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Rick Porcello’s Rising Star


Twenty seven days ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Rick Porcello is Breaking Out” in which I said the following:

Put this together and we have this story: Rick Porcello is striking out more batters than ever, walking fewer batters than ever, getting more groundballs than ever, and is allowing more homeruns per flyball than we would generally expect. All of this points toward the 24 year old having his best season to date.

Since then, all Porcello has done is prove me right. I don’t mean for this to be about me or my predictive success, I mean it to be a validation of how Porcello was showing signs that he was having his breakout campaign. Now it’s clear that he is.

Let’s take a quick look at his numbers over the last 30 days.

2-1, 30 IP, 9.68 K/9, 1.76 BB/9, 2.93 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 2.14 xFIP, 0.8 WAR.

Those are great numbers. All-Star, Cy Young type numbers. Over the last 30 days, Porcello’s 2.14 xFIP is the best in major league baseball and his xFIP this season is 7th best in MLB despite his rough April. This is no longer the Rick Porcello who is a really good #5 starter, this is Rick Porcello the really good starter.

Let’s update where Porcello stands. His K/9 is far and away the best of his career as is his BB/9.


When you translate his numbers into FIP and xFIP, it looks like this:


But it isn’t just the strikeouts and the walks, it’s also the groundballs. Rick Porcello isn’t trading groundballs for strikeouts, he’s actually getting more of both.


Everything is trending in the right direction for Porcello. More strikeouts, fewer walks, more groundballs. He’s gone from very good #5 starter with some upside to a one of the game’s best starters over the last month and a half. In fact, his particular combination of strikeouts, walks, and groundballs is quite rare and extraordinary.

He’s striking out more than 7 batters per 9, walking fewer than 2 batters per 9 and has a groundball rate above 50%. From 2000-2012, here is the list of pitchers who have finished a season with that mix: Halladay (4x), Carpenter (3x), and Hamels (1x). In 2013, the pitchers on that list are Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello. That is some excellent company.

If we push the limits farther, to 7.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 55% GB (which Porcello has) the list of pitchers since 2000 to accomplish that feat drops to zero. Nobody. We don’t have groundball data from before the early 2000s, so I can’t tell you how rare this is in MLB history, but since the data became available, it’s never been done.

Porcello is mixing strikeouts, command of the zone, and groundball induction in a way that has never been done before. You may look at his ERA or even more foolishly his W/L record and think he’s the same old guy, but he’s actually nothing close to it. He’s turned himself into a star.

And this isn’t some fluke stretch that happens to him everyone once in a while. This is his K/9 by month for every month of his career:


Porcello is a noticeably different pitcher. And he’s doing it by dropping the slider, cutting back on the fastballs and using curveball and changeup more often.


It’s all working. You can see the change in his approach is coming from a changeup and curveball that are moving more and have bigger separation from the fastball by velocity.


pic7This is all by way of saying that Rick Porcello is getting much better results over the last two months than he ever has before and that it is the result of real change in his approach to pitching. I’ve always believed this breakout would come. It’s true, you can ask friends who suffered through my lectures on him. Everyone looked at Porcello in 2009 and saw a young kid with big time prospect status. But he didn’t develop that fast and he started to get tagged as a bust. But the mistake those critics made was that Porcello got to the major leagues so early that they didn’t realize he was still developing. His training for big league baseball was all on the job training.

Consider this. Rick Porcello is in his 5th year in MLB and has made 131 starts (120 entering 2013). When each of these pitchers turned 24, they had this many starts: Doug Fister (0), Anibal Sanchez (23), Justin Verlander (32), Max Scherzer (3). Rick Porcello has more starts before his 24th birthday than all four of his rotation-mates combined. Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Justin Verlander have all played the vast majority of their major league careers over the age of 24. Porcello has played almost the whole thing below 24. Think about how much those pitchers have grown since they turned 24.

If Rick Porcello can develop at a rate even remotely close to that which his teammates have, he could be one of the best pitchers in the baseball across the late 2010s. Heck, over the last two months he already is.

How Was The Game? (May 28, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Baseball as it should be, with an unfortunate ending.

Pirates 1, Tigers 0

I’ve been banging the Rick Porcello (2-2, 51 IP, 5.29 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 0.7 WAR) drum pretty hard for a long time, and as recently as two weeks ago, and it was so much fun to watch him walk out onto the mound after a rain delay tonight and deliver the best performance of his career.  He was brilliant from the start and finished with 8 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 1 BB, and 11 K. Only two balls were hit in the air against him all night, both of which were caught. The three hits were groundball singles up the middle. Nothing else of any substance came off the bats of the Pirates hitters and Porcello (as you can see below) continued his march toward his breakout year.



For their part, the Tigers offense made him sweat and didn’t deliver anything, even into the 11th inning, when Neil Walker’s solo HR gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead that would hold.The loss gives the Tigers a 4-2 homestand and a 29-21 record so far on the year as they pack up and head to Pittsburgh to play the second half of the home and home series. Anibal Sanchez (5-4, 64.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 2.8 WAR) will start game one Wednesday looking to continue his great season and keep his near no-hitter stuff going.

The Moment: Porcello strikes out his 11th batter to set a new career best.

Rick Porcello is Breaking Out (You Heard Me)


Now the Rick Porcello skeptic is going to look at his 5.92 ERA and just ignore this post in favor of his or her preconceptions about the Tigers right-hander, but I urge you to read on. Rick Porcello is about to have his breakout season. Really.

First, let’s point out that his start on April 20th against the Angels was a mess. 0.2 innings and 9 runs. But it certainly wasn’t all his fault, it was only somewhat his fault. There were infield singles galore in that inning and he should have gotten out of it with  only a run or two to his name. I don’t mean to deflect the blame, but merely want to to point out that type of strange inning can happen to anyone and that he induced 7 groundballs in 2/3 of an inning. Normally, that should get you a lot of outs. If we remove that start from his line this year, he has a 3.85 ERA. Again, I’m not trying to just wish it away – it happened – but I do want to point out that other than that one inning, he’s having a very solid season for back end starter even by a conventional, inch deep approach to analyzing baseball.

But let’s also turn to the peripheral numbers. Rick Porcello is striking out 6.39 batters per 9 so far in 2013 and that is the highest number of his career. In his first two years he was about 4.7 K/9. In 2011-2012 he was 5.0-5.5 K/9. He’s added nearly an entire strikeout per 9 this season, which is always a good thing.

He’s also walking fewer batters than ever. In his first season he walked 2.74 per 9 and in his last three he’s been around 2.1-2.3 BB/9. This year, he’s walking 1.89 batters per 9 inning. Look at how his strikeout rate and walk rate are bowing apart on the graph. That is a sign of improvement.

K bb

He’s striking out more hitters and walking fewer. In other words, he’s getting better at two of the aspects of the game a pitcher can truly control. But there’s more.

Rick Porcello’s groundball rate is rising too. In his rookie season he got 54.2% GB, but that number dropped to 50.3% before rising each of the last three seasons into this year’s career high 54.9% groundball rate. Not bad. More groundballs are always better than more flyballs.


And then there are the homeruns. Typically Porcello has allowed 0.8 to 1.0 HR/9, but this year that number is 1.42. Now that may sound worse, but it’s actually good. The reason being that most people consider HR to Flyball rate to be inherently driven by luck and that over a large enough sample, every pitcher regresses toward giving up about 1 HR per every 10 fly balls. Porcello has generally been in that range for his entire career. Until this season. This season that rate is 1 in 5. Again, this is a good thing because we would expect that number to come down toward his career norm, thus shrinking his HR rate as the season goes on. In other words, Porcello has given up more runs that he should have this year because he’s been unlucky with flyballs and that luck will change.

hr fb

Put this together and we have this story: Rick Porcello is striking out more batters than ever, walking fewer batters than ever, getting more groundballs than ever, and is allowing more homeruns per flyball than we would generally expect. All of this points toward the 24 year old having his best season to date.

I’m buying it. Everything we know about what makes pitchers successful tells us to look at strikeouts, walks, and homeruns and the percentage of balls in play he allows on the ground versus in the air. All of those numbers – all of them – are trending in the right direction for Rick Porcello. Lots of people talked about his great spring and the trashed it when he struggled a bit early, but here were are on May 18th and Porcello is starting to make himself look like a very good starter.

Fangraphs furnishes a metric called xFIP which gives us an expected ERA for a starting pitcher based on his strikeouts and walks plus a regressed version of their HR rate adjusted for park effects and league average. Rick Porcello is posting a career best 3.42 xFIP right now. That xFIP is 27th best in baseball among pitchers with 30 IP or more. He’s tied with Jordan Zimmermann (who has a 1.69 ERA) and is getting ace-like attention this season.


I’m not trying to make the case that Porcello is a #1 starter or even a #2, but rather that Rick Porcello is poised for a breakout season and that you should take notice. Heck, look at how his xFIP has declined in every season of his career. He’s often a whipping boy for fairweather fans and idiot radio hosts, but Rick Porcello has always been a durable starter and now he’s having his best season yet.

And he’s still just 24.

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