A lot of the time it’s pointless to argue if one player is better than another in sports. I always say let them play out their careers and then we can talk but in this case, it’s worth talking about now because they happen to be fighting for the last spot in the starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers.
I realize that it’s hard to compare two players have don’t have a ton of data, but I’m going to give it my best try. First off, I think it’s worth comparing their rookie seasons, even though Rick Porcello had a few more games than Drew Smyly.
Smyly played in 23 games. starting 18 of them, while Porcello started all 31 games he appeared in. Smyly had an ERA of 3.99 while Porcello had a 3.96 ERA, virtually identical stats. This is where it gets tricky however. In 71.1 more innings pitched, Porcello actually had five less strikeouts. Also, Porcello gave up an average of 9.3 hits per nine innings while Smyly gave up only 8.4.
Given that there is a huge difference in innings pitched, these numbers might not mean a whole lot other than that Smyly struck more people out and gave up less hits per nine innings, which usually adds up to better performances.
Porcello has struggled to improve since his rookie year, and is actually getting progressively worse. In 2012, his ERA ballooned to 4.59 in 31 starts and 176.1 innings pitched. The failure to develop a “putout” pitch could be some of the reason, and is something that coaches seem to think he will never learn.
Not only does he not strike a ton of batters out, but he lets a lot of guys on base. His WHIP was 1.531 last year — not exactly what your team likes to see.
So far in Spring Training, Porcello and Smyly seem to be on their game. Both of them have pitched in four games, with Smyly pitching 12.1 innings and Porcello 13. They have 1.46 and 2.08 ERAs respectively. At this point, it seems like either pitcher will fill the role of fifth starter well, but I actually think that Smyly could be the better pitcher.
Porcello had the pedigree coming into the league and the Tigers thought they had the next star on their hands, but that might not be the case anymore. It seems like he can be a fourth or fifth starter at best at this point, and you shouldn’t count on him to be a workhorse for your team since it seems like he can’t make it past the fifth inning without getting shelled.
Smyly, however, seems to have great promise even though he didn’t have the expectations like Porcello.
Smyly has only played one season in Major League Baseball and he only got 18 starts, but to me, he seems like the better pitcher between the two. I would love to see him win the last starting spot, but the Tigers could go with the experience that Porcello has. We will just have to wait and see.