The Boston Red Sox starting rotation has had its share of ups and downs. From ugly starts to newfound trust with a new coach, it’s been a rocky season. Rick Rowand delves into the inconsistency of Rick Porcello to see what he can do to improve.
As we have done all season with this starting rotation, we are once again asking ourselves which version of Pitcher X will be showing up. Today it is Rick Porcello’s turn to take the mound – and your guess is as good as mine.
In his last two starts, the inconsistency of Rick Porcello has shown as he has been two different pitchers. Actually, it would be fairer to Porcello to say that in his last start he was two different pitchers. His start on May 16th and the first four innings of his last start were both pretty good.
Against the Mariners on 5/16, he went 6 2/3 innings of five-hit ball with two earned runs, both a result of solo home runs by Brad Miller. He also had six strikeouts and two walks.
Against the Angels on May 22nd, the game started off very well for Porcello and the Sox. In the first three innings, he gave up one hit and struck out four.
And then, this happened:
Not many major league hitters will miss that pitch and Albert Pujols is no exception. He promptly deposited the ball over the Green Monster for a home run. Porcello ultimately yielded two runs in the fourth, and then the Sox gave him the lead again in the bottom of the inning. Now, giving up two runs in four innings isn’t great, but it’s not bad either. But the fifth inning was when the nightmare began.
Anytime you start off an inning walking the first two batters and then have to face Mike Trout, good things are not going to happen. Not for your team anyway. And good things didn’t happen this time either – at least not for the Sox. Instead of reliving the bad pitching and bad fielding, let’s just say that when Porcello left the game the score was 6-3 and there was still a man on base. His line for the day was 4 1/3 IP, seven runs on seven hits, all earned, four strikeouts and three walks.
So, what happened? Ian York plotted both starts to show pitch type and location, against both left and right-handed hitters. Both of these charts are from the umpire’s point of view (FF = four-seam fastball, CU = curveball, FT = two-seam fastball, SL = slider, CH = changeup):
Porcello relies heavily on his fastball and sinker and these two games were no exception. Against the Mariners, he kept both pitches away from the center of the plate. Against the Angels, he served up a mix of all his pitches right in the heart of the strike zone.
One other thing sticks out in comparing the starts – in the game against the Angels he threw no changeups. Zero. Nada. Against the Mariners, he threw six. Porcello normally throws a change about 10-15% of the time; not a lot by any stretch of the imagination, but enough that if the hitter is looking fastball and gets a changeup, it is going to screw up his timing and give him one more thing to think about at the plate. His usual approach is to focus on two- and four-seam fastballs and the occasional curve the first time through the order, then start mixing in changes the second and third time through. Against the Angels, in the third and fourth inning he added in his slider instead of a change. As sometimes happens to most pitchers, Porcello was probably not able to effectively throw his change that game, and went to a lesser option.
When the vast majority of your pitches are fastballs and sinkers, and they are usually up in the zone, it certainly makes it easier to guess location and speed. Add to that, Porcello was throwing meatballs to RH hitters throughout the Angels’ game. He needs to vary his locations in the zone more effectively and, if he has control of the pitch, he needs to mix in the changeup to keep the hitters off-stride.