With his erratic play in the last few years, I believe that Porcello is rapidly becoming the successor of Brandon Inge as the most polarizing player in the team. A recent post at fangraphs monitored a top-10 prospect in each organization that saw his stock fall during the season. The Tigers' prospect concerned was Fields and the reason given for his failure was the team rushing him and hampering his development like it did with so many prospects before, mentioning Bonderman and Porcello among others.
The inclusion of these two names sparked a heated debate in the comments (Matt in Toledo also commented) mostly about how Bondo was consistently on the rise until he blew his arm in '07, therfore there was no lack of development on this case. But what about Porcello?
As per Baseball America Porcello was the Tigers top prospect for 2008 and 2009. However his scouting reports from these two prospects lists are quite different. Both mention a four-seam fastball that can get up to 97. But while before 2008 his secondary pitches were a slider and a curveball, prior to '09 he had a sinker he could throw as high as 95 plus a changeup. His slider was gone and his curveball was thrown much less than before. He picked up the sinker at the Tigers advice in order to get quicker outs since he was on a 75-pitch count in '08.
In his first two years in the majors Porcello showed that he is a strong finisher, posting excellent numbers in the second half of the season. In articles I read after the end of 2009 season it was mentioned that his increased use of his four-seamer led to a rise in his strikeouts and helped to better set up his secondary pitches. For last season I could see for myself that in the second half he throwing as hard as 96 after his return from Toledo and this again coincided with his improved numbers.
A story in Tigers.com before the start of this season mentioned that Porcello was determined to become a true 4-pitch pitcher by developing his secondary offerings. Kurt's article about Tigers' starters pitch selection on the contrary showed that Porcello was relying more than ever on his sinker. He is also throwing both his fastball and sinker at much lower velocities (topping out at 92 early in game and 91 later) presumably in order to command them better.
With his over-reliance on his sinker whether by accident or design, Porcello has become the Al equivalent of Charlie Morton of the Pirates, who purposely altered his pitching profile and style to emulate Roy Halladay and uses his sinker most of the time to get groundball outs. That would not be such a big deal for Porcello were it not for the fact that his sinker does not sink much and as consistently as he would like. a comparison of the stat lines of the two pitchers shows the following:
Morton: 28 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 166.2 IP, 178 H (6 HR), 74 BB, 107 K, 12 HBP, 9 WP, 3.67 ERA Porcello: 30 GS, 176 IP, 205 H (18 HR), 44 BB, 100 K, 8 HBP, 12 WP, 4.76 ERA
The fact that Porcello is 14-9 in the season while Morton is 10-10 is entirely due to the superior Tigers offense as Morton is clearly the better pitcher, at least this season.
I firmly believe that in order to rediscover success and fulfill his huge potential Porcello would need to start throwing again at higher velocities and use his complete arsenal, rather than rely on a pitch that he clearly cannot master. Moreover Detroit's defense is clearly not going to make it easy on him if he plans to remain a sinkerballer. An example and possible guide to this path could be one of his newest teammates.
During his time in Seattle with a superb defense behind him, Doug Fister was throwing mostly at 88-90 and getting lots of groundouts. It took one awful start against the Orioles for Fister to alter his style and now he is throwing easily at 92-93 and topped at 94. Whether it is related or not I don't know, but his K rate also jumped and we have all seen how dominant Fister has been in a Tigers uniform.
I got carried away by my thoughts, so I 'd like to summarize in a hurry: Is Porcello self-destructing by virtually giving up on his explosive stuff that made scouts think of him as a "bona fide ace", in order to become a one-dimensional, back-of-the-rotation sinkerballer, just for the sake of getting quicker outs?