Jul 23, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello (21) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Baseball: Tigers’ Rick Porcello primed for a huge breakout in 2014

Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Training stats mean almost nothing.  I only pay attention for the same reasons that I buy the hilariously bad Lindy’s fantasy baseball magazine every year:

1) I’m so damn starved for baseball during the winter that I’ll take whatever fix I can get.

2) Other people pay attention, so it’s good to scout what the competition is scouting.

Reason No. 2 is why I actively root against my favorite fantasy targets during Spring Training hoping to enhance the chance that I’ll get them at discount prices.  It’s for this very reason that I fist-pumped when I heard that Rick Porcello got lit up on Friday the 14th.

Last year Detroit Tigers’ starting pitcher Rick Porcello went 13-8 with 142 K, a 4.32 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.  Big whoop, huh?  Who wants that dude?

Me.  I already have him in my home league and there are more drafts where that came from.

Last year Porcello’s K/9 went up for the third straight year: 4.7, 5.1, 5.5, and 7.2.  His ERA went down for the third straight year: 4.92, 4.75, 4.59, and 4.32.  His FIP went down for the third straight year: 4.31, 4.06, 3.9, and 3.53.  His ground ball percentage went up for the third straight year: 50.3, 51.4, 53.2, and 55.3.

Unfortunately for Porcello, that amazing percentage of grounders went bounding towards the worst infield defense in the majors.  Every time his sinker did its job he had to cross his fingers and hope that it headed towards the mediocrity up the middle (Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta) and stayed away from the twin DHs on the corners (Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera).

Luckily, Porcello will be a primary beneficiary of a major upgrade around the horn: Nick Castellanos over Cabrera, Jose Iglesias – a likely future gold-glover — over Peralta, Ian Kinsler over Infante, and any human over Prince Fielder.

Aside from what the Detroit front office has done to improve Porcello’s lot in life, he’s done even more by studying reports, changing speeds, and changing his pitch selection.

Last year Porcello started relying more on his off-speed stuff, substituting his much better curve for his pretty average slider.  Let’s take a quick look at his five pitches and compare their usage and performance from 2012 to 2013:

porcello graph

What conclusions can we draw from these numbers?:

1) In 2012 Porcello’s slider sucked.  In 2013 he made adjustments.

  • Over 45 percent of the time that a batter made contact with Porcello’s slider and it went between the lines, it was a hit.  That’s absolutely terrible.  Notice the following year he threw it way less and all of a sudden the opponents’ BABIP has dropped to .280.  It may be that the pitch got better, but the more likely explanation is that a hitter can’t sit on it any longer, so when it does come he’s caught off guard, he makes less contact, and swings and misses much more.  Used sparingly, Porcello’s slider has become a legitimate out pitch instead of a batting-practice quality one.

2) Batters are chasing more pitches and making less contact.

  • With the exception of his sinker, which any groundball artist wants a batter to make contact with, all of Porcello’s pitches are inducing more swings outside of the strike zone.  Even better, every single pitch in Porcello’s arsenal is leading to more swinging strikes and less contact.

Most people seem to forget that this former first round draft pick is still only 25 years old.  There are people that are claiming optimism by projecting 13 wins and 140 strikeouts to go with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.  Congratulations, you just rattled off his 2013 if he would’ve just stayed home during the month of April when he vomited up a 8.84 ERA.  I look at his rising K’s, his sinking FIP’s, his improved defense, and the increased stamina that comes with getting older and bigger and I have for realsies optimism.  It’s breakout time.

The 2014 Rick Porcello will finish with a 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 K and as many wins as the Tigers will let him get.

Share this on Facebook and then steal him for a few bucks or a pick in the teens.

Tags: Detroit Tigers Fantasy Baseball Rick Porcello

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