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
|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.