By Terry Cushman — @cushmanMLB
If I’m completely honest, part of my early hatred for Rick Porcello was purely political. Ben Cherington and/or the front office (depending on who you want to believe) had just epically failed in re-signing Jon Lester. Lester was a player we knew could handle the pressure of pitching in Boston, and he once said “They will have to rip this jersey off my back” for him to basically play for another team. Like millions of other Red Sox fans, I stayed up until the wee hours of December 10, 2014 only to realize my worst fear possible.. Jon Lester had pitched his last game in a Boston Uniform. AND… I had just literally lost a shit ton of sleep!
BUT! We could still get Cole Hamels! Right? It seemed like it was realistic. His contract with all of the options vested would have totaled up at $110M, which is exactly what the Sox had tried to offer Lester following their initial lowball offer of $70M. So it made sense to go after Hamels. However, four days after the Lester signing, the Sox had brought in Rick Porcello via trade, and Justin Masterson on a one year free agent deal. Not to mention the Wade Miley addition a few days earlier. The painful part of losing out on Lester AND Hamels is that both their contracts would have added up to a combined $220M. Almost a year later, the Red Sox under Dave Dombrowski signed David Price for $231M all by himself. Ouch.
Nonetheless, we were stuck with Masterson, Miley, and Porcello in 2015. Ben Cherington had explained to the media that what made these three transactions attractive, was their high ground ball rates. So basically Cherington was trying to re-invent a way to build a rotation without actually investing in a bona fide Ace. I knew it was a bogus theory that would not pan out. Much of the fans and media were willing to give Cherington the benefit of the doubt. After all, he did brilliantly engineer that 2013 team with the additions of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, David Ross, and Koji Uehara. So who were they to doubt him?
Porcello and Masterson were only under Red Sox control for one year. Miley had a few years of control remaining, but at a very low cost. A common topic in 2013 was whether or not Jon Lester or John Lackey were truly Aces. So surely none of the three above were aces, but more middle of the rotation guys. Miley was not established at all. Masterson was coming off a bad season due to injury, and was looking to cash in on a bounce back year. Porcello was a career 3.75 pitcher who was still unproven after being in the majors for six years prior, which by that point was a very healthy sample size. There quite simply wasn’t a lot to be excited about with this trio, or the “ground ball” theory that landed them here.
My frustration turned into rage one day before Red Sox 2015 began, when Ben Cherington signed Porcello to a four year $82M extention, which was set to begin the following year due to the fact he was in the final year of his arbitration. It was at that moment where I vehemently wanted Ben Cherington fired. Porcello had just become the embodiment of all of my ire towards Cherington and the front office. After a surprisingly good start to 2015, the wheels started to come off, and the Red Sox ended up in the toilet very rapidly.
All season long I constantly ridiculed Porcello & Cherington. Porcello’s annual value of $20M was actually the highest of any previous pitching contract in franchise history. I was obsessed with the fact he had not earned his contract. Masterson had his own issues and was apparently still not healthy. Miley was struggling with his own demons. The media raved over his fast workrate. But he would often get pulled from the game just as fast, usually only lasting 4-5 innings. The Red Sox had offensive woes as well with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval not working out well themselves. However, no matter how bad the entire team tanked, all of my rage was still directed at Porcello.
By July it was clear that the Red Sox would not be playing in October once again. Porcello soon spent a few weeks on the DL, and returned to have a very productive final two months of the season. Many speculated that the pressure of his newly inked contract perhaps added too heavy. Couple that with the fact he struggled with his inability to focus on committing more on either his four seam fastball or his sinker.
Coming into 2016 there was some optimism Porcello would be on the rebound considering his strong finish to 2015. Not to mention the David Price signing had taken a lot of weight off his shoulders. However, spring training was a colossal nightmare to say the least. Porcello had garnered an astronomical 9.77 ERA. Despite the rough journey through the grapefruit leagues, Porcello had the benefit of anew extremely robust Red Sox offense. He piled up the wins with the immense run support his offense provided him. His ERA was north of 4.00 for most of the first two months, but little by little, it started coming down, especially once Sandy Leon assumed full time catching duties.
As the 2016 season cruised into July, there was no clear favorite leading the pack to win a Cy Young. Regardless, nobody in their wildest dreams believed Rick Porcello out of all people would end up taking home that honor. Start after start, Porcello began dominating opposing lineups with very effective command of BOTH his four seamer and sinker ball. Not only was he dominating, he was taking them deep into games, often pitching seven at least seven full innings. What’s more is that Porcello took a 13-0 home game record into the month of September before finally taking his first loss at Fenway, and was the first player to break the 20 wins barrier in all of MLB. Porcello eventually ended up at 22 wins, and was the first Red Sox pitcher to garner 20+ wins in Boston since Curt Schilling did it in 2004.
Considering all Porcello went through with his faulty mechanics, to the fact he arguably played a big role in getting Ben Cherington fired in 2015, he seemed like a tortured soul as the season began. Everyone would have bet against Rick Porcello to become the 2016 Cy Young winner. Despite all of the hate and ridicule Boston fans could throw at him, Porcello proved us wrong, justified his entire contract, and got the last laugh.
I’m sorry I doubted him. I’m also sorry I made him the subject of the hundreds of harsh tweets & comments which had no business being posted to social media, or any media for that matter. Rick Porcello belongs in a Boston Red Sox uniform. He deserves all of the praise he gets. And above all, he’s earned the distinct honor of taking the mound at Fenway Park on opening day on April 3rd.