Rick Porcello is somewhat of an enigma for this Boston Red Sox squad. He put together one fantastic, Cy Young winning season in 2016 sandwiched between two mediocre, if not downright inadequate, years in 2015 and 2017. He started this new year off strong enough, throwing 5.1 innings of one run ball. He wasn’t perfect, there were still glimpses of the bad Porcello, but he was solid enough.
There are a few key factors that are imperative for him to accomplish in order to continue that run of form; a blueprint, if you will. If he can succeed at these 4 aspects, then his game will flourish.
1: Get out of the 1st inning unscathed.
Porcello’s 1st inning troubles have been well documented. It was one of the main talking points of last year and will continue to be until he finds a way to solve said issues. He had a 6.82 ERA in the 1st inning of games last year, allowing 26 runs in 33 appearances. His ERA dropped over 3 points in innings 2 through 6 over that same span, though, suggesting some sort of mental hurdle he’s had difficulty overcoming to open games. Whether it is actually mental or more of a mechanical issue, it’s a problem that Porcello needs to address and put to bed, because he can’t count on the same kind of phenomenal run support he’s accustomed to forever.
2: Locate his fastball.
Porcello’s fastball averages around 91 mph and tops out at only 93-94. He certainly doesn’t possess the kind of velocity needed to just blow pitches by hitters, so his fastball location is of the utmost importance, especially considering that he throws one on about 65% of his pitches throughout his career. Take a look at the graphic below.
(Photo credit: Fangraphs)
That chart shows his fastball location in 2017. See those red zones? Yeah, those are the middle zones of the plate, very bad places to throw a low-90’s heater. The scouting report is presumably vast and detailed on him, and batters are often observed sitting on a fastball, waiting for Porcello to throw one that they can make good contact on, which leads us to my next point.
3: Keep the ball in the park.
Porcello gave up an astonishing 38 home runs last year, good (bad?) for the highest total in all of the MLB. This is in direct correlation with his fastball location. Talented, big league level hitters will make you pay for your mistakes, and that happened all too often to Porcello last season. When roughly half of your starts come in Fenway Park, with that Green Monster looming in the distance, gift pitches like those displayed in the red zones in the chart above need to be minimized, or he’ll be punished for in them in the form of a trip around the bases by the opposition.
4: Keep the walks down.
To be completely fair to Porcello, his walks totals aren’t all that bad. He averaged 2.1 BB/9 last year, which was right around the middle of the pack for starting pitchers. The problem for him, though, is the situational timing of the walks he allows. It seems like he most often gives free passes at the worst times to do so: to the lead off batter, with men already on base, after battling to get two outs and then not being able to close out the inning. These sort of mistakes have come back to bite him on multiple occasions during his time here in Boston and have greatly contributed to his ineffectiveness over that time.
The Rays offense has been anemic up to this point, so it’s not an incredibly difficult proposition for him, but nonetheless, these are the most important goals for him to be successful on the mound again on Saturday and lay the ground work for the rest of the season.