This past Saturday, Rick Porcello pitched at home against the Mets, the team he grew up rooting for in New Jersey. He lasted only five innings and gave up three runs, all of which came on a Brandon Nimmo home run. He allowed just one other hit, and struck out five against just one walk. The outing doesn’t look too good on the surface, but it was actually a pretty decent performance, save for one bad pitch to Nimmo. The Red Sox won that game 5-3 despite Porcello’s mediocre performance.
Porcello has been on a rough stretch since July. Over his last 14 starts, he has a 5.22 RA9. He has pitched more than five innings only once since August 20th, and that was only barely at 5 2⁄3 IP. The strange thing is that his strikeout and walk rates have been very good. The problem is he gets killed on the long ball, giving up 17 over his last 14 starts. Put another way, he has given up home runs to a whopping 5.1 percent of hitters faced (AL average is 3.2 percent)! It should come as no surprise that Porcello has an especially high 20 percent HR/FB ratio over that period.
There are plenty of Tigers fans who can vent their frustrations concerning Porcello over his time in Detroit. He was never quite the player he was expected to be. He had an RA9 over five in his second through fourth seasons on the team. In his sixth and final year on the Tigers, he finally showed some progress towards becoming what scouts thought he could, turning in a 3.91 RA9 and 3.8 WAR. His strikeout rates still stunk, so apparently the Tigers had enough. They traded him to the Red Sox in exchange for Yoenis Céspedes.
In Boston, Porcello surrounded the best season in his career that saw him win a questionable Cy Young award with two seasons that combined for an RA9 over 5.40. He was barely over replacement level during his 2015 and 2017 seasons combined. Then he began his 2018 season with a 2.23 RA9 through April. There were jokes that Porcello was enjoying the same kind of even year magic that the Giants used to enjoy. Then he had a 6.23 RA9 over six starts in May. The Red Sox were 3-3 over those six starts thanks to their prodigious offense.
Porcello has been frustratingly inconsistent during his time in Boston, and the 2018 season has served as a microcosm of that. Heck, his struggles since July surround a complete game against the Yankees in which he gave up one run — on a home run, of course — and struck out nine against zero walks. That home run was the only thing that kept him from a perfect game!
There are no splits available for DRA, so we have to look at Porcello’s year as a whole. His 3.89 DRA is actually significantly better than his 4.54 RA9, though the standard deviation on that is a little large. The DRA run values table isn’t terribly informative here. He does have a great walk rate — one of the few consistencies over his career — he pitches in a very hitter friendly stadium and has faced some strong competition. His bWAR and DRA-based WAR are virtually identical.
According to Brooks Baseball, there have not been any drops in Porcello’s velocity, nor has there been significant changes in his pitch movement, so that’s good. In August, he decided to rely more on his curveball and changeup, and less so on his slider, but he went back to his usual usage rates in September.
Porcello is a good example of control over command. He is one of the best pitchers at preventing free passes to first base, but he has not been so skilled at locating pitches in the zone during this bad stretch he is on.
Whenever Porcello takes the mound, it fills my Red Sox fan wife with dread. I asked her for her thoughts and feelings when he starts. She said, “I’m hopeful that he’ll be the pitcher he used to be.” After elaborating a bit, she finished by saying, “But I expect to be disappointed.”
I don’t know what to make of Porcello right now. The endpoints I selected are nowhere close to being enough to define a pitcher’s true talent. The standard deviation on his projections have to be larger than most.
The Red Sox are going to sail to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but I would not fault anybody for worrying about him facing some of the best teams in baseball. Hopefully he will figure things out by then.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.