Roster Advice: Porcello lessons

Tom Szczerbowski

Despite having been around for five seasons, Rick Porcello is still crazy young -- way too young for you to have written him off.

Look, I like Matt Harvey. Before the season, in my Bold Predictions column, I predicted he'd be a top-25 pitcher this year, which now seems like something of an understatement. Regardless, I like him. But imagine he came up in 2009, instead of last year. Do you really think he'd have been doing this stuff in the bigs, when in reality he was pitching at UNC?

Rick Porcello is exactly 90 days older than Matt Harvey.

That's a bit disingenuous, sure, as those two have little in common outside of age, but my point is that it is miles and miles too early to give up on Porcello, as many (me included) might have done last year, or last offseason, or earlier in this season when he gave up 9 runs in 2/3 of an inning to the Angels.

No matter how young a player might be, the old adage of "familiarity breeds contempt" applies here. If Porcello had been doing what-have-you in Toledo or another minor-league stop, we'd all be excited about him when he came up in 2012 or 2013, and any rough outings would be chalked up to "Well, he's finding his feet, let's wait until he's old enough to get a clear picture." 24 isnt old enough. But since Porcello came up as a 20-year-old, we've been watching him for five seasons now, and we form conclusions despite ourselves, even if those conclusions aren't really fair to him or to us.

I will totally cop to the fact that my next sentence isn't quite fair, that parsing out bad outings gives an incomplete picture of a player. That said, Porcello has a 4.37 ERA; take out his disaster in Anaheim on April 20, and it's 3.25. He's working on a string of four straight quality starts, with 30 strikeouts to four walks in that time.

Sure, arbitrary endpoint, disingenuousness, all that jazz. So, if you want to criticize my rhetorical style there, I'm okay with that. But then let me toss this out: Porcello's XIP and xFIP have dropped every season of his career, standing at 3.46 and 2.98, respectively, this year. Meanwhile, his K/BB ratio has risen steadily, from 1.71 in his rookie season to 4.54 this year. And he has done all these things with a 2013 BABIP of .294 that, while a career-low, is not so low that we should expect extreme regression. His home-run ratio is near the career level, as well. Simply put, he's improving.

Meanwhile, he pitches for the Tigers. No, you can't chase wins, but you'd always rather your pitcher have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting for him than, I don't know, Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre. And you'd rather have them pitching against the Royals and Twins and White Sox than the Cardinals or the Orioles or the A's.

Oh, and there's also this - as far as I can tell (I think I got them all, but it's always possible I've missed someone), there are only 13 starting pitchers who have been active since 2009 and have never been on the disabled list. By and large, it's a list of stars: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, James Shields. Reliable guys. Innings eaters. And Porcello is on the list as well. No, eating innings is not all you want out of a pitcher. But the ability to be reasonably confident about a pitcher running out there every time is just one less thing to worry about.

Porcello is owned in only 33% of Yahoo leagues. Maybe 100% would be too much, but that number could easily double and not be out of whack. He's not on the Kershaw-Verlander-Bumgarner level, of course. He's on the lower end of the always-healthy guys. But he's been getting better and better as his career has gone on, and again, dude's only 24. It's easy to forget, when he's been around so long, but still. Twenty. Four. That's crazy young for such an experienced pitcher.

Follow me on Twitter @danieltkelley

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