Boston Red Sox Report Cards: Rick Porcello


Now that the 2015 season is in the books, the BoSox Injection staff will hand out their final report cards, grading the performances of each member of the Boston Red Sox roster based on their expectations entering the season.

C-. . Starting Pitcher. . RICK PORCELLO

Unfortunately for Rick Porcello, his signing with the Red Sox coincided with the departure of fan favorite and the ace of the staff during his tenure – Jon Lester. This naturally led to speculation and expectations that Porcello had been chosen to be Lester’s replacement, and the anchor of the staff with long-time Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz. These were expectations that Porcello was never truly going to be able to meet, as his stay in Detroit proved him to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation type starter. I think he would agree himself that his up-and-down first season in Boston wasn’t what he expected.

On top of the timing of the actual signing, there was an extension signed not long after for an additional four years of service at eighty-plus million dollars. This only served to further the notion that the Boston front office was presumably replacing Lester, or at the very least, making the move to cement Rick Porcello at the top of the rotation. However, things clearly did not go as planned.

Porcello only pitched in less innings in 2010 and tied the worst ERA of his career from that same season. He was coming off a 2014 with a 3.43 ERA. He gave up the most homeruns of his career in 2015, which can possible be attributed to pitching in a new park in Fenway which isn’t always kind to contact pitchers, but also had the most strikeouts of his career. His 9-15 record is his worst ever and doesn’t even begin to explain some of his struggles.

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Porcello’s season really needs to be analyzed in two parts – pre DL stint and post DL stint. He really was mediocre to start out, getting wins at times despite giving up hits and runs in the early months of the season. Fans attributed that to the move to Boston from Detroit and thought he would come around. He then had a month stretch from May 22 to June 30 in which he lost six straight starts going less than six innings pitched and giving up 7.2 hits per game and five runs per game. A couple starts with five earned runs won’t kill you, but when you are consistently not getting through six innings and letting up almost a run per inning over that long of a stretch, clearly something is not working.

Porcello then snuck in a couple wins in July while still allowing a fair share of hits and runs. But these games were also sandwiched between two starts in which he was only able to get through two innings giving up a combined seventeen hits, twelve earned runs, and five homeruns while only striking out five batters. His July 29th start against the White Sox forced the Red Sox to reevaluate the situation and landed Porcello on the disabled list with “triceps soreness and inflammation”. Whether it was an actual ailment or not, no one would argue the fact that he clearly needed to figure things out. Porcello was 5-11 in 20 starts with 114.2 innings pitched and an ERA of 5.81.

After his first ever trip to the DL, Porcello returned to Boston with a focus on getting back to what worked during his time with the Tigers. He told WEEI’s Rob Bradford, “I have to get back to what I did best, sink the ball and get my ground balls back up. That’s really what I’m committing to the rest of the year, get back to what I’ve done over the past six years and that’s inking the ball and keeping the ball on the ground. I’m really committed to throwing my sinker and feeling it out and getting it back to where it needs to be.”

Porcello had always been a pitch-to-contact guy and because he isn’t a power pitcher with a great fastball, he is never going to have mega-strikeout numbers. Some thought he was possibly getting overwhelmed with throwing a larger variety of pitches and was throwing too many straight fastballs that missed their spots. It’s key for a pitcher of this sort to rely on their bread-and-butter pitch and keep the ball down in the zone.

With his renewed focus on the sinker and a rejuvenated sense of wanting to move forward, Porcello closed out the rest of the season with some better results. He returned on August 26th in Chicago against that same White Sox team and earned a shutout victory going seven innings and giving up five hits. He would only three of his final seven starts, but did stick to his guns in regards to his pitch selection. His inconsistencies remained though in that he would have quick 1-2-3 innings in which his “stuff” would look nasty only to collapse in the very next frame. He also continued to give up large amounts of hits per game and gave up 27 hits in his last three starts of the season. He did manage to get his ERA down 4.92 by the end of the year (and even earned himself a Red Sox Strut or two), but that number is certainly not a reason to rejoice.

Porcello’s 2015 was mediocre at best given the expectations, whether they were reasonable or not. Although he was able to work through some issues in the latter half of the season, he was still very inconsistent and certainly not a reliable front-of-the-line pitcher. And it seems that Dave Dombrowski is very aware of that. Dombrowski is of course familiar with Porcello from their time in Detroit together.

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald wrote about Dombrowski’s feelings on the matter last week: “Despite some promising starts in the second half of this season, Porcello did not become that No. 1 guy. And Dombrowski, who traded Porcello to the Sox from Detroit (where many believed the right-hander essentially was a No. 3 starter), is well aware of where the pitcher stands in the pecking order of the rotation. Porcello is a middle-of-rotation guy, a very valuable one, whose best days likely are ahead of him, just like Miley. But as Dombrowski made clear yesterday, the Red Sox rotation is bottom-heavy. It needs a cherry on top…

‘In our situation, when you have (Clay) Buchholz back and feeling good, you can go from there. Our depth in starting pitching is pretty good. I don’t think the back end of our rotation is going to be the difficult part,’ he said. ‘When I say back end, 3-4-5 with Porcello and Miley and (Joe) Kelly, we feel good about him coming back.’”

That should tell you all you need to know about how the Sox view Rick Porcello going forward. Perhaps the twenty million dollar salary is no longer indicative of an ace, but I do know that Boston is going to need more from Porcello going forward.

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