Rick Porcello put together an impressive outing in his most recent start, tossing six innings of two-run ball against the Marlins. That quality start broke a stretch of seven losses in eight starts, a run of starts which saw his ERA balloon from a respectable 4.26 all the way to a 6.08 mark that was nothing short of disastrous.
Aside from the obvious disparity in results between Porcello’s last start and his previous eight, there was another notable difference. Ryan Hanigan was behind the plate.
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Though it didn’t align perfectly, Porcello’s quarter-season of failure began roughly two weeks after Hanigan hit the 60-day disabled list with a broken knuckle. The inexperienced duo of Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon were clearly unable to correct Porcello’s woes. However, in Hanigan’s return, the 26-year old Porcello returned to his roots as a ground ball pitcher, inducing 12 outs on ground balls and none on fly balls.
That deviation from his grounder-heavy approach has been a major cause for concern with Porcello this season. After posting a ground ball rate of at least 49% in every season of his major league career, he has slipped to just 44.4% this season, a mark just north of league average.
Throughout his career, Porcello has been a sinkerballer (which has led to those high ground ball rates), but he has thrown his lowest percentage of sinkers since his rookie year in 2015. Instead, he has thrown his four-seam fastball more often, which has (at least partially) caused a spike in his home run rate as his 1.4 HR/9 rate is by the far the highest of his career.
If Porcello returns to his sinker-dominated repertoire, he could be poised for a major improvement in the second half of the season. However, more than anything else, the return of Hanigan could prove crucial to Porcello’s success and, in turn, the success of the Red Sox.
A return to form by Porcello has to be one of Boston’s highest priorities after extending him to a 4 year/$82.5M deal before the start of the season. He’s still just 26 years old and certainly young enough to make that contract a worthwhile investment for the Red Sox, but he needs to return to being a reliable #2 starter like he was a season ago. Plus, with solely 2015 in mind, last season’s iteration of Porcello would be a huge boost to an ailing rotation.
There’s work to be done for Porcello. He needs to return to being a sinkerballer, inducing grounders at an obscene rate, and if not abandon, then certainly diminish his four-seam fastball usage. He was able to do that successfully in his last start before the All-Star Break and, with Hanigan back behind the plate, there’s reason to think he’s due for some improvement in the second half.