Rick Porcello hasn’t turned out to be exactly what a lot of people thought he would when he was drafted in the 27th round of the 2007 amateur draft. He isn’t an ace, and he certainly doesn’t really ever overpower the opposition. It was hardly a shock to see that the Tigers were considering trading Porcello given their depth in the starting rotation and their holes in other departments, and it wasn’t surprising to see that a handful of teams were interested in the tall right-hander. What was surprising was just how massively underrated Porcello appears to be on the trade market.
The biggest shock to the system was to see that Detroit actually offered to deal Porcello to the Padres in exchange for a premium reliever, in this case Huston Street or Luke Gregerson. I get that Detroit’s very biggest area of weakness is most certainly its questionable bullpen, but the price of relief pitching should never reach such heights when it’s so volatile and unpredictable. Then again, maybe a lot of that has to do with just how undervalued Porcello’s skill set and Major League accomplishments are at this point in time.
Porcello won’t even turn 25 until December of this year, and by that time he will have already completed five full seasons at the highest level of professional baseball. That’s almost unheard of, and that sort of experience at such a young age is typically only associated with superstars. Porcello didn’t develop into a superstar, but he has shown that he happened to come out of the gate as a highly polished starter with some positive attributes. While he isn’t an ace, he’s about as good of a back-end starter as you’re likely to find, and unlike many back-end starters, he isn’t just filler. There is still room for improvement here.
Porcello has proven himself durable. While he hasn’t ever logged 200 innings, he’s made between 27 and 31 starts in every season of his young career. He’s also quite gifted when it comes to throwing strikes, as his career walk rate is a mere 2.3 per nine innings. Porcello has also been worth between 2.0 and 2.9 WAR in every season on his resume, and both his FIP and xFIP actually sunk below 4.00 in 2012 as his strikeout rate improved ever so slightly. These are all positive attributes, and when concerning a pitcher only 24 years of age, they point toward potentially greater things down the road.
On top of the minor statistical improvements, Porcello flashed a fastball that averaged nearly two MPH more than it did in 2011 last season. His pitches are bound to get sharper as he gets older, and his ground ball approach would definitely play better for a team whose infield didn’t consist of slow, awkward sluggers who clearly lie about their weigh on their ESPN player profiles.
But let’s say Porcello never gets better and this is what he is. Even if that happens to be the case (which I don’t believe it is), he carries far more value than just about any reliever could ever provide in limited innings. Porcello takes the mound every fifth day, turns in solid but unspectacular work, and doesn’t kill himself with free passes. He’s the sort of pitcher that might wind up the recipient of an expensive three-year deal by a club desperate for pitching, so why should he only warrant a reliever in return? And that’s not even what other teams are offering, that’s what Detroit is asking! Baseball has come a long way in understanding what’s valuable and what’s not so valuable, but there’s still plenty of road left to be traveled.