Fantasy Baseball 2014: Rick Porcello Ready to Make Leap


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Looking at what Rick Porcello did in 2013 compared to the rest of his career, you’d have a hard time arguing that the Detroit Tigers right-hander didn’t take a pretty good step forward. [table id=474 /]

Steady improvement, for sure. But it’s not really until we get into Post-April numbers in 2013 that we could really identify Porcello as an everyday fantasy arm, and even then it’s a little dicey. The question is, can Porcello, who’s only 25, continue to improve and become a full-fledged fantasy guy that you’ll activate in pretty much every single start?

To start answering that question, we should look at what really stood out in 2013 vs. the rest of his career — an improved strikeout rate — and see if anything suggests that it was anything other than an anomaly.

Looking at Porcello’s Fangraphs Page, one thing really jumped off of the page at me. [table id=475 /]

It went from a pitch he hardly ever threw in 2012 and before, to one of his most often used pitches in 2013. Of course, the inclusion of an extra pitch gives the hitters one more thing to think about, which by extension makes every other pitch that Porcello throws better. What happens when every pitch looks a little better to the hitters? More strikeouts. So, that bump in strikeouts is not a fluke.

Here’s where it gets really fun.

In the case of most pitchers that add a pitch one year, it’d be natural to show some concern that the big league hitters will catch on after seeing it for a season, and watching tape over a full off-season. I won’t say that’s not a concern with Porcello, but it’s minimized.

Unlike most young pitchers, Porcello has never struggled with walks. The 2.1 BB/9 in 2013 is a really good average for anyone, but especially a guy who was in his Age 24 season. The Kryptonite for breaking balls is that they end up out of the strike zone so if a hitter has a sense that it may be coming, he can simply take the pitch and more often than not, be fine.

But with a pitcher like Porcello, that’s not an option. If he’s not walking hitters, it means he’s throwing strikes early in the count and jumping ahead. When a hitter’s down in the count, he loses the luxury of taking pitches.

Porcello has always been a strike-thrower, even in his bad years. So, while the fear of hitters adjusting to his new pitch — or at least new usage of an old pitch — does exist, it’s greatly alleviated.

So, how to we project Rick Porcello for 2014?

[table id=476 /]

We have him as the 54th ranked pitcher, and also feel that he’ll continue to show some improvement.

I don’t know that Porcello will ever be a top-of-the-line fantasy pitcher, but he’s got the potential to be someone on par with Doug Fister or Andrew Cashner as soon as this year. He doesn’t beat himself by issuing a lot of walks and with a curveball being used on a consistent basis, can generate enough strikeouts that you won’t need to balance him with an Ian Kennedy or Tim Lincecum type of pitcher who will get strikeouts, but really risk running your ERA and WHIP up.

One last thing to remember. Porcello pitches in a very fair park and for one of the best offenses in the league. So, he should generate plenty of wins.

For me, he enters 2014 as a guy who I’d activate in any start, other than maybe against the American League’s top offenses. The good news? As we already went over, he plays on one of them, so that’s one fewer team to bench him against.

He’s a guy that you’ll want to take a gamble on in 2014, especially in a keeper/dynasty league. Remember, he’s only 25 and already showing great signs of improvement. That gives Porcello definite late-round value.