By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
The Red Sox have began the year near the top of most offensive, and pitching catagories. From a pitching stand point specifically, they have a 2.94 ERA overall. David Price has been the only starter in 2018 thus far to turn in a poor performance, albeit only one on a freezing night at Fenway Park against the Yankees. Chris Sale has been a perennial contender for this award the last several seasons. And finally, Rick Porcello stunned the MLB landscape by winning it in 2016.
So if the Cy Young honor is bestowed on a pitcher from Boston, who is it likely to be?
Perhaps his best shot to win his first Cy Young award was in 2017. From the moment Sale debuted in Boston, he started racking up the wins from the very outset. All year long his ERA was one of the lowest in the league, and became the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez to record 300 or more strikeouts, fourth overall.
Following the trade which sent Boston’s top hitting, and pitching prospect to the windy city, the former Chicago White Sock for the first four months lived entirely up to his hype and billing. Probably even exceeded it.
Unfortunately, his torrid pace became unsustainable for all six months of the regular season. Once the month of August rolled around, Sale was hit hard twice by the Cleveland Indians, and was no longer his dominant self. It was not a unique circumstance, he has had notable pattern of fading down the stretch in previous seasons.
For the months of August & September last year, Sale posted a combined ERA of 4.05 with a 1.19 WHIP. Many were concerned that the sudden rough patch might be the result of an undisclosed injury. However, the Boston ace was simply tired. Corey Kluber ended up pitching out of his mind following the all star break, and ultimately went on to win his second Cy Young award.
Coming into this current season, the Lakeland Florida native changed his approach during spring training, opting for less intensity. This was in hopes of remaining fresher during the all critical Sept/Oct months. Alex Cora won’t likely be leaving him on the mound late in games if the Red Sox are already leading by several runs. Nor will Sale be chasing any league records which are not important in the grand scheme of things. Afterall, he did end up getting knocked around in his lone career post season start, courtesy of the Houston Astros.
In his first three starts, Sale has pitched very well this season with a 1.06 ERA, and averaging nearly eight strikeouts per game. Many expect him to be a finalist in this year’s voting, but he has to pitch six strong months. Talk to me in September.
To be fair, I’m a hater. Nobody wanted him to pitch for the Boston Red Sox less than I did. Nothing is more aggravating to me when Red Sox fans describe Price’s 2016 campaign in Boston as “successful.” That season he pitched to a meager 3.99 ERA, and lead all starting pitchers in MLB for giving up the most home runs.
2017 was mostly lost due to nagging pain in his so called “unique elbow.” In 11 starts he posted a 3.38 ERA, and a 0.00 ERA during two extended relief appearances in the ALDS.
After his three 2018 starts, he has a posted a 2.40 ERA entirely due to giving up four runs in the first inning during his start against the New York Yankees. Price left the game due to hand numbness. In his two previous starts he never gave up a single run.
What’s impressive about the Tennessee native’s three starts, is that he appears to be taking a relaxed approach. His fastball has averaged only 92MPH, and he has been able to command his pitches on each corner of the plate. Not only has Price been effective, but he’s been very smart. This type of execution is what you want to see with starting pitcher’s in their 30’s. Throwing 98MPH is always tantalizing, but they can’t throw it forever, and he’s trying to effectively play out his seven year contract after all.
Price won the 2012 Cy Young previously with Tampa Bay, and has two runner up finishes, including 2015 which he split between Detroit and Toronto. The common denominator is that none were with a big market like Boston.
We know he has the stuff, even at 33 years old. But can he handle the pressure? It’s been a struggle so far, an epic one. Perhaps if Price defies the odds, he will opt out of his massive deal, and free up $31M annually over the next four years for the Red Sox. Wouldn’t that be nice?
All fantasies aside, I’m skeptical.
FREDERICK PORCELLO (yes… that’s actually his name)
When Ben Cherington initially traded Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello, and then gave him a four year extension making it a five year deal overall, most of us were furious. My personal preference was a trade for Cole Hamels, which only would have cost the Red Sox Blake Swihart and Henry Owens. Both of whom were considered to be “untouchable,” and neither one remotely met their expectations.
It was no shock whatsoever when the former long time Detroit Tiger lost 15 games, and posted a 4.92 ERA during 2015. Expectations were not very high at the start of 2016. Porcello’s ERA was north of 4.00 through much of the first two months. However, by late June he was paired with Sandy Leon, and went on to finish with a 22-4 record which culminated into a 2016 Cy Young award win. Additionally, he posted a career high of 189 strikeouts, with only a 1.00 WHIP.
Despite a terrible follow up year in 2017, and the fact his career ERA still sits at a semi staggering 4.23, the New Jersey native has begun then 2018 season on an absolute tear. Porcello is undefeated in his first three starts. His ERA is sitting on 1.83, but most impressively of all, has only walked a single batter so far. His fielding independent pitching rate leads the league at 1.64. It is almost as if 2017 never happened, and Porcello is simply picking up where he left off in 2016.
What I like the most about Porcello is his durability. Aside from 2015 he has pitched 200+ innings, with no prolonged stints on the disabled list. He also has virtually no history whatsoever of elbow issues. His ability to consistently pitch six to seven innings not only makes him valuable as a starter, but also to bullpen preservation.
Unlike Chris Sale, we know Porcello can pitch six strong months. Unlike David Price, we know Porcello can handle the hostility of pitching in Boston. He has been on the wrong end of our wrath many times over, but always bounces back.
Finally, all things considered. Durability, experience, effectiveness, it’s hard to count Porcello out if he is commanding all of his pitches. Especially his sinker ball. Don’t look for him to necessarily pile up the strikeouts either. Verlander edged him in that category by an extra 70. Sale will almost certainly lead Boston for 2018 in that area. However, Porcello is a phenomenal pitch-to-contact hurler, and a great fielder. He can get opposing players out in a multitude of ways.
Regardless if you agree or disagree with my pick, we Red Sox fans have a lot to be excited about. This is an incredibly deep starting rotation that might potentially be talked about for years, if not decades to come.
MY PICK: RICK PORCELLO
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