With the help of PitchFX, we've decided to give some of 2009's rookie pitchers a prospect encore. It's Rick Porcello time.
Porcello gained a lot of followers when he made the Tigers' roster out of camp because his fastball can touch the mid-90s, he was an elite amateur and he was in the big leagues as a 20-year-old. He wasn't dominant in the minors. After skipping Double-A and Triple-A, he still was a solid rookie pitcher. But who thought he would be this good? Let's break down how Porcello performed in his 2,696-pitch rookie season.
Disclaimer: The data below is from www.brooksbaseball.net's PitchFX tool. One of the biggest flaws with PitchFX is misclassified pitches; the pitch classification data below isn't perfect. I've estimated velocity ranges for changeups, curveballs and sliders -- fastball velos should be pretty accurate. For simplicity, I've combined fastballs (Porcello throws about 25& two-seamer and 75% four). Though I did watch three of Porcello's starts for this report, it's still heavily based on PitchFX data.
Porcello has excellent command of a two-seam fastball that has significant late break away from lefties. It's a very impressive pitch (plus). He consistently locates his fastball down in the zone and on the corners. It's a great ground-ball pitch. His two-seamer sits in the 88-92 range. While he can touch 95 with his four-seamer, he isn't as sharp with his command of the pitch and it doesn't have near the movement that his two-seamer does. Porcello has some outings where 30% of his fastballs are two-seamers. He gets the bulk of his swing-throughs with his four-seamer, though. He definitely benefits from his ability to throw his fastball at a variety of speeds: 87-88-89-90-91-92-93-94-95. Nearly 73% of Porcello's pitches were labeled as fastballs by PitchFX this season.
While Porcello gets some late, downward movement with his changeup and has decent command of the pitch, it wasn't an above-average offering in 2009. It ranged from 82-86 MPH in most of his starts. He threw it 14% of the time according to PitchFX, which was more than his curveball and slider combined. Porcello's changeup was his third-best pitch in 2009. If he can sharpen his command with the pitch a little, it could become an average or better offering.
Porcello didn't command his curveball well. He got about two-thirds of his curveball swing-throughs during the first three months of the season. He pretty much stopped throwing it in the middle of August -- threw four or fewer curveballs in each outing from August 11 on. Overall, he threw the 76-80 MPH offering 8.7% of the time. The pitch showed some promise during the early part of the season, but he'll need to be more consistent with it if it's going to become an average big league offering.
A more reliable pitch than his curveball, Porcello's slider has late, sharp break away from righties. The 79-81 pitch isn't yet an offering that he can miss bats with regularly, but it got better during the second half of the season. Porcello threw it exactly 10% of the time, according to PitchFX. Expect him to be more aggressive with his slider in the future. It's a pitch that could get him out of jams against righties. And he'll likely need to call on it more often as he starts to go deeper into ball games -- he only topped 100 pitches three times in 2009. If Porcello can improve his slider next season, his strikeout totals will go way up.
Don't toss Porcello aside as a finesse pitcher who isn't going to dominate many lineups. As he showed during his final start of the season (the play-in game), he has ace potential. The fact that he didn't see a dramatic decrease in performance after jumping from High-A straight up to the bigs is phenomenal. He's already an elite ground-ball pitcher with excellent command. Expect a good amount of complete games from him once the Tigers feel his arm is ready for more innings -- he averaged less than 90 pitches a start. Porcello's combination of a very high floor and pretty high ceiling make him one of the best young pitchers to break into the big leagues this decade.
2009 Grade: C
|Date||FB velo||ST||Tot||CH velo||ST||Tot||CB velo||ST||Tot||SL velo||ST||Tot||PC|
|* ST stands for swing-through; Tot is the number of times a pitch was thrown; PC stands for pitch count|