Tiger's Rotation - Rick Porcello

Jason Miller

It came down to the final week in spring training, but the battle for the 5th and final spot in the Tiger's rotation is Rick Porcello's to start the year. I'll take a look at what this means for his roto value, all while keeping your hopes high for youngster, Drew Smyly.

I imagine a large portion of the fantasy community was semi disappointed with the news that Rick Porcello had claimed the Tiger's rotation spot over Drew Smyly. We all know what Rick Porcello is and while his spring numbers may lead some to believe he's turning the page and ready to take the next step, I'm not sold. Yes, the 21 strike outs in 24 innings is something. Zero walks over the same time period is also impressive (although Porcello's command was never in question). Perhaps rediscovering his curve ball will lead to slightly better results in 2013. For the majority of fantasy owners however, it still won't matter. His skill set just isn't that valuable in our game.

Since 2010 Porcello has thrown 162.2, 182.0 & 176.1 innings per year. His strike out totals over those years have registered in at 84, 104 and 107. If you're playing in a standard roto league, strike outs are king and Porcello doesn't bring em. Sticking with the last three years, Porcello has posted ERA/WHIP combinations of 4.92/1.39, 4.75/1.41, & 4.59/1.53. The positive trend in ERA is offset by the increasing WHIP's, neither of which are going to help you in mixed roto leagues and would be last resort type numbers in an AL only formats.

The question of course becomes can he take a step (and it would need to be a big step) forward in 2013?

First off, I'm not buying the strike out numbers posted by Porcello this spring. Jeff Sullivan had a post over at Fangraphs earlier this month detailing the level of competition Porcello was striking out in his first couple of outings. While most were big leaguers, they were big leaguers who tend to strike out a lot as it is. On top of that, it's hard impossible to tell what approach hitters were taking to the plate on any given day, especially early in spring training. You hear hitters all of the time talk about "seeing as many pitches out of the pitchers hand as possible" and "letting a few go by to help watch the ball into the zone". For all we know Porcello was able to get ahead of the majority of his strike out victims due to the hitters approach and not because of some new skill he was showing in spring training. Lastly, Porcello's Opponent Quality reading that can be found at Baseball Reference (which I think is just awesome by the way) is 8.8 for the spring. For those unfamiliar with these numbers, 10 is MLB - 8 is AAA. Where exactly an 8.8 falls isn't really that important and really wouldn't matter game by game, but you get the point.

Even with the starting job in hand I don't think we'll see Porcello's draft value go crazy in a typical mixed roto league. If you're drafting a deep mixed league or AL only league this week, I'd strongly suggest letting someone else pay the price to see the 2013 version of Rick Porcello. I don't think it'll be much different than previous years.

In the open I had mentioned that I believed a large portion of the fantasy community would be disappointed that Rick Porcello won the job over Drew Smyly. That may or may not have been due in large part to the amazing price I have Smyly locked up for in my AL only keeper league.

Now that I got the honesty out of the way, let's take a look at what becomes of youngster - Drew Smyly.

Drew Smyly also had a very impressive spring training for the Tigers. In 21.1 innings pitched the 23 year old went 4-0 (this doesn't matter one bit), striking out 17 hitters, while walking 3. Not quite Porcello numbers, but impressive nevertheless. Smyly's Opponent Quality reading from Baseball Reference sat at 9.2 - again, Porcello's was 8.8, so it could be argued Smyly did his damage against better competition.

Smyly has everything I look for in an up and coming starting pitcher. Decent control, a strong strike out rate and solid command. "Oh what could have been." But wait! In deep leagues (preferably AL only with reserve/decent sized bench) I'd still take a chance on drafting Smyly very late or for a buck or two and see what plays out.

As I mentioned, the skills are there for him to turn into a very solid real life and fantasy starter. All he needs is the innings/rotation spot to fulfill the promise. If we know anything about baseball, and really most of us think we know a lot more about it than we probably do, it's that pitchers get hurt or their performance suffers unexpectedly. Smyly is one Verland, Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez or Porcello DL stint away from becoming fantasy relevant. In the mean time pitching out of the bullpen, he'll provide so-so production for your fantasy staff, making the investment that much more worthwhile. This isn't like drafting Dylan Bundy and praying he'll be up by July - with Smyly you'll start to receive return on your investment immediately. I also believe the Tigers could still trade Porcello before or by the deadline as injuries start to take place around the league, or to fill a need due to an injury elsewhere on the Tiger's roster.

Ideally Smyly would have started the year in the rotation and not just for my AL only team, but for the Tigers as well in my opinion. That said, he's still a classic example of buying the skill, not the role. We'll let the rest play out as it will.

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