The righty may have regained his Cy Young form by changing his pitch selection this season.
Porcello, 29, turned in another strong performance on Wednesday night, going six scoreless innings with six strikeouts and six hits. He’s now 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA on the year. He’s keeping batters off balance while mixing his pitches and pounding the strike zone with excellent control (one walk all year).
What’s the secret to Pretty Ricky’s success?
According to FanGraphs, Porcello is using his slider at the highest rate of his career (23.5 percent), and his changeup at the second highest rate of his career (15.4 percent). He’s also minimizing the use of his curveball at a 6.5 percent rate, which is the lowest in his career since 2012.
Another reason for the righty’s success is he’s keeping the ball in the yard this season. Last season’s miserable 1.68 HR/9 was a career high. Pitch selection didn’t matter, as his control had abandoned him, leaving any pitch of his scorched into the bleachers.
Porcello may have fell in love with his fastball too much in 2017 due to his high success in 2016. He became a bit too predictable and failed to regain control once his early season struggles worsened. Opponents hit 22 home runs on any type of fastball thrown by Porcello.
This season, Porcello has yet to give up a home run. He’s the only member on the Red Sox starting pitching staff to do so.
Additionally, his hits per nine is at a career low (7.01) and K’s per nine is at an all-time high (8.06). Porcello doesn’t have electric stuff, but these numbers show that he’s winning with exceptional control and pitch selection, while being more deceptive than he was last year. If a pitcher has all three phases working, they’re bound to have success regardless of how fast or nasty their pitches are. Stuff isn’t everything in baseball — Joe Kelly throws 101 mph and isn’t exactly a strikeout machine.
Porcello can be an X-factor for the Red Sox moving forward. We expect Chris Sale and David Price to pitch at an ace level. We hope for Drew Pomeranz to replicate his success from last season, and Eduardo Rodriguez to produce and stay healthy. But if the Red Sox continue to swing the bat and have a formidable starting trio of Sale, Price and Porcello pitch at a high level, they could quickly become World Series favorites.
Porcello has only made four starts and we can’t assume he’ll pitch lights out every start of the season, but there’s no denying his early season success may be a preview of a big season ahead. He’s been so good that he’s statistically Boston’s most valuable pitcher in terms of WAR this season. Imagine having three Cy Young candidates on the same team?