An issue of some contention this offseason has been what to do about the Tigers surplus of starting pitchers. You see, the Tigers have six of them and only five slots in the rotation. Many fans and commentators have characterized this as a problem, but it really shouldn’t be thought of in this way. Seriously, when is having too many good players a problem?
Following said belief about having too many starters, these same people have often advocated for trading Rick Porcello. The reasons for dealing Porcello are straightforward. First, his contract is heavier than Drew Smyly’s, so the team could reallocate more cash if they deal Porcello instead of Smyly. Second, fans perceive Porcello as an inferior pitcher to Smyly or at least less valuable because he doesn’t throw with his left hand.
I, however, am here to discuss this situation in a different way. The Tigers should keep both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.
Let’s first lay out the possible options:
A) Keep both
1) Porcello starts, Smyly relieves
2) Smyly starts, Porcello relieves
3) Porcello starts, Smyly starts in AAA
B) Trade one
4) Trade Porcello
5) Trade Smyly
When we look at it with all of the options in front of us, it’s much easier to see which make the most sense. I would argue that Option 3 is the ideal one for three primary reasons.
Reason 1: The Tigers gain little by trading either player. There is no one on the trading block right now who they could get for either pitcher that would improve the 2013 club. The Tigers could add a prospect or add depth at another position, but they can’t get better in the short run given the options. The team wants to win now. Why should they trade their pitching depth, which is lacking after Smyly and Porcello, when they will likely need it at some point in 2013?
Reason 2: Smyly should start so that he can continue to develop. If the team moves him to the pen, they are likely stunting his growth for the long term.
Reason 3: I think Porcello is better than Smyly for 2013. Porcello has four 2-3 WAR seasons already and has never missed a start due to injury. His strikeout numbers have trended up each season with his walk numbers coming down. His FIP has dropped every season of his career. He’s also still just 24 years old – at least 2-3 years before the average pitcher peaks. Porcello could easily be a 3+WAR pitcher in 2013 and has shown no reason to think he will break down and every reason to think 2013 will be his best season so far.
Smyly, on the other hand, is not nearly so well defined. He’s only a year younger and has less than twenty major league starts and less than fifty professional starts. His rate stats are quite good and he easily looks to be a promising young player, but he hasn’t pitched enough to know these things. Smyly has an injury history and less experience. I’m not sure which pitcher will be better in for their career, but Porcello has a big head start and is a much more certain quantity. There are always things that you don’t see coming, but I’d rather be predicting off four years of data than less than one.
If we merge those reasons together, we’re left with Option 3. This gives the Tigers depth should one of their pitchers get injured and it allows Smyly to develop for the day that he is called upon to be full time starter. The Tigers lose nothing in keeping both pitchers for the start of the 2013 season except the opportunity cost of the trade they could make right now – but none of those trades look that great.
The Tigers should keep Porcello and Smyly for 2013 and start with Porcello in the rotation and Smyly leading the Mud Hens staff. They can always adjust from their throughout the season, but you can’t untrade Rick Porcello if Max Scherzer blows out his elbow in May.
This week’s leaderboard comes from the 2012 leaders in IFFB% or infield fly ball rate. Which qualified pitchers and hitters force and hit the most popups?
Starting Pitchers – Most
1. Bruce Chen, 17.6%
2. Rick Porcello, 15.8%
3. Phil Hughes, 15.6%
4. Justin Verlander, 15.4%
5. Jon Lester, 14.4%
Starting Pitchers – Fewest
1. Edwin Jackson, 3.6 %
2. Tim Lincecum, 3.8%
3. Jeff Samardzija, 3.8%
4. Yovani Gallardo, 4.0%
5. Scott Diamond, 4.0%
Hitters – Most
1. Jimmy Rollins, 19.0%
2. Erick Aybar, 18.4%
3. Desmond Jennings, 18.1%
4. Mike Moustakas, 17.6%
5. Dan Uggla, 16.9%
Hitters – Fewest
1. Chris Johnson, 0.8%
2. Joe Mauer, 1.0%
3. Austin Jackson, 1.4%
4. Jose Altuve, 1.5%
5. Ben Revere, 1.6%
In a very lose sense, IFFB% tends to have a negative correlation with groundball rate. In other words, people who hit/throw groundballs tend to have lower IFFB%. Except there are two glaring exceptions on these lists (at least in the top fives).
Rick Porcello is a groundballer (>50%) but one of the top IFFB% pitchers. This would lend some strong evidence that Porcello is a lot better than his ERA indicates. He gets groundballs and infield popups. Imagine him with a good defense. What’s interesting about Porcello is that his GB% is consistent in his four year career (50-55%), but his IFFB% is increasing consistently every season (5%, 7%, 10%, 15%).
Chris Johnson has a GB% below 40%, but somehow has almost no infield popups. 60% of his balls are in the air, but less than 1% are in the air to the infield. That is crazy! His career numbers show this same trend, so it isn’t a fluke.
Take from this what you will, but at the very least these leaderboards highlight some players with strange tendencies.