His 2016 Cy Young run is controversial, but one thing is certain: Rick Porcello was very good that season. Is he again one of the better pitchers in MLB?
Many believe that Justin Verlander should have won the 2016 Cy Young award. And they may be right. Though the argument for Red Sox starter Rick Porcello is stronger than they’d like to admit. Where ever you stand on that issue, there’s no denying that 2016 was a very solid season for Porcello. Much better than the one that preceded it or the one that followed.
So seeing him repeat it in 2018 would bode very well for a Red Sox team looking for its third straight division title. That leads us to the question of whether Rick Porcello really is having a similar season. At a quick glance, you could dismiss it based on his ERA or record. Both are lagging behind a little from the 2016 pace. But we don’t take quick glances here. So let’s dig in!
First, the are the areas in which he has been worse.
Rick Porcello has a 3.44 ERA with a 9-3 record. Compared to the 3.15 ERA and 22-4 record he finished with in 2016, that’s a fairly clear step back, right? An .846 winning percentage is better than .750, of course. We wouldn’t argue otherwise. He’s also leaving 3.8% more runners on base, and is walking 1.7% more batters. And there’s the 19.6% line drive rate, as compared to 18.9%.
And finally, there is his fWAR pace. After 16 starts he has 2.2 on the season. He finished 2016 with 33 starts and 5.2. Unless something changes, he’ll finish with less fWAR this season than he did then. Though, if you read the Joe Posnanski piece linked above, you might see where I’m headed with this.
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How about the good signs?
We’ll pick up where the last paragraph left off and go to rWAR. Porcello has 2.4 so far, as compared to 4.8 in 2016. With just under half as many starts, he’s actually on pace to finish with a touch more rWAR. And again, if you read that Posnanski piece, you’ll see why that’s significant. Baseball Reference’s version of pitching WAR uses RA, not FIP as its base. That means its harsher to a pitcher having poorer luck or worse defense behind them. Since Porcello’s BABIP is 12 points higher, that’s a pretty good sign that despite some of the surface level differences, his overall performance really isn’t much worse to this point in the season.
Additionally, he’s striking out 1.5% more batters, has a 3.23 FIP as compared to the 3.40 from 2016, and even a slightly lower xFIP. His ground ball rate is up, his soft contact is down, and his HR/FB rate is actually lower than 2016 as well. His O-Swing% is up while his O-Contact% is down. So he’s getting more chases, but allowing less contact when batters oblige him. Pretty much across the board his peripherals indicate he’s having a slightly better season than he did in 2016. With Chris Sale on board, that means that at best he can hope to be the second best starter on the team.
Of course, Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price are both vying for that honor as well. Whatever else is happening with the 2018 Boston Red Sox, the starting pitching appears to have settled in as an undeniable strength. Have any thoughts on the starters with roughly half a season in the bank? Let us know in the comments!