2011 ALDS: Previewing Rick Porcello

(Matt Harding / In Play! Magazine)

With their season on the line, the Yankees will face a local kid in tonight’s Game Four. Rick Porcello, a graduate of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, already has three full big league seasons to his credit despite being a professional for just four years. He didn’t spend a single day in either Double-A or Triple-A before cracking the Tigers’ opening day rotation in 2009, and the lack of experience has shown a bit. Although this will be his first career playoff start, Porcello did pitch well (two runs in 5.2 IP) in Game 163 against the Twins as a rookie.

Performance

A true ground ball reliant pitcher (we’ll get to why in a bit), Porcello owns a 4.75 ERA with a 4.06 FIP and 4.02 xFIP in his career. The ERA is obviously poor, but the peripheral-based stats are almost exactly league average during his three-year career. He doesn’t miss bats (4.84 K/9 career) but he doesn’t walk anyone (2.38 BB/9 career), and obviously he gets a bunch of grounders (51.9% career). His 2011 performance is right in line with his career totals (5.14 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, and 51.4% grounders).

Still just 22 years old, Porcello has shown no home/road split during his career simply because he doesn’t give up enough fly balls for Comerica Park’s spacious outfielder to matter. Left-handers have hit him substantially better both this year and over his career though, and we’ll look at why right now.

Pitch Selection

(via Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs)

After taking Porcello in the first round of the 2007 draft, the Tigers sent him to High Class-A in 2008 and put him on a pitch count. In an effort to pitch deeper into games, the right-hander developed a two-seamer to get quick ground ball outs, and that’s been his approach ever since. Once a power pitcher with two swing-and-miss pitches in his four-seamer and slider, Porcello is now essentially a sinkerballer by choice.

Two two-pitch pitchers like Max Scherzer, Porcello uses a fastball-slider approach against righties and fastball-changeup against lefties. He uses his curve so infrequently that it’s not worth mentioning. At more than a full run worse than average (per 100 thrown), Porcello’s changeup is his worst pitch, and that’s why he struggles against lefties. He has to get them out with his fastball, the changeup just isn’t good enough to consistently rely on. All of his other pitches are right around league average, close enough that it’s not worth getting worked up over.

Pitching Pattern

(via FanGraphs)

The XX pitch is an undefined pitch by PitchFX, the system was unable to classify it. Perhaps it’s a slurve or cement-mixer changeup, something that doesn’t fit into one of the other pitch categories. A junk pitch. At 3-9% in the various counts, he throws a decent amount of them.

Like most sinkerballers, Porcello is very fastball heavy, even with two strikes. His first pitch strike percentage has increased every season of his career (61.4% in 2011 compared to the 59.4% league average), so he does a decent job of getting ahead of hitters. Not an extraordinary job though, the Yankees will be able to work the count a little bit more than they were against Justin Verlander, who seemed to be 0-1 then 0-2 on everybody. Porcello will let them put the ball in play and that’s a good thing, the Tigers have a shaky infield defense (especially at short and at first) and you want to force those guys to make the plays. If the sinker’s really working, it could be a long night for the offense. If not, Porcello will have to battle for every out. The latter has been true more often than the former in his career.

The official Vent About Game 3 thread

It started and ended with Derek Jeter. His single on the first pitch in the top of the first set up the Yankees’ first run, and his strikeout with the tying run on second ended the game. There was some interesting stuff in between, too.

1. The Yankees got started right when Curtis Granderson tripled over Austin Jackson’s head and gave the Yanks a 1-0 lead. Two batters later Alex Rodriguez brought home Granderson, giving CC Sabathia a two-run lead before throwing a pitch.

2. Problem was, CC was all over the place. From the TV camera angles the umpiring appeared poor, but TV can be deceiving. Still, it appeared that the strike zone grew for left-handed batters, and the Yankees had plenty more of them than the Tigers. Hence, the feeling that the Yankees were getting shafted. But really, it was about CC’s lack of sharpness. It didn’t hurt them in the first two innings, but it would eventually lead to runs.

3. Verlander settled into his normally dominant mode, which bought the Tigers some time to break through against Sabathia. They did that in the third, benefiting from a bottom of the order rally. In fact, Sabathia didn’t record an out in that third inning until Miguel Cabrera grounded into a double play. The world is a strange place.

4. Sabathia eventually put down the Tigers in order, but he resumed his struggles in the fifth. Again the bottom of the order got things going, and Ramon Santiago, who should hit at the bottom of the order, put the Tigers ahead. Sabathia did manage to escape the inning without further trouble.

5. Meanwhile, Verlander continued to cruise.

6. With Don Kelly slated to lead off the sixth, Girardi stuck with Sabathia. There’s little problem with this. Kelly is a light-hitting lefty, lefties were facing a tougher strike zone, and Sabathia is hell on lefties. Kelly threw a wrench into the plans by laying down a bunt, which got by Sabathia. Base hit.

7. Yet Girardi did not remove Sabathia for the righty Jhonny Peralta. Yes, Peralta has something of a reverse split, but the circumstances were a bit different than a typical LHP/RHP situation. A hard-worked and shaky Sabathia stood on the mound, while the well-rested Rafael Soriano waited in the pen. Peralta doubled home a run. Sabathia stayed in for yet another batter, Alex Avila, whom he owned in the previous two at-bats. Even still, the sacrifice was a favorable outcome.

8. After going down 0-2 with two outs in the seventh, Jorge Posada hung in there to draw a walk from Verlander. That kinda changed the game there. Before that he was in complete game mode. Now he had to work a little harder. Things got harder still when he hit Russ Martin with a 100 mph fastball in the ribs. But that put the tying runner on, which came in handy when Brett Gardner split the outfielders. On Sunday Girardi pinch hit for Gardner in a similar situation. Last night he decided to stay with Gardner, and it paid off. Tie ballgame.

9. But not for long! On the first pitch of his at-bat Delmon Young took a fastball to the opposite field, just clearing the fence. Tigers back up. Valverde looming.

10. In the ninth Valverde came in, and he was wild from the start. Nick Swisher helped him out by popping up a 2-0 pitch, but after he homered yesterday it’s understandable why he went after the pitch. It was hittable, but he just missed it. Posada waited out Valverde, drawing another walk. Russ Martin then nearly put one out, flying one deep to the track. Like Curtis Granderson’s fly the previous inning, it would have been out at most parks, no less Yankee Stadium.

11. Gardner drew a walk, and Jeter did a good job to run the count full. But he couldn’t get the job done, or even pass the baton. He swung through one and ended the game.

12. See you back here tomorrow night, when the season rests in A.J. Burnett‘s hands. That terrifies everyone. Maybe the pressure will bring out the best in him. It’s really the only hope the Yankees have of extending their season.

ALDS Game Three: Yankees @ Tigers

Three days after the series started as a best-of-five, we’re down to a best-of-three. Thanks to the weather shenanigans on Friday, both the Yankees and Tigers get to start their ace tonight, the first game of the rest of their season. CC Sabathia was looking pretty damn sharp in the Game 1A, striking out four in just two innings. Delmon Young’s solo homer wouldn’t have left the park they’re playing in tonight. Ivan Nova finished off the win in Game 1B.

Depending on who you ask, tonight’s game is a must win because A.J. Burnett is looming for Game Four tomorrow. If you ask me, it’s not a must win, just a boy it sure would be nice to win game. Ace vs. ace, this is why these guys make the big bucks. Here are the lineups…

New York Yankees
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP

Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Ramon Santiago, 2B
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Brandon Inge, 3B

Justin Verlander, SP

The weather in MoTown is chilly but the sky is clear. No threat of rain tonight. The game starts at 8:37pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Remember, we’re trying to win a ring around here.

Granderson up for 2011 Hank Aaron Award

Curtis Granderson was the Yankees best player this year, hitting .262/.364/.552 with 41 homers and 25 steals. He also led the AL with 119 RBI and all of baseball by scoring 136 runs, if you put weight on those such things. As a reward for his effort, Granderson is the Yankees nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, giving annually to the top offensive player in the league. The winner will be determined through a combination of fan voting and a panel of Hall of Famers. Click here to submit your vote. You can vote up to ten times a day until next week, if you choose.

Yanks shut out of BA’s top 20 FSL prospects

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued today with the High-A Florida State League, but no Yankees farmhands made the list. The Tampa Yanks were pretty barren this year, but I thought Brett Marshall had a decent chance of making it. I thought wrong, apparently.

In the subscriber-only chat, Jim Shonerd said that the Yankees didn’t have anyone really close to the list. Abe Almonte “did get some mention as a guy who can run and throw and has some strength.” So much for that. The next top 20 list relevant to the Yankees is the Double-A Eastern League, which comes out tomorrow. Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are shoo-ins, and both Austin Romine and Corban Joseph have non-zero chances of cracking the list as well. Also, just a reminder, the Arizona Fall League season starts tomorrow. The Yankees are sending seven players to the desert this year, including Joseph.

The A.J. Factor

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I take the term “must win” quite literally, as in win or go home. It’s the engineer in me. If a loss won’t send you home for the season, then it’s not a must win because you have a chance to comeback in the future. Simple, right? Some games are obviously more important than others, like tonight’s game, which is more important that yesterday’s. The Yankees have three chances to win two games, and you want to win with CC Sabathia on the mound tonight to make life easier tomorrow, when A.J. Burnett starts.

We all know what Burnett has done for the last two years. He’s been awful and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. We’re talking 377 innings with a 5.20 ERA (80th out of 83 qualified starters) and a 4.80 FIP (also 80th). It’s bad, unfathomably bad. Because Burnett’s been so bad the last two years, it’s pretty natural to feel like tonight’s game is a must win because tomorrow’s game is an auto-loss. It’s not thought, we know that. Burnett might be terrible, but there’s no such thing as an automatic loss in this game. That’s part of the reason why I refuse to see tonight as a must win, and the other part is Rick Porcello.

Younger and definitely in possession of higher long-term potential than Burnett, Porcello has been pretty awful over the last two years as well. In seven fewer starts than A.J. since the beginning of last season, the New Jersey native has a 4.83 ERA (79th out of those same 83 qualifiers) and a 4.18 FIP (66th). If you’re a believer in xFIP, the two are basically equal (4.17 vs. 4.13). Sure Porcello finished the season strong (3.50 ERA in seven starts), but he faced six different teams in those seven starts, and all six were non-contenders (a combined 100 games under .500). Factor in ballparks, divisions, yadda yadda yadda, and the two have performed just as awfully over the last two years. Tigers fans are dreading Porcello’s start the same way we’re dreading Burnett’s.

Now, all that said, obviously it’s tough to trust Burnett to throw even a respectable start tomorrow, which increases the importance of tonight’s game. You don’t want the team’s season to be in his hands, really I don’t want it in anyone’s hands but Sabathia’s. Sabathia to Mariano Rivera, that’s how my ideal win or go home game plays out. Game Four is not an auto-loss though, just like his last start wasn’t a loss even though everyone expected one against those oh so might Red Sox. Game Three tonight is very important, but Burnett looming in Game Four is just one reason why.