Then there was 2017, which many will argue - myself included - was a fluke. Nothing seemed to go right for the Red Sox in 2017. A 4.65 ERA was propped up by a ridiculous HR/9 rate (38 HR in 203 ⅓ innings). He was at worst league average that year. His strikeout to walk ratio was fine (8.01 K/9 to 2.12 BB/9) and a BABIP of .324 left room for positive regression. Porcello was fine again in 2018, although not nearly the ace-level pitcher he was in 2016.
So, What’s With Rick Porcello in 2019?
But 2019? It’s been an absolute mess for Porcello. StatCast has pretty much backed up the mediocrity, as noted in this mid-August article about Porcello’s free agent prospects on MLB Trade Rumors. However, it is fair to note that he’s not being hit quite as hard as he was in 2017.
His wOBA of .342 is similar to his .348 mark in 2017. But his expected wOBA based on average exit velocity is actually .330, compared to his .345 mark in 2017.
The real concern? It’s Porcello’s strikeout rate, which has fallen to 17.7%, certainly a low mark for him. To his credit, he’s not walking the world at 6.4%, but it’s still high for him. Hs HR/9 rate of 1.57 is second only to the awful 1.68 mark of 2017. Keep in mind this is a guy who kept the ball in the ballpark most of his career; of course, Porcello pitched most of his early career at Comerica Park.
What’s the Future of Rick Porcello in Boston?
The Red Sox did have Porcello approach them about a contract extension before the season. Those talks never seemed more than preliminary. With Porcello hitting the open market after the season, the Sox free up $21 million of payroll. Even with a good September, the contract looks like an overall flop from a results standpoint.
By Baseball Reference WAR:
2015: 0.5 WAR (pre-extension)
2016: 4.8 WAR (Cy Young Award)
2017: -0.2 WAR (Just a mirage?)
2018: 3.1 WAR (Solid pitcher on a World Series Winner)
2019: 0.9 WAR (Why…?)
Is 9.6 WAR over the extension worth $82 million? Perhaps, barely. The 2015 results certainly weren’t great. But when we look at FanGraphs, who looks at FIP-based WAR and not runs allowed WAR, things look significantly different.
2015: 1.7 WAR (not awful)
2016: 5.1 WAR (CY YOUNG!)
2017: 2.0 WAR (League Average skills)
2018: 2.4 WAR (Good, but not as good as you think…)
2019: 1.5 WAR (Eating the innings…)
Suddenly you’re at 11 WAR for the extension and the trade in 2015 looks a lot better. Still, Cespedes was excellent in 2015, so that trade didn’t really work out. But, it wasn’t as bad as it looked from the results. Dombrowski was right to stick with the young hurler he knew well from Detroit. It just didn’t work out as well as anyone would’ve hoped.
Can Porcello Still Be an Effective Starting Pitcher?
At only 30 years old, it’s likely Porcello has a few more seasons left in him. But outside of his curveball, he’s getting hit pretty hard. His sinker has been a stinker. His average fastball velocity is slowly trending the wrong way. A little retooling of his arsenal and a home ballpark friendlier to pitchers could be in his future. It’s likely Porcello has to take a one-year deal - probably with incentives - to rebuild his value.
Someone may rekindle the magic Porcello had in 2016 when his fastball, slider, and changeup were all above average pitches. Maybe he’ll tinker with a cut fastball or splitter to get some weaker contact or whiffs, or both. There’s still a good pitcher in there somewhere. I just doubt that it will be the Red Sox taking another chance. But, Porcello does love it in Boston and he’s well liked by his teammates, so we’ll see. His career isn’t over yet.