Rick Porcello is a Cy Young Award winner. No one can ever take that away from him. His 2016 was excellent, a performance that no one saw coming. He virtually carried the Red Sox to the AL East crown (at least on the pitching side of things), winning 22 games over 33 starts. 2017, on the other hand, was disastrous.
No one expected or even asked Porcello for a repeat of 2016. All the Sox ever wanted was an effective pitcher to trot out every 5th day. And while he did make 33 starts again, proving to be reliable enough to at least avoid injury, Porcello led the team with 17 losses, posted a 4.65 ERA and a 1.397 WHIP, and gave up a whopping 38 (38!) home runs to opposing batters.
Once considered a ground ball pitcher, Porcello forced contact to the ground around 55% of the time early on in his career. That number has creeped downwards in recent years, needling around the middle to lower parts of the 40th percentiles, including a career low 39.2% last year. In a hitter’s park like Fenway, that’s a huge problem, one that’s imperative for him to address and fix.
He also needs to focus on his in-game pitch selection. With a sinker that tops out in the low 90’s, it doesn’t possess the zip or, quite honestly the deception, needed for Porcello to just blow it by hitters. Too often Porcello relied on that fastball, and too often he threw it in the middle of the plate (according to Fangraphs, roughly 29% of his fastballs were thrown somewhere in the 16 “middle zones” of the plate), allowing hitters to sit on a “mistake” fastball and capitalize when they saw it. He needs to mix in his other pitches and locate more effectively to keep hitters guessing rather than anticipating.
One thing that Porcello does have doing for him, though, is his aforementioned reliability. He’s started at least 28 games every year since joining the Sox in 2015, and has thrown over 200 innings in 3 of the last 4. That sort of constant dependability allows the bullpen some rest when the nights heat up and the arms begin to tire around mid-summer, something that can’t be overlooked for a team looking to make a deep run into October.
So, if he can put up another season of 200+ IP, bring his ERA down into the mid-3’s and figure out a way to bring those home runs way down, Alex Cora and company will be very pleased to pencil Porcello in as the 3rd or 4th starter. If he can’t, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dumped at the trade deadline to a contender with some spare cash (or maybe even sent down), clearing the way for someone like Brian Johnson or Hector Velazquez to step in and stake their claim.