(Photo credit: Masslive)

By Joshua Nord – @nordjoshua

Former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello is two games deep into his fourth season with the Sox and despite the tenure, fans really don’t really know what to expect from him.

The right hander came over before the 2015 season and was supposed to play a big part in a “studly” rotation with the likes of Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson. He immediately laid an egg along with every other pitcher in that horrific rotation. With a 15 loss season under his belt, and an ERA near the 5.00 mark, it seemed like yet another massive bust of a deal to go along with the nightmarish contracts of Hanley and Sandoval. Things were looking dire at Fenway.

But yet in 2016 he, along with the rest of the team, turned it around. So much so in fact, that Rick Porcello became a force to be reckoned with. A statement for the record I didn’t think I’d ever seriously write and I consider myself his number one fan. (When you suffer through six or seven of his losses in person that wonderful 2015 season, you can’t help but root for the guy.)

But the fact was in 2016 Porcello was good, If not great. So good that he stole a Cy Young right out of the hands of former teammate Justin Verlander. Which was a huge snub to Tigers fans, if any of them even watch games anymore.

Porcello’s Cy Young season highlights were 22 wins, a 3.15 ERA in over 200 innings pitched and a WHIP of just 1.01. Those numbers don’t lie.

Or do they? After an unceremonious playoff exit against to Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox began the 2017 season which much the same expectations from Porcello, but he failed to deliver. Or more likely just simply couldn’t deliver. The 4.65 ERA that followed, along with a spike in home runs was clear as day. The ball rocketed off the bats of his.opposition, and his WHIP ballooned to 1.40. Some would blame the juiced balls, some would blame the regression to the mean. I think the answer lies in between. Rick Porcello is a sinkerballer, or at least had a reputation as such when he arrived in Boston. His persistence in reinventing himself led him to try becoming a strikeout pitcher. During his Cy Young campaign he posted 189 strikeouts, when the previous four years all had him post around 140 K’s. For a time it worked and throughout 2016 he garnered a much better swing-and-miss ratio, as well as contact on pitches outside the zone, which was more in line with his 2014 numbers. (the season that convinced us to go after him)

The numbers fall apart in 2017. While the righty was still relying on swings-and-misses his numbers on swings outside the zone fell a bit, from a 72% outside the zone contact percentage in 2016 to a 68% the next year (All statistical numbers provided via fangraphs.com).

Porcello’s percentage for strikes that were swung at and missed increased from 8% to 9%. As did his sinkerballer not quite ever… well… sink. In short, the former Tiger relied on the “K” to get outs, and when he couldn’t get it, things got messy. What do you do when your sinker won’t ultimately perform, and you can’t get the hitter to strikeout? But of course that’s all in the past.

It’s 2018 and Porcello has already two wins under his belt. Both were good performances in which he give up four earned runs split between the two starts. Both putting lasted five one third, and seven one third innings respectively. Granted, it was the Rays, and he didn’t match the ferocity of Sale or Price, but he doesn’t have to. Two years removed from the “He’s the Ace!” escapade, I think we can all safely lower our expectations for every starter behind Sale and Price. At the very least for our own mental health.

The numbers for this young season support Porcello, and the story they tell is that opponents against him are swinging just as frequently, but less outside the zone once again. In fact, the strikeouts the tall righty has put up in two games have risen with a swing-and-miss percentage of only 2.3%. For comparison the league average for 2018 so far is nearly 11%.

Riding high off the Rays series, Porcello’s numbers show that a drop off might be due very, very soon. His next start is against the New York Yankees. Take my words as a warning, not as a prophecy, but they are a World Series contender, and its shaping up to be one hell of a litmus test.



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