Red Sox: Rick Porcello continues to struggle at Fenway Park

May 23, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) pitches during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) pitches during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello has reversed his home/road splits from last season and is now struggling when he takes the mound at Fenway Park.

The current homestand kicked off with the Boston Red Sox topping the Texas Rangers last night. Rick Porcello was credited with the win, although it’s a stretch to say that he “earned” the victory.

In what has become a trend through the first two months of the season, Porcello struggled in a start at Fenway Park. The right-hander allowed five runs (four earned) over 6 2/3 innings while equaling his season-high by allowing 11 hits. It’s a performance that often isn’t good enough for a starting pitcher to earn a win, but Boston’s bats bailed him out in an 11-5 victory.

What’s staggering about these results in front of the home crowd is that they are the inverse of Porcello’s 2016 season. His Cy Young campaign was fueled by his stellar 13-1 record and 2.97 ERA at Fenway Park. Porcello didn’t lose at home last season until the middle of September and even that came in an excellent outing in which he allowed only one run over eight innings.

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This season the script has been flipped. He’s already lost four times at home and wasn’t particularly sharp in either of his wins at Fenway, including last night. Porcello now carries a 5.50 ERA at home through six starts, compared to a 2.77 ERA on the road.

What’s changed this year? Perhaps not as much as you might think. While Porcello’s record was nearly unblemished at home last season and his ERA was a bit lower, dig deeper and you’ll find that he actually wasn’t pitching better at home.

Porcello’s ERA was lower at home than it was on the road despite allowing a .241 average to opposing hitters at Fenway. That’s still pretty good, yet it pales in comparison to the .219 average he allowed on the road. Hitters also had a higher OPS (.642) against Porcello at Fenway than they did on the road (.628), while his strikeout rate was a tick higher on the road as well.

That actually shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Fenway is one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball. The cozy confines that the Red Sox call home are going to inflate hitting statistics, even at the expense of great pitchers.

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While Fenway has a reputation as a hitters park, it’s actually not a great park for home run hitters. MLB Park Factors rated it middle of the pack for home runs last season and Fenway is closer to the bottom so far this year.

It turns out that home runs are where we find the most significant difference in Porcello’s performances over the last two seasons. He only allowed eight home runs over 16 starts at home last season. This year he’s already coughed up seven homers at Fenway over six starts. That includes one outing in which the Tampa Bay Rays took him deep four times in an eight-run shellacking.

Porcello has always been a bit home run prone. As great as he was last season, he still surrendered 23 home runs, tied for 22nd among 39 qualified AL starters. That total is only two shy of the career-high 25 home runs he allowed in his miserable 2015 season. Granted, he pitched far more innings in 2016 than he did the previous year, leaving him with an 0.9 HR/9 that was significantly better than his 2015 rate and more in line with his career average. This year, Porcello is on pace to shatter his career-high in homers, allowing a 1.5 HR/9 through 10 starts.

The progress that Porcello made last season combined with Fenway’s Park Factor data suggests that he won’t continue to be abused by the long ball at this alarming rate all season. If there’s one positive takeaway from last night it’s that Porcello managed to keep the ball in the park after allowing a home run in each of his previous five starts. Once the home runs regress back toward the mean, Porcello’s ERA will shrink closer to the level we expected.

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It was never reasonable to expect that a repeat of last year’s Cy Young campaign was in store, yet Porcello is certainly better than the pitcher we’ve seen so far this year – especially at Fenway.