Red Sox Rick Porcello Is Proving His Worth

Jul 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) pitches during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) pitches during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Nobody would have predicted that Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello would  rank among the MLB best after last season.

With a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday, Porcello picked up his team-leading 11th win of the season. His performance put him tied for sixth in the majors in that category, three behind Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. Even after giving up a one-out home run over the Green Monster of Fenway Park, Porcello dominated in a fashion that showed how much he had learned from his struggles in 2015.

It didn’t look great early, but that’s nothing new for Porcello. In his last start against the Texas Rangers, Porcello was getting hugs, high fives, speeches from his coaches, and boisterous cheers in the dugout after allowing four runs on 12 hits in just six innings. With the state of Boston’s starting rotation, Porcello’s efforts to hang on to victory, by any means necessary, have been greatly appreciated by his teammates. Yesterday’s home run blast would have been troubling to anyone else, essentially putting the team in a hole right out of the gate; however, Porcello seemed calm and collected, moving on quickly from the mistake. A flyout and a four-pitch strikeout later, Porcello and the Red Sox got out of the inning.

Last season, Porcello would have mentally collapsed in the same situation. The 27-year-old New Jersey native had signed a huge contract with Boston after being traded to the Red Sox from the Detroit Tigers, the team that made him a first round draft pick in 2007. When Porcello gave up the lead, it tended to snowball into a ton of runs, making the hole he put Boston in the size of the Grand Canyon. It can be unsettling any time a player changes teams, let alone signing a four-year contract for $82.5 million during a season where Porcello posted a 9-15 record with a 4.92 ERA in 28 starts. He was sent to the minors to rediscover the talent that former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington believed made him worth the money. It didn’t help.

Fast-forward to 2016, the holes that Porcello made for himself in some of his starts stayed relatively manageable. Only once has Porcello given up five runs in a start while allowing four runs in five other starts. Two games of note happen to be his first two starts of the season, both against the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the most potent lineups in the majors. Porcello gave up two home runs to Jose Bautista in the same game in his first start and he gave up two home runs to Edwin Encarnacion in his second start. However, neither game got too out of hand, as he was able to pitch into the seventh inning both times and picked up both wins with run support.

Porcello has been looking like his mind is right about home runs: they are just runs, mistakes that can be overcome. Yesterday, he went seven innings and allowed just six hits with no walks and five strikeouts to bring his season ERA to 3.66. Porcello threw 94 pitches, 70 for strikes, and induced five groundballs to four flyouts. His teammates did the rest with their defense and their bats for the win.

That trust is his most notable change. Last season, it looked like Porcello was trying too hard to strike everyone out, which wasn’t happening. The ball would stay up and get cranked around the ballparks, racking up hits and runs for opposing lineups who were hitting .287 against him. This season, teams are hitting .255 against Porcello and yet he’s on pace to earn one more strikeout than he earned all of last year, just by pitching smarter.

If that’s not enough to prove that Porcello’s not letting the pressure get to him, just think about this: Sale, the winningest pitcher in the majors, has allowed 47 earned runs and 17 home runs in his 18 starts, one run and three homers more than Porcello has allowed in the same amount of starts.

Whether the pressure is off because the Red Sox signed free agent David Price, to a much bigger contract than his, to be the ace of the team or not, Porcello looks to be letting mistakes wash off of him. He may still be scaring Red Sox Nation every time that they watch him pitch, but that fear isn’t translating into losses nearly as often as it did last season. His ERA is not be under three runs, and that seems to suit him just fine, as long as he doesn’t let the game get out of hand. At the moment, that way of thinking is good enough for Porcello to be considered the best pitcher the Red Sox have in their rotation. He’s proving that he’s worth at least some credit, even if some may not think it’s worth an ace’s paycheque.