Despite Boston’s massive overhaul of both their lineup and rotation across the past few months, baseball fans and writers have still dinged the team for their lack of a true ace. However, while the Red Sox may still acquire a #1 starter before the end of the offseason, the team might be fine even without adding an ace and that’s because of the progress of recent acquisition Rick Porcello.
Porcello’s career stats don’t jump out as “ace-like,” as the tall righty features only a career 4.30 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and an average of 201 innings per season. Those numbers paint the picture of Porcello as a back-end innings eater who only projects as a #4 or even #5 starter in a contending team’s rotation.
During the 2014 season, though, Porcello made huge strides towards representing a true top of the rotation pitcher. He has always generated ground balls at an elite rate and his 2014 rate of 49.0% was actually lower than his career 52.1% mark, which offsets his low strikeout totals. The difference between 2014 and Porcello’s previous seasons was that the Tigers made a conscious effort to improve their formerly terrible infield defense. With a better defense behind him, more of Porcello’s ground balls found gloves rather than the outfield grass and that led to a significant improvement in results as Porcello posted a 3.43 ERA, far and away the best mark of his career.
The Red Sox will likely boast a very strong infield defense in 2014, with the excellent Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli manning the right side of the infield and the sure-handed Pablo Sandoval and (hopefully) improving Xander Bogaerts on the left side. That should keep Porcello’s ERA in a similar range and a strong ground-baller with an ERA in the mid-3.00’s is at least a #2 or #3 starter in Fenway Park.
However, that’s not even considering that Porcello likely has some improvement left. Porcello broke into the majors at the age of 20 and will still be only 26 years old on Opening Day. Just entering his prime, Porcello should continue to improve over the next few seasons and it’s easy to imagine that he could develop into an ace for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox would still be in a better position after acquiring an ace, but sticking with their current alignment is certainly an option. Porcello might not be an ace in the traditional sense, but considering the lineup that the Red Sox will trot out everyday, the Red Sox don’t need a traditional ace. From Porcello, the Red Sox will get plenty of quality innings and there’s always the chance that he’ll continue to improve next season and that might be all they need to put a winning product on the field.