I was set to look at this question while the Tigers enjoy a day off today, then Lynn Henning beat me to the punch. But I’m going to do it anyway.
Before the season, I think it’s safe to say most people assumed Rick Porcello would be the star attraction of Double-A Erie’s rotation, and Ryan Perry would be the rock star closer for the Sea Wolves. While both young pitchers — Porcello at 20, Perry at 22 — have tremendous pitching talent, both have limited professional experience to go with it. Playing in the minor leagues teaches you something: those guys you’re facing are the top of the crop. The best Porcello saw in high school or Perry saw in college are lucky if they’re even average in the minors. The umps are better, and more precise with the strike zone, and they expect the pitchers standing in front of them to locate their pitches a lot better, too. And everywhere you go, you’re in a battle for the meal ticket. The batter wants to move up the ladder. Your buddy in the bullpen wants to move up the ladder. The guy in the bullpen a level above you wants to move up the ladder. That is the development Porcello and Perry essentially missed when circumstances — and yes, incredible spring training results — handed the kids get-out-of-the-minor-leagues-free cards.
You could make three arguments for bringing the kids up.
- The Tigers need to win now, and the rotation and bullpen, with a collection of injuries and underperformers, left the doors wide open and these guys showed they were good enough to win the competition against major leaguers from their own franchise, some of whom pitched in the World Series. So mentally, they’re competitors. They did what the team asked of them and got the results. They’re ready.
- The kids had little left to learn in the minor leagues. Though Porcello did not strike out an overwhelming number in Advanced-A Lakeland, he toyed with his competition. Sure, he could use a little polish, but would a season in Double-A Erie (or Triple-A Toledo) really be beneficial, or does he risk plateauing if he’s that much better than the competition? As for Perry, whats’ to learn, really? He has a fast ball that can hit 100. He has a powerful slider. He was locating both in the Grapefruit League.
- The pitching coach in Detroit is Rick Knapp. As a roving minor league coach for the Twins organization, he was a big part of why Minnesota always — always — has good pitching. If Porcello and Perry are a bit raw, but incredible pitching gems, why not let the guy who is presumably the best pitching coach in the organization work with them on a daily basis in Detroit?
I think it’s safe to say, if this is a fairy tale, we’r at the part of the story where it looks like the evil witch is winning. If you need to picture a face here, Nick Swisher will do. (Although, to be fair, he was highly complimentary of both young pitchers, despite the evil things he did to the Tigers this series.) In the past two days, Perry drew the loss when he couldn’t find the strike zone after realizing, yes, I am facing the Yankees. The New York Yankees. Porcello followed with the loss the next day, when his first trip through the lineup went swimmingly, but his second trip yielded six earned runs.
Today, Porcello is 1-3 with a 6.23 ERA, having allowed six home run on 24 hits in an out less than 22 innings. Porcello lives on the sinker and forcing the ground ball, but he hasn’t shown an ability to keep the ball down from pitch one to pitch 90, and major league hitters are giving those mistakes quite a ride. He has given up four earned runs or more in each of his four starts. Perry has a much-better ERA of 3.52, and strikes out nearly a batter per inning. But in his 7-2/3 on the mound, 10 opponents have drawn a walk. This isn’t quite a pass-fail game. Sometimes you win on a bad day, sometimes you lose on a great one, and you have to take everything into consideration when assessing a player. With a young player, all that, and you have to grade them on showing how much they’ve learned from one appearance to the next, how they approach adversity.
Don’t get me wrong, I am high on both Porcello and Perry. One day, these guys are going to make Detroit a very good ballclub when they’re on the mound. But it’s too soon right now. Porcello needs to take that note book of mistakes he’s made in his head down to Erie, and work on clearing things up. But he’s got another start or two to prove me wrong. Dontrelle Willis is not yet ready to make a return to Detroit — he pitches for Triple-A Toledo on Friday — Jeremy Bonderman is nowhere near close, and, outside of Alfredo Figaro, with a 0.70 WHIP and 0.96 ERA in Double-A Erie, there not a lot of other competition for the rotation spot. Perry is a bit easier to replace, as Freddy Dolsi followed up a nice spring with nine scoreless innings in Toledo.
I don’t relegate either young Tiger to the minors quite yet. I expect growing pains. They’re rookies. They’re young. They’ve gone against some really, really hard-hitting teams in the Blue Jays, Rangers and Yankees. But I don’t give them a free pass, either. By Memorial Day, if they haven’t settled in, Detroit simply must make a move. This American League Central Division is too competetive to have players growing on the job. And if they’re not growing nearly as much as they would be in the minors, then there’s no point in keeping them in the Tigers uniform before they’re ready.
In an effort at cross-blogging while I fill in for Ian at Bless You Boys, I have opened a thread for discussion on this topic over there. Feel free to vote and share your comments there instead, but here is fine too.