Going into last season, Rick Porcello’s 2015 peripherals indicated that he would be in for a positive regression, and boy howdy did he have a good season. Not only was he a great sleeper for your fantasy baseball squads, but he is currently the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the American League. However, it would not be smart to re-invest in him in 2017, as there were several indications about his performance that show that his 2016 campaign was the outlier, not the norm.
A breakdown of the hits against Porcello show that he had a better season than he should have for someone who had rates such as his. He had an 18.9% line drive rate in 2016, which was below his career norm, but fly balls and grounders are just about three-times as likely to be outs, historically. It’s easy to explain, scorchers are harder to make outs on compared to lazy fly balls and grounders to short. Qualified pitchers last season who were within one percentage point of Porcello’s 18.9% line drive rate, except Porcello, had an average ERA of 3.83 and a WHIP of 1.21. This is down from the historical average of 4.04 and 1.33. His line drive rate last year is the first knock against Porcello repeating his 2016 campaign, or a close approximation.
Second, Porcello was uncannily good at getting out of jams last season. His LOB% (a measurement of how many baserunners don’t score against him) was unusually high last year (74.3%, with a career average south of 70% before last year). 4% doesn’t seem like a lot, but consider this: Porcello allowed 215 base runners last year, and a 74.3% LOB rate means that 160 did not come around to score against him. That bodes well for his 3.15 ERA in 2016, but if you regress him to his career average of 70% coming around to score, that adds nine earned runs to his 2016 total, which moves him from 3.15 to 3.50. While 3.50 is still decent, it puts him in the Marco Estrada/Danny Duffy 2016 ERA range. This is good, but not quite the Corey Kluber & Jake Arrieta range where Porcello spent 2016.
Third is Porcello’s BABIP and WHIP. I tagged Porcello as a positive regression candidate in 2016 thanks to his BABIP. Fortunately for 2016, it regressed the other way hard. After posting a .332 BABIP in 2016 (very unlucky), Porcello’s BABIP shifted all the way the other direction, going to .269 (very lucky). This led to Porcello’s WHIP dropping to 1.01. He allowed somewhere around one fewer baserunners per game, and let fewer of them score than ever before. That doesn’t seem sustainable.
While last season Rick Porcello was a vein of fantasy baseball gold ready to be tapped, his 2017 does not seem so sunny. There are several statistics working against him, as noted above. However, fantasy baseball players are savvier than they used to be. His FantasyPros average draft position is #101, where in past years, it would make him a top-fifteen pitcher (at least). Right now, he is going around Julio Teheran and Kenta Maeda, who both have their own warts. Porcello is fine as a #2 SP, but is better suited as a #3 fantasy baseball starter. He has limited upside, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find 2016 as the best year he ever has. If you can get him at a great discount from his ADP, go for it, but don’t go into your drafts targeting Porcello.