Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Detroit Tigers Must Hold Onto Porcello

By Sean Gagnier

It's been well documented that the Tigers are willing spend money in order to win now for their aging owner, Mike Ilitch, but when a team tries to play like the New York Yankees in the clubhouse, they lose to the Yankees on the field.

The Tigers payroll will top $156M in 2012, an unheard of figure for a mid-market team with a modest television deal. General Manager Dave Dombrowski has done his best to fill the needs of the team through trades and via free agency. While that has brought talent to the team, it has strained the pocketbook and emptied the farm system.

When the Tigers traded uber-prospect Jacob Turner and major-league-ready catcher Rob Brantly to the Miami Marlins in July for pitcher Anibal Sanchez and second-baseman Omar Infante, many said the only way the trade would be deemed palatable is if the Tigers won the World Series or resigned Sanchez.

Well, the Tigers made it to the World Series, but lost. Then Dombrowksi inked Sanchez to a five-year deal deal worth $80M, and the trade talk around the Tigers heated up. Yes, Detroit is a much better team with Sanchez on it than without him, but one cannot so easily give up on prospects.

The ink wasn't even dry on the deal Sanchez contract and there were rumors swirling as to where Detroit would be trading pitcher Rick Porcello. It was taken as a given, a throw away move on a prospect that was one of the top rated high school pitchers taken in his draft.

Porcello, who turns 24 on Dec. 27, does not have the best career numbers, but a closer look at his stats reveals that he is improving each season and could very well be better than many give him credit for.

Each year, after 2009, Porcello has shown improvement to his ERA numbers, cutting 0.33 off his career high of 4.92 in 2010. His WHIP has not been as steady, and has bounced around from season to season. In 2012, Porcello posted a WHIP of 1.53, nosing his career WHIP to 1.417.

Normally any pitcher with a WHIP north of 1.35 is not a starter, but there are other factors one must consider before relegating Porcello to the scrap heap. Porcello is a ground-ball pitcher, meaning that he is at his best when batters make contact with the ball. The style of pitching is why the WHIP of any ground-ball, contact-pitcher is notably higher than that of a power-pitcher.

Porcello has increased his ground-ball numbers and cut down on his home runs allowed each season, resulting in a career best 16 home runs allowed in 2012. The problem with Porcello is that when he is on his game, he is getting quite a few ground balls and those ground balls have to be fielded by arguably one of the worst infields in the league.

Miguel Cabrera, at third base, does an admirable job, but his range is minimal. To Cabrera's left is shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who despite an impressive postseason, only has decent range forward and not to his left or right. Omar Infante had nine errors at second base for the Tigers in only 61 games. And Prince Fielder, at first, has one of the worst ranges in the game. Meaning that if Porcello had a defense behind him, he would easily be a 20-game winner.

Now, poor infield-defense may be another reason to trade Porcello. Or, one could look at making a few roster moves in the 2013 offseason that would shore up the defense and make Porcello look a heck of a lot better each time he is on the mound.

Right now, Porcello does not have the highest trade value. Teams know that the Tigers consider him to be "surplus," so they are not willing to give up much in return. Meaning that a former first-round draft pick would have gotten Detroit Joel Hanrahan. There are reports that several teams are interested in trading for Porcello, but how many of them would give Detroit anything of use?

With the trade route being rather barren, and fairly short-sighted, the best option is for the Tigers to hold onto Porcello and roll with the punches. Porcello has shown steady improvement, and remember, this guy is 24-years old. Verlander went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA in 2008 when he was 25, so there is something to be said for letting players develop.

The argument for trading Porcello has been that with the signing of Sanchez, there is only one open spot for a starter on the team. But think to yourself, when is the last time that any team went the entire season without an injury to one of their starters? Exactly.

Detroit has six starters. That's it. Seriously, there are no others. The Tigers traded Andy Oliver and shipped Adam Wilk to Korea this offseason. Casey Crosby has shown he isn't ready to start, and Duane Below has proven that he is best out of the bullpen. So should there be an injury to one of Detroit's starters, there is no help.

What Detroit needs to do, is to just take a deep breath and hold onto their young talent. Let Porcello and Drew Smyly duke it out in spring training for the final starters slot, and reward the other with a long-relief position in the bullpen. Both Smyly and Porcello have what it takes to be a starter.

The Tigers are good with one of the two of them on the roster, and they are even better with both of them. Having both Porcello and Smyly on the active-roster allows Manager Jim Leyland some flexibility with his rotation and also provides him with a safety net should something happen to one of his pitchers.

So the Tigers should let the stove remain hot and listen to offers, but unless something comes that blows them away they would be best suited to hold onto their talent. 

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