The Yankees may have six starting pitchers for five rotation spots, and potentially seven when Michael Pineda returns, but it hasn’t stopped them from looking for other options. In regards to pitching, the Yankees actually finished seventh in pitching fWAR in 2012, and the rotation will largely be the same come 2013, but when you’re relying on a 41 year old Andy Pettitte and a 38 year old Hiroki Kuroda to man the middle of your rotation, along with the young Ivan Nova and David Phelps, there are enough factors to worry about.
Whether it’s inexperience or old age, the Yankees need as big of an insurance policy as they can find, and there have been rumors on another Freddy Garcia type signing this offseason. The Tigers are one team with excess starters, and are now shopping Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, two 23 year old pitchers who would be relatively cheap during the 2014/2015 budget years.
Despite being in the major leagues for four years now, Porcello is turning just 24 years old at the end of the month. After being drafted in the first round and earning a large signing bonus, the righty has disappointed the fans in Detroit. In Porcello’s rookie season, 2009, he posted a 3.96 ERA, however his FIP and other advanced stats showed that he was due for some regression. Since then he’s posted ERA’s of 4.92, 4.75, and 4.59. Though it would seem that he’s destined to be a back-end starter, many of his numbers have shown that he’s improving.
Not only has the ERA dropped yearly, but so has his FIP. What used to be an awful mid 12.4 K%, has slowly increased to 13.7%. His big 6″5′ frame has also gained velocity, and in 2012, his two-seam fastball jumped from 89.8 mph to 91.8 mph. Despite his 4.59 ERA in 2012, his 3.91 FIP and 93 FIP- can be considered above average. For a 23 year old, those numbers could spark optimism.
One reason the ERA from the past season was so high was due to his .344 BABIP. The Tigers ranked as the second worst defensive team in the AL in 2012, and with a 53.2% ground ball rate, and the infield defense you’ll find in Detroit, there’s no reason his groundballs weren’t working.
He may far better in the Bronx. While the Yankees don’t have the most impressive infield defense, it ranks higher than the Tigers. Porcello, being a right handed pitcher, would also give up more hits to left handed batters, and the Yankees do have an exceptional infield defense on the right side with Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
This isn’t to assume that he’ll turn a corner with a simple trade; his 24.2% line drive rate is far from what you’d want in a pitcher. You can still wish on a guy like Porcello though, and his career 28.2% flyball rate shouldn’t be much of a problem for the small Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees are looking for a Freddy Garcia type pickup, Porcello probably guarantees you that type of production with a lot more upside. He’s expected to make $4.7 million through arbitration this season, and the Tigers look like they’re willing to dump him. I couldn’t imagine the price touching a top prospect, but who knows what the going rate is with the recent returns on R.A. Dickey and James Shields.
Then there’s Drew Smyly, who the Tigers are now putting on the trading block. Smyly is another guy who was rushed through the Tiger’s minor league system. In terms of ERA, the left hander had the same success as Porcello in his rookie year, putting up a 3.99 ERA in 2012. His peripherals are much better though, posting a 22.6 K% and a 3.83 FIP in 99.1 innings pitched.
Unlike Porcello, Smyly relies on a four-seam fastball, which only holds his overall batted ball rate to 39.9% ground balls. If you’re worried about the right field porch and fly balls, the 41.3% flyballs isn’t bad, especially since he’s a left handed pitcher who held same-side hitters to a .388 slugging percentage.
Smyly showed a lot off in 2012, he’s not as hittable as Porcello, and he strikes out many more. He also has 3 more years of team control. His production is all within one year though, only 99.1 innings pitched, so acquiring this type of starter could be buying high, and keep in mind that David Phelps has the same number of major league innings pitched as Smyly. Since you’re buying high, it would take much more to acquire Smyly, but he’s certainly an upgrade over Nova and perhaps even Hughes.
The Yankees don’t necessarily have to acquire a starting pitcher, but it might make sense in 2012. Kuroda, Pettitte, and Hughes are off the books next season, and the team won’t have much money to play with in free agency. Assuming Pineda returns healthy, the team projects to have Phelps and Nova start in the middle of the rotation. Porcello or Smyly are a decent insurance policy, though one is a possible buy low, and the other a possible buy high.
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