The Cy Young Case for Rick Porcello

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Rick Porcello

While some say Mookie Betts is the AL MVP, others lean toward Mike Trout, and still others would make the case for David Ortiz. Meanwhile, the NL MVP chase is led by the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, but there are several Nationals hot on his heels. Dave McCullough takes a look at the landscape for the 2016 AL Cy Young award and decides that Rick Porcello is this year’s most deserving candidate.

The astoundingly hot start from Gary Sanchez of the Yankees has threatened to put the AL Rookie of the Year award back in play, while Corey Seager of the Dodgers has the NL award sewn up and an outside shot at the NL MVP. The NL Cy Young race was a classic, with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw taking home the award on McCullough ballot. The AL Cy Young winner is Rick Porcello, who didn’t set any records, but did consistently bring a strong effort every start.

Frederick Alfred Porcello was the longest of longshots to win the 2016 AL Cy Young award – he suffered through the kind of demoralizing, soul-crushing season in 2015 that sometimes happens to a pitcher when the Baseball Gods choose to make every ball in play find a hole in the defense and every line drive carry a few extra feet into the bleachers. Last year, analysts wrote endless treatises on “what is wrong with Rick Porcello?” with all but the a few of those portending doom for the righthander – he had failed in Boston, he had signed a big contract in Boston, he was going to be booed right out of Boston because he was bad, bad, bad.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Rick Porcello Is Terrible party – Porcello’s performance did a 180 and he went from the outhouse to the penthouse in one short season. After racking up 15 losses in 2015, Porcello notched 22 victories in 2016. After barfing up a 4.92 ERA in 2015 – to go along with a 4.13 FIP – the 27-year old righty twirled his way to a 3.15 ERA, and a 3.40 FIP in 2016. As the maestro of PITCH F/x, Ian York, wrote in May:

What’s more, the changes he made after his DL stint in 2015 have carried over into 2016.

He cut back on the use of his four-seam fastball, which he was overusing to start 2015, and made up the difference with his highly effective sinker (“FT”, for two-seam fastball, according to PITCHf/x) and his changeup:

That has continued, with his four-seam usage dropping still further (down to 14% of all pitches) and his sinker comprising over half his pitches (54.1%):

As Dr. York’s data showed, the “change” for Rick Porcello didn’t take place between seasons – it took place in the midst of his miserable 2015. However, his dreadful first few months torpedoed any chance of his numbers looking good until he received a clean slate at the beginning of 2016. Porcello then promptly kept doing what he had been doing – pitching pretty well – but his teammates began scoring runs for him, and the changes he began to implement in the midst of his nightmare 2015 began to get noticed, as his 2016 results mounted.

In the end, Porcello took the lead in the AL Cy Young race because of his win total, coupled with his otherwise respectable, underlying component statistics. The big win total is an easy way for pundits like myself to peg Porcello’s effort as “ the best performance in the AL.” Unlike in the NL, where many candidates had career and/or record setting seasons, no one in the AL re-wrote the record book or ran away with the contest. Porcello ended up winning because he performed at an above-average rate every fifth day for the whole season. His consistent performances – not great, never terrible – earned him the award in a crowded field lacking a standout candidate.


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