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« Stephen Drew Scuffling vs. High Stuff | Main | Ryan Dempster Can Handle the American League »
Monday
Dec172012

To Thrive, Porcello Needs Out of Detroit

Detroit Tigers starter Rick Porcello has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio each season in the majors while also inducing bushels of ground balls. Porcello turns 24 later this month, and he won't hit free agency until after the 2015 season. The right-hander's gradual improvement, youth and years of remaining team control make him potentially valuable commodity. So why is Detroit shopping him? Simply put, Porcello and the Tigers are better off apart. Porcello needs quality infield defense to reach his potential, and the Tigers' plus-sized plodders don't provide it.

Tossing his tailing fastball more frequently than every American League starter not named Bartolo Colon or Henderson Alvarez, Porcello posted a 54% ground ball rate during the 2012 season. That easily topped the 46% major league average, and ranked eighth among all qualified starting pitchers. All of those grounders helped Porcello keep the ball in the park (he surrendered 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched), but they didn't turn into outs as often as they should have. With Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder manning he corner infield spots, Porcello's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) on ground balls was well above the MLB average for qualified starters:

Highest BABIP on ground balls among SP, 2012

PitcherBABIP
Max Scherzer .339
Phil Hughes .309
Matt Moore .294
Joe Saunders .290
Ricky Nolasco .286
Luis Mendoza .286
Bud Norris .285
Bruce Chen .277
Anibal Sanchez .274
Ivan Nova .274
Barry Zito .270
Tommy Milone .269
Josh Beckett .267
Ryan Vogelsong .266
Ubaldo Jimenez .265
Tommy Hanson .264
Homer Bailey .263
Josh Johnson .261
Cliff Lee .260
Ross Detwiler .257
Felix Hernandez .256
Derek Holland .256
Rick Porcello .250
Lance Lynn .249
Ricky Romero .248
MLB Avg.for Qualified SP .234

 

As a pitcher who misses few bats (his 5.5 K/9 last year was a career high), Porcello puts the ball in play more often than the rest of the guys on this list. That amplifies the effect that Detroit's less-than-rangy infield has on Porcello -- more grounders, more balls that squeak past Prince and Miggy for singles

Porcello has been linked to the Angels, Pirates and Padres, among other clubs. All three would be a better fit for his groundball-centric approach, as L.A. (.224 BABIP on ground balls), Pittsburgh (.234) and San Diego (.245) turned more ground balls into outs than Detroit (.260). With better infield defense, Porcello should be able to close the gap between his mediocre ERA (4.59 last season) and his more promising Fielding Independent ERA (3.91).

The Tigers' philosophy with Fielder and Cabrera at the corners is to score runs, range be damned. To mitigate the effects of that lack of range, Detroit has assembled a high-strikeout starting rotation. Porcello's pitch-to-contact, ground ball-heavy style just doesn't fit. A trade makes sense for both sides, as Porcello has more value to a club with airtight infield D than he does to the Tigers.

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