The New Rick Porcello

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When Rick Porcello was drafted in the first round of the 2007 Amateur Draft, he received a 3.5 million dollar bonus, significantly over slot for the 27th pick. Big expectations fell on his shoulders, possessing a power sinker often compared to Roy Halladay and Kevin Brown. After only a year of A ball experience, he begin his second professional season in the major leagues. Rick performed admirably in ’09, sporting a 14-9 record and 3.96 ERA as a 20 year old. However, there were still some questions about his ability to make hitters swing and miss, after only posting 89 K’s in 170 innings.

Looking to build on his stellar rookie campaign, Porcello struggled in his first 13 starts in 2010, leading to a demotion to AAA. Simply put, since his return from AAA last season, Rick has been a completely different pitcher. His success in the last few months of the ’10 campaign has carried over to this season, and through games of 6/15,  he carries career low’s in ERA (3.61), FIP (4.16) and BAA (.257), with an elevated K/9 rate of 5.35.

When he was drafted in 2007,  Porcello threw in the mid 90’s, with a developing curve and change. As recently as 2009, pitch F/X states that he routinely touched 95. His average FB is down to 89.4 this year from 90.9 in 2009.

Along with his change in fastball philosophy, Rick has radically altered his pitch mix. In 2009 his selection went: 77.3% FB, 5.4% Slider, 7.8% Curve, 9.4% change. Now, he features: 68.6% FB, 16% Slider, 1.8% Curve, and 13.7% Changeup. Obviously, Porcello has scrapped the curveball and focused more on his Slider and Change, which he throws 30% of the time, compared to only 15% of the time in 2009.

Rick is now pitching simpler and more effectively than ever. The tighter, shorter slider is a large improvement over his old loopy curve, and his change has developed into a genuine out pitch. According to fangraphs, the ever-improved changeup has been worth 3.8 runs above average, compared to his fastball’s 3.4. Now, Rick has two genuine out pitches, with the slider having the potential to be a third. He is no longer a one pitch guy, like he was in 2009, where his fastball was worth 16.1 runs above average, and nothing else was.

With the improvement of his secondary pitches, it’s feasible to imagine Porcello elevating his K/9 to 7. If and when he does, watch out. Assuming he continues to limit his walks and stays around 2.5/9, his K/BB ratio will  be in the neighborhood of the elite mark of 3.

Porcello will continue to learn how to pitch with game experience. He still makes youthful mistakes, like pitching to Ichiro last start with Brendan Ryan on deck and a base open. When he puts it all together, it’ll give the Tigers a formidable top three for the foreseeable future.