Too much starting pitching is never a bad problem. It is, in fact, not a problem at all. Very, very few teams make it through a full season using as few as six starters, so having more on hand the nominal five man rotation is probably a good idea.
That said, there are starters and there are starters. The waiver wire often bulges with guys who can stand in as starters, while young pitchers with upside and team control remaining offer any team a great deal of value on the trade market in the rare case of an organization with an extra guy like that just lying around.
The Detroit Tigers are just such a team to have extra starters. They have their homegrown ace in Justin Verlander, then two number two starters acquired via trades (Doug Fister and Max Scherzer), and finally the free agent splash Anibal Sanchez. After that very impressive top four, the Tigers have some options.
Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello are both young and cheap and not bad at all. Either player stands to net a tidy return should they be offered up in a trade. The Tigers don’t have to trade either player but Detroit doesn’t appear married to the idea of Jhonny Peralta as their shortstop, either. According to “reports”, Porcello might be the piece the Tigers dangle to upgrade at that position.
The Tigers have designs on winning but Porcello’s Super Two status makes him an expensive luxury as their payroll continues growing. If Rick Porcello were a different pitcher, the Tigers would gladly eat his escalating salary. Rick Porcello’s biggest problem is he keeps getting expensive even though he isn’t, well, particularly good.
That isn’t exactly true or fair. Rick Porcello occupies a very strange place in the strata of pitching. He is a former blue chip prospect who hasn’t quite lived up to his considerable hype. He is an excellent ground ball pitcher who, like many ground ball pitchers, struggles to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Porcello has been startlingly consistent over his four big league seasons, posting one of the 15 best ground ball rates and well below-average strikeout numbers. His K% has risen over each of the last three seasons, from 12% to 13.3% to 13.7% of his total batters faced. His swinging strike rates increased over each of these seasons as well.
In ranking the top Tigers talents under 25 on Baseball Prospectus, Jason Parks and the BP staff damn Porcello with the faint praise of being “criminially underrated”, noting his lack of stellar secondary offerings hold him back.
Without the ability to spin a consistent breaking ball, Porcello has failed to reach the mid-rotation ceiling that was once considered his floor. Instead he is a back-end starter. He is extremely durable and keeps his team in the game.
The lack of a dependable breaking pitch hampers Porcello, as does his very significant struggles versus left-handed hitters. Improving on his breaking stuff remains a priority for the young righty this spring, who opted to dump his less-than-stellar slider in favor of a curveball.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 4, 2013
Some believe Porcello still might improve beyond his current status as innings-eater ground ball guy. Adding some something with some swing-and-miss can only help to neutralize glove-sided hitters and make him a more complete pitcher. Pitching with better defense behind him makes him a more valuable pitcher without changing anything the pitcher does.
Whether teams are willing to meet the Tigers asking price for their valuable young commodity remains to be seen. Can the Tigers get the shortstop they covet? Is trading the still-young project before seeing what his retooled stuff can do a mistake? The Tigers are always in win-now mode and do a good job of staying that way. Just like all the potential suitors sniffing around, bet the Tigers are taking a good, long look at what the new-look Porcello can do.