Hey Tigers fans, here’s a familiar face. No he’s not quite our handsome young prince anymore, but we had some good times with Rick Porcello in a Detroit Tigers uniform. Now 31 years old, and four years from his shocking Cy Young Award winning season with the Boston Red Sox, Porcello has proven himself one of the most durable pitchers of the era and still a fairly effective one to boot.
Porcello needs little introduction to all but the youngest, or newest, Tigers fans out there. The rest of us won’t soon forget his exhilarating 2009 debut campaign and how the 20-year-old rookie helped carry a thin pitching staff through the stretch drive until the game that must not be mentioned snuffed our collective hopes.
While Porcello was a consistent starter who really did seem to go six innings with three runs allowed constantly, the extremes over such a long relationship tend to stand out in the collective memory of the fanbase. There were those starts where Porcello ran right through good lineups with quick inning after quick inning of routine ground balls. When he had the sinker and his changeup working, Porcello would chew up bats and occasionally reach back for 94-95 to blow hitters away with the odd high fourseamer.
However, there were plenty of wild times as well. You may remember a certain inning from hell back on April 14, 2012, where Porcello faced 15 hitters in the first inning of a game against the Texas Rangers, allowing eight runs on 10 hits, with only one home run. Or the time the Angels did him the same way with a barrage of first inning singles and doubles. Or maybe your abiding memory since the 2014 playoffs was simply rage that Porcello never even got on the mound in the ALDS? Who can say? Better to remember the good times, like that night he broke out some judo to toss Kevin Youkilis on his head.
For six full seasons in Detroit, Porcello was as solid a middle rotation arm as there was in baseball. He averaged 179 innings per season with a 4.33 ERA, and while he never developed the consistently good breaking ball that might have made him a star, he was dependable and well liked as long as you didn’t hold the bar too high. While he basically relied on pounding the edges of the zone with sinkers in his time as a Tiger, his lack of flash didn’t hold him back from a role in one of the great rotations in baseball history during the club’s four-year reign atop the American League Central division.
Rick Porcello 2017-2020
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Since his time in Detroit, Porcello won a ring and a Cy Young award with the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers of course received Yoenis Cespedes, who begat, via trade, Michael Fulmer. Porcello has made some tweaks to stay with the times, but he’s not so radically different a pitcher than the one you remember. His velocity is only slightly diminished, and he’s dealt with the growing prevalence of fly ball heavy hitters by turning to the fourseamer more than the sinker. That trend did reverse itself somewhat in his 2020 campaign for the New York Mets, however. Porcello has also left his curveball in the quiver in favor of greater slider usage in the intervening years. Still his results and his innings totals have remained remarkably consistent as he looks toward his 13th year in the major leagues.
2021 will be his age 32 season, and currently Porcello is 11th in fWAR among active pitchers. He’s coming off a very Rick Porcello season for the Mets—who may want him back at the right price—and while he may have some options this winter, a reunion with the Tigers certainly seems within reason.
Should the Tigers bite?
MLB Trade Rumors projected Porcello to the Tigers on a one year contract at $5 million. That sounds about right. Team pay for strikeouts, and while Porcello is more proficient in this regard than early in his career, he’s still basically a backend starter that teams aren’t going to commit to for more than a one or two year deal at an inexpensive cost. The problem is that he may not fit the Tigers immediate needs all that well.
As new manager A.J. Hinch said in conversation with MLB Radio on Monday, the Tigers do need at least one, if not two, starting pitchers this offseason. Right now Spencer Turnbull and Matt Boyd are the only two that can be seriously inked in for 150 innings. The potential quality of said innings is far less dependable. Michael Fulmer may simply not be capable of starting any longer, but the Tigers will give it time to play out. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and possibly Matt Manning late in the season, will get starts, but they’ll be on strict innings limits after having their progression toward a major league workload blown to pieces in 2020. The Tigers cannot allow themselves to be in a position where they have to overuse their top prospects just to get through the season.
The real need here is to find a starting pitcher with some upside that new pitching coach Chris Fetter can attempt to polish up. The Tigers have failed to do this even once during general manager Al Avila’s tenure, and they’re in the perfect position to take a risk on someone like that. Porcello doesn’t really qualify in the way that a Garrett Richards does. However, if the club is serious about adding two starting pitchers, Porcello offers a solid attribute in his dependability. While we said the same thing about Ivan Nova when the Tigers picked him up in free agency last winter, Porcello has even a much better track record of throwing 175 plus innings year in and year out.
If Al Avila is only going to add one starting pitcher this offseason, Porcello isn’t the one we want. They need to do better. However, late in the winter when there will presumably be numerous swingman types looking for a very cheap one year deal, adding an extra piece is fine if they feel they need more depth. Rick Porcello fits in between those two types of free agent pitcher. He doesn’t have much potential to improve, but he’s more than just a swingman you stash for a little insurance.
However, from the team’s perspective, bringing back a familiar and fairly well liked player is an easier sell to the fanbase than an oft-injured project or no-name backend starter. The Tigers continue to sound infuriatingly risk averse, and you’re probably going to get what you pay for with Rick Porcello. Signing him would at least establish control over how the club develops its top pitching prospects in 2021. For that reason alone, tendering him a contract isn’t a bad idea at all. It just doesn’t have potential to further the Tigers overall progress as an organization.