Rick Porcello: This Year and Last


No single Detroit Tigers pitcher will be picked apart this year as much as Rick Porcello. After a “good” rookie year and a “bad” sophomore season many (most) fans were left wondering if Rick would ever turn into the guy were promised. One thing was clear: he needed to develop his secondary pitches to the point where he could reliably strike batters out.

So has he done that? There’s no way to tell for sure yet, but I very much agree with Kurt, I saw some encouraging things going on in Porcello’s start versus the Orioles.

Let’s compare Rick’s first start this year (against the Orioles) with his last start in October of last year (it was also against the O’s). Now, the lineup for Baltimore was obviously different, they’ve added and subtracted a few players, so a direct comparison should not be made, but perhaps it’s a helpful coincidence.

The first encouraging difference was his pitch mix. Last year, he relied very heavily on the two-seam fastball (sinker). In the first start of this year, he more or less threw the four-seamer, two-seamer, and slider an equal number of times. Here’s a table of his pitch mix between the first start of this year and the final start of last year:

I can only imagine that a good pitch mix would keep the hitter guessing and off balance. Most of the time last year they could pretty much just guess that a sinker was coming. Now, there’s always the possibility that some of the fastballs are getting misclassified and that he really is still throwing more sinkers than anything else, but we’ll probably have to wait until he pitches in a different stadium with different pitch f/x cameras in order to check that.

The second encouraging difference between this start and last year’s final start was his swing and miss rate, especially on the slider. In the October 2010 start, he got 2 swings and misses on 19 sliders (10.5%). Yesterday, he got 6 whiffs on 22 sliders (27.3%). It appears as though he’s abandoning the curveball for the time being, so the slider is going to have to be the breaking pitch that he can go to for the strikeout. The early indication here is that he may have improved the pitch enough to induce the swing and miss.

Pitch types and locations from October 1, 2010:

Pitch types and locations from April 4, 2011:

Rick still left too many two-seamers (FT) up in the zone for my taste in his most recent outing, but he at least kept them on the inner half of the plate (for right handers). You can see that several two-seamers were grooved right down the middle in the start from October. It also looks like he did a better job of keeping the sliders low in the zone where they have a chance of being effective. In all, he was much more adept at working the bottom of the zone. That’s where he needs to live.

You can choose to look at yesterday’s game, see his 9.00 ERA, and say it’s going to be a bad year. But I don’t think that ERA tells the whole story. I’m choosing to be encouraged and hopeful about Rick’s season.