Rick Porcello and the strikeout rate

Rick Porcello didn’t crack five strikeouts per nine innings for a season until his third year in the Major Leagues. That was two years ago. He bumped his strikeout rate a little bit from there to 5.5 last year. After Monday’s six-inning, 10-strikeout performance, he’s up to 6.96 this season. With matchups against the White Sox and Marlins due up to finish out his season, he has a legitimate chance to end the year averaging seven.

This is no longer the sinkerballing Porcello we’ve come to expect. This is more like the pure pitching Porcello some saw out of the draft in 2007. The sinker is still his dominant pitch, but it’s no longer the only thing he can throw for outs.

“You’ve got to be able to strike guys out, especially in the American League,” Porcello said after Monday’s 4-2 win. “With the type of hitters they have in big, strong guys, we have to be able to get swings and misses when you need them. I’ve been to do that a little bit better this year than I have in year’s past. It is a weapon.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge would probably agree. His last year in Cleveland was Porcello’s first in Detroit, so he had a chance to watch him a lot as a rookie.

“He wasn’t really making mistakes,” Wedge said. “He’s more of a complete pitcher now than he was three or four years ago when he was younger. He just has more weapons.”

If you count his sinker and his power fastball as two different pitches, then he threw a five-pitch arsenal as the M’s on Monday. Yes, the sinker was the workhorse pitch, comprising 38 of his 105 pitches. His next-favorite selection, however, was his curveball, the onetime show-me pitch in his arsenal. He threw 22 of them, 12 of strikes, five for swings and misses, according to brooksbaseball.net. All five whiffs came from left-handed hitters, who had four more off his changeup.

“I think coming into the game, knowing they had a lot of left-handed hitters, knowing that breaking ball was going to be a big pitch for me to be effective tonight, we really used it a lot early,” Porcello said. “Started to get some swings and misses and some effective outs with it, so we kind of kept going to it and it worked out.”

He struck out seven of Seattle’s first 19 hitters, three of them on curves. Other times, the curve and changeup set up hitters for the fastball, which Porcello was able to spot.

“I knew that offspeed pitches were going to be real big today,” he said. “They only had two right-handed hitters in the lineup. A lot of times, a lineup that’s right-handed heavy I can rely on my sinker a lot more but when we get left-handed hitters up there, they seem to hit the sinker a lot better. The offspeed pitches were big and we knew that going in and that was our game plan was to keep it those down. Alex [Avila] called a great game and we were both in sync.”

Porcello said he thought the curveball was the key pitch for him, while Jim Leyland thought it was the changeup. Either way, the two gave him a chance against lefties.

“I think he’s executing pitches better,” Leyland said, “and that’s a weapon against a left-hander. He can throw a sinker down and away and got some ground balls, but you also have to have something to get [hitters] off the sinker, because you keep throwing sinkers and you throw a high sinker, they go a long way. His offspeed stuff is getting better as we speak. That’s been a big key for him.”

11 Comments

Scherzer ,twice in the divisional series or twice in the CS?
The pitchers in the first game of the DS would pitch in an hypothetical 5th game. So the starter of the second game would be starting first and fifth game of the CS ( with another manager could be starting the fourth if needed).
So, first in the postseason? or first in the playoff ? when its matter most

Did not see the game, but based on what I read, Ricky did a terrific job. Way to go!

Worth remained in a game after being injured. Out for the season. Non tender candidate

Porcello is becoming the pitcher I envisioned after first seeing him at ST of 2008, against Cleveland in Winter Haven where they no longer have ST. Taking Rick’s age into account, he’s right on schedule to be a very good big league pitcher. Glad the cries of some to trade him were not heeded.

Sanchez pitches tonight with a 13 2/3 innings scoreless streak. He could push that over 20 innings tonight against this lineup.
.
Their pitcher just got ate up by the Astros – he’s young and is 2-8 on the year, is worse on the road and has been struggling particularly of late.
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Me thinks tonight at the ballpark would be fun.

With Porcello becoming the best “#5 pitcher” in all baseball, the Tigers face an enviable decision. How do they ever get a LHP into the rotation, whether Smyly or someone else? They could trade one of the 5 RHP but which one would you let go? At this point JV seems like the least effective but you have to believe he will come back after some deflation of his ego. If they could make a trade, don’t you think it should bring a very valuable position player or bullpen piece? And maybe they don’t need a LHP in the rotation. Just my thoughts today. And yours?

If you already have one of the best rotations in baseball without a lefty, one has to wonder how important it is to have one?
Everyone assumes, and probably rightly so, that Smyly will be a terrific starter. However, he’s still young. Anything can happen and these things tend to work themselves out through injury, etc. Other than Sanchez, the rotation has avoided injuries this year.

Porcello and Fister are Arb eligible. If I had to trade one of them it would not be Porcello. JV would like bring a big haul and a lot of salary relief but seems counter-intuitive after his last contract.

There are also those kinds of guys who can transition to the pen. Look at Luke Hocheaver.

First, we win the AL Central. Then we want to win homefield advantage for the division series against Oakland. Since this article is about Rick Porcello, he could be the x-factor for a five game division series. He is our recent hot hand at starter though he must continue during his next two starts. Personally, I would like to see all five guys get a start in the division series. Keep in mind, the guy who Oakland really bombed in Detroit was Doug Fister. Very few of their guys have even seen Porcello the past two seasons. He is a much different pitcher right now.

I agree with how important is it to have a LHP in the rotation when you have one of the best rotations to begin with? It just seems like every other team has a truckload of LHB to put against every RH starter the Tigers have. Time will sort things out, yes.

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