How Does Boston’s Opening Day Starter Rick Porcello Get the Job Done?

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Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello didn’t have a very good year in 2015, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA (87 ERA+). Even though he did put together a pretty good string of games in the second half of the season, few had high hopes for him entering 2016. Certainly, very few people expected him to win the American League Cy Young award, with a 22-4 record and a 3.15 ERA (145 ERA+); but he did, and suddenly his $20,125,000 salary looked like a bargain.

What he throws: Porcello throws a four-seam and a two-seam fastball (“FF” and “FT” respectively; the two-seam is also known as a sinker) which are exceptionally distinct. He also throws a slider (“SL”), curve (“CU”), and changeup (“CH”). While most pitchers’ four- and two-seam fastballs blur into each other in terms of speed and movement, Porcello’s four-seam is a couple of mph faster than his two-seam, and his two-seam has significantly more vertical and horizontal movement. His four-seam fastball averages about 92.6, maxing out at around 95 mph, while his two-seam averages about 89.8 mph. With his slider averaging 85.4 mph, his change 80.6 mph, and his curve 74.2 mph, Porcello fills up a wide range of speeds with his pitches:

Pitch usage and trends: About 60% of Porcello’s pitches were fastballs, with the two-seam accounting for about 41.7% of them and the four-seam making up 20.4%. The remainder are divided about equally between his three other pitches. He tends to throw more changeups than sliders to left-handed batters and vice-versa for righties. He mainly uses his curve when ahead in the count, switching to his changeup (which is less likely to be a ball: 32.3% balls vs. 44.3% balls for the curve) when behind. He also was much more likely to go to his two-seam fastball than his four-seam when behind, although their ball rates are virtually identical (30.0% for the two-seam vs. 30.7% for the four-seam):

His pitch repertoire and velocity remained consistent over the course of the season:

Pitch value. Although Porcello is more known for his two-seam fastball than his curve, the latter is his most valuable pitch, based on total bases per 100 pitches, and is especially effective against left-handed batters. His four-seam fastball is also very effective, while his changeup was highly effective against right-handed batters. However, Porcello rarely threw changeups to righties, so their effectiveness may have been partially due to the surprise factor. His bread-and-butter two-seam fastball and his slider ended up just about league average in effectiveness, although his slider did better against left-handed batters, again perhaps because of the surprise factor:

Pitch location: Porcello’s four-seam and two-seam fastballs typically end up in quite different locations. Where Porcello is more likely to challenge a batter with a two-seam fastball in the heart of the strike zone, his four-seam fastballs tended to be elevated at the top of the zone, or just above it. His changeup targeted the bottom of the zone, and to left-handed batters especially, he also hit the outside edge of the zone. Both the slider and the curve tended to run inside to lefties and outside to righties, with the curve especially dropping outside the strike zone. To right-handed batters in particular, there were also a number of curves that started out high and dropped into the top of the zone for strikes:


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Featured image courtesy of Dan Hamilton/USA Today.

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