Boston Red Sox: Rick Porcello deserves the Cy Young award

Aug 14, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 14, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Rick Porcello’s breakout season was not only one of the most pleasant surprises for the Boston Red Sox this season, it’s Cy Young award worthy.

What a difference a year makes. As a disastrous 2015 season crawled to a close, Boston Red Sox fans were ready to run Rick Porcello out of town. His production on the mound wasn’t close to matching the value of the lucrative extension the team handed him at the beginning of the season, so after only one season in Boston, Porcello had already been labeled a bust.

A year later our opinions have drastically changed. No longer a bust, Red Sox fans are hoping to refer to Porcello by another label – Cy Young winner.

Porcello led the majors with 22 wins, more than any Red Sox pitcher has tallied in a season since Pedro Martinez‘s magical 1999 season. No pitcher in baseball has collected more than 22 wins in a season since Justin Verlander won 24 in his MVP campaign in 2011. When you accomplish something that puts your name next to the most iconic pitcher in franchise history and a former MVP, you know it’s been a special season.

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Yet Porcello’s win total isn’t why he deserves the Cy Young. Wins tend to be an overrated statistic reliant on team success rather than the effectiveness of the pitcher. Of the top 10 pitchers in the American League in ERA, half of them won 15 games or fewer, including three that posted double-digits in the loss column. Minnesota’s Ervin Santana was 10th in the league in ERA, yet owned a record of 7-11.

Meanwhile, four AL starters won at least 13 games, all with winning records, despite ERA’s north of four. David Price won 17 games for the Red Sox with an ERA that flirted with that mark.

Clearly we can’t rely heavily on wins to determine this prestigious award. Winning 20+ games remains an accomplishment given how few pitchers manage to reach that goal, but we must dig deeper to determine the league’s best pitcher.

In doing so, we find that Porcello still ranks among the elite even when ignoring win totals. We want the ace of the staff to be a workhorse, which Porcello certainly was, tossing the fourth most innings in the league this season with 223. Pitching a complete game has become a bit of a lost art in MLB, but Porcello’s three complete games were the third most in the league.

He was a model of consistency, lasting at least six innings in 30 of his 33 starts, while never falling short of five innings. Porcello delivered 26 quality starts, giving him a 79.0 QS% that tied for the league lead.

His 3.15 ERA ranked fifth in the league and his 1.01 WHIP was second. Porcello has never been known as an overpowering strikeout pitcher, but his career-high 189 strikeouts were enough to rank 8th in the league.

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Perhaps the most impressive statistic Porcello produced was a minuscule walk rate of 3.6 percent, which was second best in the majors. Nothing puts a pitcher in a jam more than being generous with free passes, but a control artist like Porcello rarely let walks derail his outing. He may not fit the 200+ strikeout profile typically associated with Cy Young candidates, but his major league-leading 5.91 K/BB ratio more than makes up for it.

Another trait shared by successful pitchers is the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. Porcello is no longer the ground ball pitcher he was early in his career, allowing more fly balls than ever before. Yet despite the increased rate of balls in the air, fewer are traveling over the fence. Porcello’s 0.93 HR/9 rate was tied for fourth best in the league – an impressive feat for a pitcher who makes half his starts in hitter-friendly Fenway Park and plays in a division loaded with heavy-hitters.

A healthy amount of strikeouts, stingy with the walks and don’t cough up too many home runs. Those are the traits that make up the Fielding Independent Pitching statistic, which is widely considered to be a better evaluation of pitching success than the more commonly used ERA. It’s no surprise then to find that Porcello ranks second in the league with a 3.40 FIP.

FIP is used in FanGraph’s formula for pitching WAR, which finds Porcello tied for the league lead with 5.2 WAR.

There are several ways to evaluate pitchers and everyone seems to have a different opinion these days. The old school crowd favors traditional stats like wins, ERA and strikeouts, while the “stat geeks” have more advanced analytical data to support their claims.

No matter which side of that debate you fall on, you’ll find Porcello’s name at or near the top of all of the most relevant categories. The AL Cy Young boils down to a three-man race between Porcello, Verlander and Corey Kluber, but it’s the emerging ace of the Red Sox that should come out on top.

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Porcello’s production this season has been the best blend of the old school approach and the analytical revolution, making him the clear choice for the Cy Young award.