Sometimes I lie awake at night knowing that Rick Porcello somehow won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award, despite Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber — the two other finalists — having better numbers in every significant category besides wins. Apparently winning a bunch of games is enough to win the most prestigious award for pitchers, but you know what, this piece isn’t about that. It could be 2,500 words if it was.
Rick Porcello is a great pitcher, and it’s unfair to discredit him. The Boston Red Sox right-hander has, however, been an up-and-down hurler for his entire career, with win/loss totals and ERAs that fluctuate yearly. The 29-year-old followed up his 22-4, Cy Young award-winning season in 2016 with an 11-17 record and a 4.35 ERA. He allowed more hits (236), home runs (38), and faced more batters (885) than anyone in the AL.
This trend isn’t appearing with a small, two-year sample size. Porcello’s career stats page is a rollercoaster.
2013: 13-8, 4.32 ERA in 177 innings with Detroit
2014: 15-13, 3.43 ERA in 204.2 innings with Detroit
2015: 9-15, 4.92 ERA in 172 innings with Boston
2016: 22-4, 3.15 ERA in 223 innings with Boston
2017: 11-17, 4.35 ERA in 203.1 innings with Boston
Obviously, Red Sox fans and baseball experts were expecting some sort of improvement from Porcello after a disaster of a 2017 campaign. Early on in 2018, it looks like he’s putting any worries to rest, pitching to the tune of a 4-0 record, compiling a 1.40 ERA, and boasting a shocking 23:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Porcello is sporting a 0.818 WHIP and has not allowed a single home run (long balls were his biggest issue last season) in 25.2 innings.
Evidently, it has a lot to do with his pitch selection and in-game strategy. According to FanGraphs, Porcello is throwing fewer fastballs and fewer curveballs, while increasing the frequency of his improved slider and his changeup.
2017: Fastball – 59.6%, Slider – 16.7%, Curveball – 15.5%, Changeup – 8.3%.
2018: Fastball – 54.6%, Slider – 23.5%, Curveball – 6.5%, Changeup – 15.4%.
A change of pace is a welcomed thing when you went 11-17 the year prior, and things are working for Porcello. On Wednesday night, he limited the high-octane offense of the Los Angeles Angels to six hits in as many innings in a 9-0 victory. Porcello struck out six while throwing 71 of his 101 pitches for strikes in a win on the road. His early-season performance has been a big part of Boston’s spectacular 15-2 start to 2018.
He’s doing in it with an effective mix of fastballs up in the zone and breaking balls at the knees of the hitters, regardless of handedness. If Porcello isn’t the best pitcher in the world, he’s still one of the smartest.
Of course, the issue with Porcello is the same as it’s always been: we have no idea if this is sustainable or not. The righty is so iffy and inconsistent that it’s extremely difficult to put any eggs in his basket this early into the season. If he can pitch like 2016 Rick Porcello, as opposed to the 2017 version, then Sox fans can be ecstatic for the 2018 model of their middle-of-the-rotation star.
If the real Rick Porcello is this Rick Porcello, then Boston fans, rejoice. If the real Rick Porcello will show his horrid ways come postseason time, then the end result will be extremely disappointing and disheartening for fans of the Red Sox. If this season for the former Rookie of the Year Award nominee is more like the 2016 campaign, then what will 2019 be like? It’s similar to the San Francisco Giants and their even-year World Series runs: Porcello is fantastic in even years and abysmal in odd-numbered years.
The durable, 6’5″ pitcher also has to worry about his future in the game. 2019 is his last season under contract with Boston, and he will be 31 entering 2020. Consistency is key for Porcello to earn a long-term contract after his tenure with the Red Sox, but consistency has eluded him in his ten-year career. I guess if I could ask one question, it would be the title of this piece: Will the real Rick Porcello please stand up?