One of the quiet achievers in 2016 has been Boston Red Sox’s Rick Porcello. A winner of 22 games this year, Porcello has the most victories of anyone in the big leagues while also throwing the fourth-highest number of innings. He finished with a losing record a season ago in his first year with the Red Sox, and before that was regarded as a number three or four starter at best.
Porcello’s peripheral numbers in 2016 aren’t too bad either as he has a 3.11 ERA (third in the AL), a 6.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio (best in the majors), 183 punch outs (ninth in the AL) and a 0.991 WHIP (third in the big leagues).
Porcello will have one final opportunity to add another win this year as he’s scheduled to start Friday’s game against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Currently, he ranks 17th among those with the most wins in a season in Red Sox history. His 22 victories are the most since Pedro Martinez won 23 in 1999.
Since baseball’s modern era began in 1969, Porcello has the third-most victories in Red Sox history behind Martinez and Roger Clemens who went 24-4 in 1986.
This is all from a guy who is being paid $10 million less than the expected ace of the starting rotation David Price, and from someone who had averaged 12 wins a year in his first seven seasons.
When compared to his career averages, there isn’t a lot that Porcello has done to bring about this boost in performance. He is striking out an extra 1.5 batters per nine innings while walking 0.8 fewer and allowing two fewer hits. The biggest thing is his strikeout to walk ratio, which is nearly four points higher than his career average.
When it comes to his pitches, nothing has changed regarding velocity. Porcello is still throwing his fastball at about 92 mPH while he offers a 90 mPH sinker, a cutter at 86 mPH, a slider at 85 mPH, an 80 mPH changeup, and a 74 mPH curveball. The biggest difference has just been how much he is using each of those pitches to get hitters off balance.
The Red Sox right-hander has always been a groundball pitcher, using his sinker an average of 40 percent of the time over the last two years. In 2016 Porcello has been throwing it for a strike on a more regular rate than last year, but is getting fewer ground balls and more fly balls with it. That suggests that this year he has had some difficulty commanding the pitch and batters are being able to make better contact off it.
The biggest difference has come with his four-seam fastball and his cutter. Porcello has been using the fastball about five percent less on average compared with last season. Opposing hitters have been swinging at it more regularly but haven’t been able to do as much damage.
Their batting average against the fastball has dropped from .234 in 2015 to .206 this year, while the slugging percentage has also fallen from .405 to .326 as it’s been thrown into the strike zone about five percent less this year.
The difference has been even greater against the cutter. Though Porcello is throwing it roughly the same amount, hitters have seen their average drop by 231 points from .382 to .151. At the same time, the slugging percentage has dived from .600 to .279. As a result, opposing hitters have swung at the cutter a lot less and have hit it on the ground with more regularity.
The success that Porcello has enjoyed with both the fastball and cutter in 2016 have helped him reduce the average number of hits he is allowing each game while also helping strike out more hitters.
Porcello has three years remaining on his contract with Boston, and though he’s only 27, it’s hard to expect that his performance this year is going to continue. At some point, it becomes reasonable to expect a little bit of regression back to his former self. With that said, he may still pick up 17 or 18 wins with an ERA around 3.50 next season if he continues the trends that have seen him be successful this year.