About Rick Porcello Rumors and the Seattle Mariners Involvement in Rick Porcello Rumors

For the better part of the winter rumors have persisted about the Tigers interest in trading Rick Porcello, and for a far lesser part of the winter rumors have persisted that the Mariners have some level of interest in trading for Porcello.

It makes sense: the Mariners have two spots in their rotation that are potentially available, and Porcello is an alright pitcher that is entering his age 24 season. Porcello has three years of team control remaining, and makes $5.1 million next year. Part of the reason the Tigers feel that Porcello is potentially expendable is that he’s never quite lived up to the potential that twice made him Baseball America’s 21st overall prospect.

Porcello has posted mediocre results since coming up with the Tigers, not taking advantage of a ballpark that is considered one of the league’s more pitcher-friendly. However, Porcello’s brand of baseball doesn’t require homerun suppression, the main driver of the perception that Comerica Park is a pitcher’s park, but rather, as a groundball pitcher he requires adequate infield defense.

The Tigers, for their part, have contstructed a team that basically diametrically opposes Porcello’s skills. He’s on a team that thought that playing Miguel Cabrera at third base was a viable option. This isn’t, of course, to say that the Tigers strategy was bad. They played in the World Series, after all. It’s basically impossible to imagine any scenario where a team  basically punting infield defense to accommodate Prince Fielder is anything short of tragic for the future of a pitcher like Porcello, though.

Results have proven to bear that hypothesis well, and the following is a look at the correlation between the iterations of Tigers infield defense that Porcello pitched in front of:

 

2012

2011

2010

2009

UZR/150

-4.7

-2.1

6.4

23

ERA-

111

114

117

87

FIP-

93

99

102

106

xFIP-

94

99

102

97

BABIP

0.345

0.318

0.308

0.279

BA

0.310

0.292

0.288

0.267

OBP

0.353

0.339

0.333

0.323

SLUG

0.455

0.435

0.419

0.416

OPS

0.808

0.774

0.752

0.738

The Tigers’ infield defense is quantified by combining UZR/150 for each position. In this case UZR has been particularly kind to the last two years of Jhonny Peralta’s defense at shortstop, and as a result, we may actually be looking at an overestimation of the last two season’s Tigers defenses’ respective true talents. Peralta is a career -1.2 UZR/150 guy, that includes the last two seasons, when he’s posted respective seasons of +10.7 and +11.7. Peralta may be correcting for some past bad luck, and Fangraphs fans may have been biased by his reputation when scouting him (-33 runs over the past four seasons per the fans), but there’s little chance he’s truly a +10 UZR defender.

So that’s that. Porcello has gotten better, and his fastball velocity has increased, which has lead to an increase in strikeouts and an increase in swinging strikes. Porcello’s peripherals are objectively better, yet his results have made him look like a below-average pitcher. As his defense got worse—as expected—his BABIP skyrocketed. As his BABIP skyrocketed, he wasn’t able to increase his strikeouts enough to make up for the damage it caused.

For what it’s worth, the Mariners infield defense was worth +27.2 UZR/150 in 2012.

None of this, of course, guarantees that Porcello would have success in Seattle. It stands to reason that he could be considerably better here though. And pitching in Safeco Field, even with the new dimensions, could take care of the minor home run issues that Porcello had last year on fly balls.

As always, what the Tigers want for Porcello means as much as what Porcello’s fit with the Mariners is. They’ve been reportedly interested in acquiring a shortstop or late inning reliever. Would a trade of Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor make sense for Porcello? Nick Franklin? Brad Miller?

Another element is simply the scarcity of supply of pitchers that profile similarly with Porcello. Groundball pitchers that don’t strike enough guys out and that walk very few batters may not be a dime a dozen, and they may even have more favorable career arcs than their more strikeout-oriented brethren. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are as rare, and they’re very prone to having their success hinge very much on the team placed around them. The Mariners don’t seem likely to punt infield defense in the next couple years, but they’ve been in on two big named free agents that play pretty terrible defense (Fielder and Josh Hamilton) during each of the past two offseasons.

Porcello makes a ton of sense right now, though, and there’s reason to believe that some of his strikeout numbers and innings totals would improve with less innings extended by infielders with poor ranges or gloves. There’s reason to believe that his value could increase considerably if his results improved in Seattle.

There’s a reason why general managers hire scouts instead of buying boxes of baseball cards. Porcello may be due for a huge positive regression in Seattle, and the team’s interest in him reflects their knowledge of that very idea.

  • http://twitter.com/rjjuniortweets Rob Judd, Jr.

    How would dimishing returns factor here? Given the competition in camp for spots 4-5 (in my mind, only spot 5, give Ramirez the 4th spot already), how much better is Porcello (-salary, -trade chip) to the best of Garland, Beavan, et al? Isn’t Porcello basically a healthy Jon Garland?

    • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

      That is and always is a consideration. Porcello has been a ~3WAR/200IP guy for his whole career, and it’s possible that not only will his innings count increase with more balls in play being turned into outs, but that his overall efficiency would also. He’s also go three years of team control, so while a Jon Garland that succeeds probably receives a market value contract next year that is likely to be a bad investment, or isn’t worth having for a second season, Porcello would likely remain in the rotation until 2015. Porcello becomes something of a place holder for Hultzen or Walker, but also a guy that accounts for Joe Saunders’ likely departure in 2014. The $4+ million difference in price for this season could be easily justified by a marginal win, and the future production carries the majority of the value tied to a prospect. That said, I think that the breakeven point in terms of prospects sits well below Miller or Franklin, personally.

  • http://twitter.com/MGVernon M G Vernon

    I think his value would increase in Seattle but he is too expensive in terms of his retention and acquisition costs relative to the potential value increase. Additionally the need factor at this point does not seem significant. There are going to be quite a few live arms between the M’s and Tacoma. At this point it doesn’t seem to me that Bonderman is going to be productive, at least by opening day, although Garland looks viable, as do MoMo Ramirez and Beavan. so one of them and the Big Four will fill up the AAA roster unless one of them goes back to AA. I’m guessing they will keep Zunino, Franklin, Romero and Miller on the farm to retard their service time and they are going to have to wait for an opening.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I can see where the costs associated with giving him a roster spot through 2015–like keeping Walker or whomever down in the minors–should be considered. But I’m just so uncomfortable starting any season with the best of Beavan/Garland/Bonderman as a number 5. And it’s very rare that a team goes an entire season without needing significant starting innings out of a number 6…