Rick Porcello and the new Red Sox pitching philosophy


Two days after Jon Lester passed on a return to Boston and inked a six year $155 million pact with the Cubs, Ben Cherington set to work rebuilding a Red Sox rotation that ranked 23rd in the MLB on the year and 27th after the All Star Break.

Thursday morning marked the first (official) step towards building a better staff. On the heels of a Wednesday night report that a trade had been agreed to for Diamondbacks left hander Wade Miley, Cherington made his first splash of the Winter Meetings, sending Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier to Detroit for right hander Rick Porcello. Not long after this transaction, the team also brought back fan favorite Justin Masterson as a one year reclamation project on an incentive laden $9.5 million contract. 

More from BoSox Injection

My colleague Conor Duffy wrote about his faith in the Miley acquisition on Friday, but I am more intrigued by the arrival of Porcello. He has quietly been in the majors since 2009, and despite never achieving the peaks that Miley or Masterson did, Porcello may have more talent than either of them. Drafted in the first round of the 2007 MLB draft, Porcello was regarded by some as the top high school talent in the class. He only fell to Detroit at 27 because of signability concerns. I found this Baseball America scouting report to stake these claims.

Porcello came into the league being viewed as a top of the rotation talent, and the Tigers player development team were quickly enamored by his talent. He became the youngest player in the league as a 20 year old with the Tigers, making 31 starts and pitching 170 innings to the tune of a 3.96 ERA. But from the start he was a player whose advanced stats suggested a better talent, as his 2.2 WAR and 114 ERA+ (ERA adjusted for ballpark factors) suggested more than a back of the rotation starter.

Too many people have overlooked Porcello, and perhaps his ERA stands as the culprit behind his being overlooked. From 2009-2013 his ERA never again sank below 4.00, and so he continued to be written off as a back of the rotation pitcher, and an ineffective one at that. But again his advance stats told a different story, as his FIP went down in each of those years. This is truly remarkable given Porcello’s inability to strike out batters, a major factor of fielding-independent-pitching.

What this tells us, is that Porcello was excellent in the other areas that contribute to FIP, he allowed few homers and few walks. He was mired in a terrible defensive situation for years, and when Detroit alleviated some of their defensive woes with the Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder trade before the 2014 season Porcello enjoyed a career year. He pitched over 200 innings, won 15 games, lowered his ERA to a career best 3.43, graded to a career best 4.0 WAR, and put together as many shutouts (3) as any player in baseball.

Porcello epitomizes a new Red Sox pitching philosophy. In 2012 the team suffered because talented pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz dealt with injuries and inconsistency. For 2015, the team has acquired four pitchers (the above 3 and deadline acquisition Joe Kelly) who are proven inning eaters, have not dealt with injuries, and perhaps most importantly, all four are under the age of 30. None of the four should be declining next year, instead we may see them put up numbers better than they have in their careers to date.