tigers’ infield is suited for the extra work is another story. But after re-watching some of his outings, I definitely support the idea of him working in more of the four seam fastballs. There is a decent level of sensibility in constantly showing hitters pitch A(sinker), then mixing in the opposite look(the four seamer). I think it also might be a good idea for him to continue to develop the slider. It’s a nice pitch to mix in down and inside to lefties, as well as a good alternative for an “out” pitch to right-handed batters.
And I guess lastly, don’t let the Indians smack you around because of repeated mistakes.
Follow Mickey Brignall on Twitter @mickey_baseball