Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Player Profile: Rick PorcelloPosted by Mike Silver at 5:03am
Rick Porcello is quite the prospect. After losing his rookie status following the 2009 season, "prospect" may be a bit of a misnomer. Still over a month short of his 21st birthday, Porcello is just as much projectability as he is a polished product.
Drafted 27th overall out of Seton Hall Prep in the 2007 draft, Porcello was widely considered the top high school pitching prospect in the draft. Baseball America was particularly high on his outlook, going so far to state that he was the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett.
After signing a $7.285 million contract that included a $3.58 million bonus, Porcello debuted at High-A Lakeland to begin 2008. His initial taste of professional ball was sweet, as he posted a 2.66 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 125 innings. Facing 527 batters, Porcello walked just 33 for a 0.0626 BB percentage, allowing only seven home runs. The control and groundball tendencies were a welcome sight from the right-hander. However, the lack of strikeouts was a bit puzzling, as Porcello's great raw stuff was expected to blow away the competition, especially in the low minors. With just 72 strikeouts on the season (.1366 K percentage), many felt that Porcello's curve would have benefited from remaining in the minors for at least another season. Detroit saw it differently, however, skipping the young pitcher all the way to the majors for his MLB debut in 2009.
Though he wasn't great his rookie year, Porcello's 2009 was about as good as anyone could reasonably have expected from a 20-year-old with one professional season under his belt. Though a few of his secondary indicators were less-than-ideal, especially his strikeout rate, Porcello's rookie year was a success. His 4.77 FIP was good for such a young pitcher and his 3.96 ERA should help his confidence. A .281 BABIP went a long way toward sub-4 ERA, but Porcello's high home run rate at 14.1 percent did much to erase the benefits of his lucky BABIP.
Still, the real story is not Porcello's FIP, ERA nor his BABIP, but rather, his strikeout and walk rates. While his 2.74 BB/9 is very good, Porcello disappointed in his strikeout rate for a second straight year, posting just a 4.69 K/9. With an 84.9 percent contact rate, Porcello's stuff was very hittable, giving major league hitters few problems making contact with his offerings. This is not all bad, however, as the added balls in play helped to keep his walk rate low. Still, strikeouts are a hitter's best friend, and any pitcher aside from Joel Pineiro and vintage Roy Halladay will struggle without them. His other plate discipline indicators were not all that encouraging, either. His 49.0 percent Zone% is below average, as is his 25.1 percent O-Swing%, meaning that he probably should have had a few more walks than he ultimately accumulated.
There was a good deal to like, however. For one, Porcello had a great groundball rate his first year, at 54.2 percent. His high GB% was very much the result of an approach centered around pitching low in the zone and using his two-seamer. That groundball rate will come in handy, as the fewer home runs Porcello gives up, the better his ERA will be.
When valuing Porcello, it is key to remember that he is still young and an incredible prospect with great projectability. However, he doesn't seem to offer a whole lot of value for 2010, given the assumption that he does not see a large upswing in his K rate. Until he offers a good deal of strikeouts—probably somewhere in the 7.0 to 7.5 K/9 range—he won't have much value to your team. Porcello's ERA may not crack the 4.00 barrier next year unless he ups that K rate, and Detroit seems bent on shedding salary next season, which may make wins hard to come by.
So, the strikeouts are in jeopardy next season, as are the wins. And, without Halladay-esque control, he won't post great ERAs or WHIPs, either. This gives Porcello a poor outlook for next season as a fantasy pitcher. If he doesn't make the requisite improvement in his K rate, he won't be good enough to make your rotation, except in very deep leagues. Should he maintain a strikeout rate below 6.00 K/9, he seems likely to post about a 4.3-4.5 ERA with a WHIP around 1.4. In other words, this is not a valuable player, yet.
However, it is important to remember that strikeouts can occasionally spike very quickly for young pitchers, seemingly without warning. Ben Sheets is a great example of a pitcher who couldn't translate stuff into strikeouts for his first few years in the bigs. Sheets posted just a 6.44 K/9 in his first 588 innings, before erupting in his age-26 season with a 10.03 K/9 rate. His first season was not all that unlike Porcello's, as Sheets only put up a 5.59 K/9 his rookie year. Yes, they're different pitchers, but stuff usually shines through in the end, and Porcello's got plenty of that. It would be nice to see a little more giddy-up on that fastball, as it was good, though not quite as good as advertised. Sitting at 91 mph last season, many expected it to be around 93 mph last season.
No, Porcello didn't shine his first season, but he had plenty to be excited about. Next year, he is worth a flier, but not much more. Early in the season, be sure to watch his fastball velocity and strikeout rates. If these two rise, a good season could be in store. If they don't change, he will probably post a season much like 2009. Because of his underwhelming stats, he should come on the cheap next year, so there's no need to rush to the counter for his services. Just stay vigilant and act quickly if he shows signs of breaking out, as he'll be much harder to pry away once a breakout becomes acknowledged.
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Returning from a brief hiatus, Mike is excited to be back at THT.
Mike's former writing homes include FireBrandAL.com and StatSpeak.net, while his content has appeared on Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, and others. A lifelong Red Sox fan native to New York, Mike loves to blend baseball and statistical analysis.
Feel free to email him at mjasilver AT gmail DOT com.