The back of the Boston Red Sox starting rotation is one of the best in the league, and Rick Porcello is a big reason for that. 2016’s Cy Young winner enters the season as the third or fourth arm in the Red Sox rotation but would be the number two or three
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: Rick Porcello
Rick Porcello was unhittable in 2016, winning the Cy Young while posting a 3.15 ERA and a 3.40 FIP. 2017 wasn’t as good, as the righty posted an underwhelming 4.65 ERA and a 4.60 FIP. Porcello found middle ground in 2018, posting a 4.28 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in 191.1 innings. His K/9 (8.94) was the highest of his career, but his BB/9 (2.26) was also the highest of his Red Sox tenure. Still, for a third or fourth starter, you’d take those results every day of the week.
Nobody would argue Porcello was the best starter on the 2018 Boston Red Sox, but he arguably had the most impressive single start of the season. Facing off against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, Porcello threw a masterful one-run complete game. What’s most impressive is that he only needed 81 pitches to do it, allowing just one hit with no walks and nine strikeouts. The Red Sox won that game, 4-1, as part of a four-game sweep of their division rivals.
What makes Porcello great isn’t his stuff or his numbers, but his ability to be consistently reliable and eat innings. Porcello made 33 starts in 2018 and went six innings or deeper 19 times. While that number doesn’t seem very impressive, keep in mind that each of those appearances came in Porcello’s first 26 starts. As the season went on and the Red Sox started running away with the division, manager Alex Cora chose to rest his starters for the postseason stretch. Porcello probably could have gone deeper into some of those later starts, but Cora wanted him rested for October baseball.
What to Work On
There really isn’t much for Porcello to work on, as he basically is what he is at this point. Porcello will strike out batters at a decent but not elite clip while displaying masterful command and limiting free passes. He may not give Chris Sale level performances, but you can feel comfortable about his odds of eating six or more innings and allowing three or fewer runs every time he takes the mound.
The only thing noteworthy Porcello needs to work on is his control. Porcello finished 2018 was a 2.26 BB/9, which isn’t a bad rate by any means. Still, Porcello lives and dies by his elite command, and this rate is a little too close to league average for comfort. If he could drop this number down to the high-1’s, then all his other should improve with it. Porcello had a 1.29 BB/9 in his Cy Young season. While it’s unrealistic to ask for that again, it shows Porcello has the ability to limit walks at an elite rate.
Steamer Projections expects Porcello to pitch 191 innings to the tune of a 4.24 ERA and a 4.10 FIP. They expect his K/9 to drop down to 7.96 and his BB/9 to drop to 2.16. These projections fall in line nicely with Porcello’s career 4.26 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 2.07 BB/9. The only outlier here is his strikeout rate.
Porcello boasts a 6.59 K/9 throughout the course of his career, but he’s reinvented himself as pitcher since joining the Red Sox. Since 2015, Porcello has evolved from a groundball pitcher to a strikeout guy. He’ll still force grounders, but he’s now striking out 8.1 batters per nine innings. By comparison, his K/9 was just 5.5 with the Detroit Tigers.
Porcello might not match his career-high 8.9 K/9 rate in 2019, but he should remain in the eight’s. All of Steamer’s other projections look about right, but look for Porcello to strike out a few more batters than Steamer anticipates.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com
(Oct. 25, 2018 – Source: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
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