Game 24: Time to pay up for Porcello?

Tigers fans went into the season wondering if this was the last ride for the Tigers’ vaunted starting rotation as they knew it, because of Max Scherzer’s contract year.

One month into the season, it might be time to think about Rick Porcello in his next-to-last season before free agency, and wonder if there’s still time to buy in.

Yes, it’s early. That’s the point.

Historically, May is the month when we start talking about Porcello’s potential, because he keeps flashing it. With seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball Friday at Kansas City, he’s now 14-6 with a 3.13 ERA in 26 career starts in May, averaging six-plus innings per start. He hasn’t lost in May since 2012. He was just 1-0 with a 3.13 ERA last May, but he had more strikeouts (32) than innings pitched (31 2/3).

Compare that to the months before and afterward. Porcello is 9-12 with a 6.12 ERA for his career in April. Even if you take out the nine-run first inning from last season against the Angels, he’s 9-11 with a 5.57 ERA. In June, he’s 9-12 with a 5.30 ERA.

“I have no idea [why],” Porcello shrugged. “I wish I could tell you. I don’t have an explanation for it.”

He’s now 4-1 with a 3.66 ERA, the first four-game winner on the Tigers staff, and he has just started into what is historically the best month of his career. His performance Friday night reflects why his season so far is not just a fluke.

He threw first-pitch strikes to his first nine batters and 20 out of 25 Royals batters. He rebounded from Billy Butler’s fourth-inning solo homer by retiring the last 12 Royals he faced after that. He left Royals hitters talking highly about what they saw from him.

“He had a good sinker tonight,” Butler said. “He was on, there’s no doubt about that. His ball was moving, diving on us and getting a lot of ground balls. A lot of first-pitch strikes and that’s going to bode well for a sinkerball guy. Give him a lead and he can go to work.”

He has allowed just four walks in 32 innings, producing a ratio of 1.13 walks per nine innings that ranks second-lowest among American League starters behind only David Price. He owns a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.50 that ranks fourth in the AL behind Price, Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez.

He’s throwing about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, easily the best ratio of his career, and he’s getting the bump from swings and misses. His percentage of pitches swung at is up, and his contact rate is down.

When he gets ahead in counts, he’s becoming more than a sinkerball pitcher. He’s beginning to use his full repertoire — curveballs, sliders and all.

He’s doing this at the age of 25. He’s on track to hit the free-agent market before he turns 27, young enough to sign one major contract, then hit the market again for another one. A breakout season would put Porcello in a somewhat similar position Scherzer has now, only a year from free agency while delivering the best pitching of his career. Moreover, Porcello has no arm injury history to date.

To buy in on Porcello now would still require the Tigers to take a risk, one of the Tigers learned well with past contracts for Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. Sometimes it’s not a breakout, simply a repetition of the pattern. The age and the learning curve already made suggests the breakout might well be coming.

The Tigers have rarely done in-season extensions over the past eight years, so all this talk might well be moot. Then again, Porcello has the potential to be a unique case. We’ll see.

10 Comments

He is expected to make from 10 to 11 MM in arbitration and then around 14-15 MM as FA. so 60 MM /4 extension. Better wait untilJjune when his number could dip, (or not).

Some things are going better than expected:
AlAl not walking hitters
Davis hitting RHP (well up until the other day)
DD coming to his senses quickly re Gonzalez (remember him?)
Joba looking like he is capable of setting up
Austin Jackson not striking out at mind boggling rates
Ricky leading the team in Wins
And things that are not as good as expected:
Miggy not being devastatingly good (starting to hit the ball with real authority again though)
JV not striking out hitters like he used to
Kinsler not running like we thought he would
Drew Smiley (though always getting the short end of the stick doesn’t help)
And things going exactly as expected:
Phil Coke
Don Kelly
Nick Castellanos
Victor Martinez
Max Scherzer
Torii Hunter not catching up to fly balls
Anibal (injury included)
The bullpen
So, 15 and 9 is a very fortunate place to be at this stage.

15 and 9 with the last three wins on the road against your rivals. Very fortunate indeed.

Greg

Forgot Alex Avila (pretty much as expected–injuries and all)

Simple answer: yes pay Rick. Especially with the almost foregone conculsion that someone is going to give Max way too much money.Verlander-Sanchez-Porcello is a very solid 3, add Smyly and hopefully Ray and we have a very young very good rotation for the next 4 years.

Pingback: AL Central Notes: Harang, Porcello, Hanrahan – MLB Trade Rumors

it’s mostly about how much untapped potential Porcello has, in the eyes of the best talent evaluators in the organization. perhaps also why Fister was traded…reached or exceeded his performance ceiling and on the verge of becoming too expensive to be a part of team’s future.

All I know is that Porcello pitched a hell of a game! WOW.

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