How Do You Play Porcello?

Rick Porcello is 22-years-old.  He has already made 77 starts in the Majors, going 34-27, after spending just one season in the Minors, 2008, where he pitched for High-A, Florida State League Lakeland.  He was sent to the Minors last season after having some rough patches, and this season has been solid but not spectacular despite his 11-6 record over 20 starts.

Porcello was drafted 27th overall in 2007 and had “ace potential.”  He was rushed to the Majors due to his abilities and what the Tigers thought he could be, but when he was drafted, he had an amazing curveball.  Suddenly, he doesn’t use it.  The Tigers forced him to drop it to work on his other pitches, but now, what was his out pitch, he just doesn’t use.  His career K/9 is just 4.85 which is higher than Chien-Ming Wang’s 4.13, but you have to wonder if he can keep having success if he stops enducing grounders.  So, what does he throw now?  He threw a curve 7.6% in 2009, 3.2% in 2010, and now just 1.8% this season.  He average fastball has been dropping since his arrival, as well, going from 91.4 in 2009 to 90.2 this season.  With that being said, his slider has become more valuable, as he is throwing it 19.4% of the time after throwing it 4.8% in 2009 and 14.1% of the time in 2010.

Whatever he is throwing, he has had some runs of dominance and runs of inconsistencies this season.  He has 12 Quality Starts in 20 tries, going 9-1 with a 2.43 ERA over those 12 starts.  However, when he is bad, it is bad, as he is 2-5 with a 9.34 ERA in his other 8 starts.  So when do you play him?  He has an ugly 5.57 ERA at home (5-4) this season, with a 3.59 road ERA (6-2), even in the friendly dimensions of Comerica Park.  However, his career home ERA is 4.44 and his road ERA is 4.45, so he has been pretty consistent up to this point in his career.

Porcello is interesting at this point because he is so young and has had some success.  Is he a future ace?  Can he become a strikeout pitcher after pitching to contact and becoming a ground ball pitcher (51.1% over career) to this point?  It is very strange for a team to cut off a pitch so early in a career and to have it never come back.  You have to wonder if the Tigers did too much with Porcello and cost him his long-term potential.  If you have him in a fantasy league, the only way to use him is to start him and hope that it is one of his good nights.  Young pitchers have inconsistency, it’s just part of their maturation.  But you have to wonder if Porcello is going to mature into what he was supposed to be or into something else, because what he is right now isn’t what the Tigers drafted.

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