Rick Porcello was better in 2013 for a number of reasons. For one, the Detroit Tigers right-hander was a year older and wiser. Because he broke into the big leagues at a young age, it’s easy to forget he’s just 24. For four seasons, he had largely been learning on the job.
Another reason was the development of his breaking ball. The lack of an effective off-speed pitch had burdened the former first-round pick, especially against left-handed hitters. That changed this year when he put his slider in his back pocket and began featuring a much-improved curveball. The results were telling, as he lowered his ERA from 4.59 to 4.32, and his FIP from 3.91 to 3.53.
Porcello talked about the development of his curveball — including how it impacts his reliance on scouting reports — during the ALCS.
Porcello on his curveball: “I got more consistent with my breaking ball. I got more consistent with all of my pitch-making, really — fastball, changeup and curveball. I kind of changed my approach against left-handers a little bit. I started using the curveball a lot more, taking something off — going hard and soft — instead of having everything coming in hard. That helped alter their timing.
“It was more consistent because I threw it more. I was having some success with it, and it was also my game plan coming in. I knew I needed to make an adjustment, because lefties were too comfortable. They were hitting me too well. Changing speeds with my curveball helped change that.
“My curveball was definitely better this year. We worked on it a lot in spring training. We tightened it up and made it a lot shorter. Those were kind of the tweaks with it. I also made it my priority breaking pitch. I threw a little cutter-slider, but really, my curveball was my breaking pitch this year. It’s what I focused on the whole season. I wasn’t going back and forth between curveball and slider, I just stuck with the one pitch and tried to get it down.
“The [adjustment] was more my release-point, as well as understanding how hard I had to throw it, and where I had to start it to make it an effective pitch. But the improvement really just came with the experience of throwing it over and over again. Like I said, I made it my go-to off-speed pitch.
“Reports became more important for me. This year I finally had the ability to consistently throw an off-speed pitch for strikes, either ahead or behind in the count, and that became a weapon for me. Once I had the ability to do that, I could actually attack weaknesses. I started looking at guys’ swing-and-miss percentages, and how well they hit off-speed. I took that knowledge into the game. [Pitching coach] Jeff Jones helped me come up with game plans, and we were pretty effective with them. I think the year was a real positive in that respect.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.