Red Sox 2017 Report Card: Starting Pitcher Rick Porcello

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 25: Rick Porcello
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 25: Rick Porcello /

From AL Cy Young to a mere innings eater, the downward spiral of Boston Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello took many by surprise.

After a dominant 2016 breakout season that earned him AL Cy Young honors, Boston Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello took a major step back in 2017. His ERA ballooned from 3.15 to 4.65 and his FIP similarly increased from 3.40 to 4.60. What caused this epic collapse?

It ultimately boiled down to the fact that Porcello was utterly hittable.

The first thing that strikes you looking at Porcello’s numbers besides his league-leading 17 losses are the big bold numbers under hits allowed and home runs allowed. 236 and 38 respectively.

Porcello went from a corner-painting maestro to just another guy with a 93 mph fastball and no legitimate out-pitch with the flip of a calendar. One season he allows a paltry 7.8 H/9 and a respectable 0.9 HR/9, relying on his low fastball location to generate weak grounders and keep the ball in the yard. The next year those numbers spike to 10.4 H/9 and 1.7 HR/9. Porcello gave up 1.15 home runs per start. That won’t win many ballgames.

While he did reach a new career-high in K/9 (8.0) and generally kept walks down with a 2.1 BB/9, Porcello continued to be haunted by hard contact.

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Fueled by a career-low 39.2% groundball rate that would almost classify him as a fly-ball pitcher and a career-high 14.7% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio, seemingly all the damage done in Porcello’s impressive 203.1 innings came via the long ball.

His 2017 hard contact rate stood at 38.3%, meaning over one-third of the times an opposing hitter put a ball in play, they did so with above-average exit velocity. Compared to his career rate of 28.5%, it’s clear that the 28-year-old was mislocating all season.

That’s really the best and only explanation for what happened to last year’s Cy Young – mislocation. A groundball pitcher suddenly can’t buy a groundout and watches one in every seven fly balls leave the park. A pitcher who always relied on weak contact suddenly is met with a barrage of line drives.

There’s no injury to point to – he logged 203.1 innings in an MLB environment that seldom generated the 200+ inning workhorses anymore. Simply put, Rick Porcello was not as effective a pitcher as 2016.

There is reason for hope, however. One look at the right-hander’s 2015 season, his first in Boston, and one would have never expected the 2016 campaign that resulted. And what it ultimately boiled down to was locating his fastball on the lower and outside corners to get ahead in the count, and then going in or up to put the batter away.

This should be the plan of attack for Porcello going into 2018 – location, location, location.

C-. . Starting Pitcher. . Rick Porcello

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Let’s face it, his stuff isn’t nasty. Porcello won’t blow hitters away with a blazing fastball, nor make them look silly pulling a filthy slider. He wins by putting the ball exactly where the hitter doesn’t want to see it. He needs to get back to that.