At the onset of the 2009 season, Rick Porcello's first year in the majors, he was universally regarded as a top-10 starting pitching prospect.
Seven years and one month later, Porcello finally finds himself included among the position's top 10 on our Player Rater.
It's about time, right?
Porcello's performance has been one of the more unexpected stories of early 2016, but after so many years of digesting his annually poor strikeout numbers, including a miserable 2015 during which he was the No. 70 of 78 ERA-qualified starters on said Player Rater, are we really to trust that he truly has arrived? After all, his batting average allowed on balls in play thus far is a mere .241, 19th-lowest out of 103 ERA qualifiers (and well beneath the .293 league average), and his left-on-base percentage 88.0, 10th-highest amongst that group (and well above the 73.7 percent league average), both surefire hints he has been "lucky."
Yes, regression is due to strike Porcello, at least in those two categories -- his career numbers in those departments are .311 and 69.9 percent and his previous single-year bests were .277 and 75.5 percent, during his 2009 rookie year -- but there are also plenty of hints to suggest him capable of maintaining shallow mixed league value and with it, a fighting chance of beating his previous Player Rater career best finish: He was the No. 49 starting pitcher, and 173 player overall, in 2014.
Simply put, Porcello has carried over a key trait he exhibited in both 2014 and in his final eight starts of 2015: He's going sinker/two-seam-fastball-first (and sinker/two-seamer often), throwing the pitch 59 percent of the time to open the count (compared to 33 percent for his career) and 42 percent overall (32 percent career). As that has been his most effective pitch at the big-league level, that's key in his getting ahead in counts; bear in mind that he has afforded a wOBA 14 points higher than the league average and well-hit average seven points higher in his career when behind in the count.
Here's a comparison of Porcello's finish to 2015 and his start this year:
Final 8, 2015: 3.14 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24.3 K%, 4.7 BB%, 52.1 GB%, .109 WHAV First 5, 2016: 2.76 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 28.1 K%, 4.7 BB%, 50.0 GB%, .150 WHAV
Now, here's his 2014:
32 G, 29 GS: 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 15.4 K%, 4.9 BB%, 50.5 GB%, .152 WHAV
You'll notice the substantial increase in Porcello's strikeout rate recently, most especially in his first five starts this year, and while the small sample size certainly influences it, his significantly larger sample of 2014 was also equally misleading in the opposite direction.
Consider how similar both Porcello's miss rate (this is the percentage of misses only on hitters' swings) -- 20.8 percent in 2014, 20.5 percent in his final eight starts of 2015 and 21.2 percent so far this year -- and swinging-strike rate (this is the percentage of total misses on all pitches thrown) -- 9.5, 9.7 and 8.8 percent in those three time spans, respectively. Pitchers whose rates in those two categories tend to have strikeout rates that hover closer to 20-21 percent -- Jose Quintana is an excellent comparison point for this -- which, given a season in which Porcello faces 840 batters, as he did in 2014, equates to nearly 170 whiffs. Had Porcello whiffed that many hitters in 2014, he'd have finished 12 spots higher among starting pitchers: No. 37.
Does that make Porcello a top-40 starter going forward? Perhaps. Though more likely that's either his ceiling or something close to it, but since 90 pitchers are rostered daily in an ESPN standard league, that cements his status as an absolute, roster-worthy pitcher across any league format. That's a heck of a lot greater endorsement than he received during the preseason, when he was selected 91st at his position on average (though he was my No. 77 starter and a member of my preseason "Kings of Command," which is my list of pitcher bargain draft day targets).
This week, Porcello rises in my Going Forward Rankings, to my No. 61 starting pitcher.
New ESPN position eligibility
The following players added new position eligibility within the past week. As a reminder, position players need to appear 10 times at a new position to gain in-season eligibility, while pitchers need to make three starts to earn starting-pitching eligibility or five relief appearances to earn relief-pitching eligibility.
The following players are within two games of earning new eligibility, with their total games played noted at the listed position.
Gordon Beckham (2B, 8 games), Daniel Castro (3B, 8 games), Tyler Goeddel (OF, 9 games), Howie Kendrick (OF, 8 games), Miguel Rojas (1B, 9 games), Tyler Saladino (SS, 9 games), Brett Wallace (3B, 9 games), Colin Walsh (3B, 8 games).
Going Forward Rankings: Week 5
Listed below are my updated, Going Forward Rankings. These are based upon an ESPN standard league of 10 teams and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring. Click here to see these rankings sorted by position.