Boston’s pitching staff isn’t holding up its end of the bargain and it is showing lately as the team has hit a bad stretch. While fans are calling for the front office to move some of the assets from down on the farm to get an ace, they’re missing the fact that the team already has one. Dave McCullough explains why Rick Porcello is the ace of Boston’s staff.
Entering 2016, a Family Feud-like poll of 100 Red Sox fans – “who is the ace of the pitching staff?” – would have yielded zero answers of Rick Porcello. A disastrous first four months of the 2015 season had most Boston fans convinced that Porcello was a bust. Billed as a sinkerball specialist, Porcello tossed early season meatballs to the plate, resulting in a 4.92 ERA and 15 losses. Worse than the stats, though, was how it all looked – every Porcello outing inspired dread and loathing instead of hope and positivity.
But peel the onion a little – as SoSHBaseball’s guru of PITCHf/x, Ian York, has done – and Porcello’s 2015 gets a little less horrifying. More than a bit of the negativity surrounding his 2015 results was caused by his contract. After he was handed a four-year contract worth $20.625 million a season on the same day as his first start in a Red Sox uniform, fans magnified his every flaw through the lens of “this guy makes how much?!” Culminating in the sacking of general manager Ben Cherington, the Porcello extension was the most disspiriting part of a depressing season.
Porcello’s 2015 was not good. Nor was it nearly as bad as it looked on paper – or on message boards and talk radio. He suffered through a terrible four months, but he was not the worthless, terrible, no-good waste of money that many fans thought him. In fact, over his last eight starts in August and September, Porcello recorded 57 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 3.14 ERA in 57 ⅓ innings. His struggles emanated from his inability to be the guy Boston acquired from Detroit – he was trying to blow opposing batters away with his below-average four-seam fastball instead of pitching to contact with his sinker, as he had in his most successful years with the Tigers.
The ninnies who make up Red Sox Nation have a long history of giving up on guys early, only to have those players prove them to be titanically wrong. Many will feign ignorance on their preference for Jeremy Giambi over David Ortiz in early 2003, but internet archives don’t lie. You know who you are.
Entering 2016, the largest concern of Red Sox fans was “who’s our #2?” with most speculation pinned to young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. Some held out hope that the enigmatic Joe Kelly would harness his prodigious talent and blossom, while still others expected new head honcho Dave Dombrowski to swing a trade to fill the hole. Even as Steven Wright fluttered his way into the All-Star Game, fans continued to pine for someone – anyone – to fill the hole behind nominal “ace” David Price – who was struggling in his first season in a Boston uniform.
Meanwhile, Porcello has quietly – and efficiently – passed everyone else on the staff in terms of reliability and results. He has, after his most recent gem – a 6-2 complete game mastery of the Angels – raised his record to 14-2, while lowering his ERA to 3.47. But the stats once again are misleading. As York pointed out in May, Porcello’s sinker has been much more effective this year and he’s been throwing it more often:
That trend has continued throughout the summer. Porcello has continued to suppress his opponent’s power, walk almost no one, and pitch efficiently, consistently giving embattled baseball insider and manager, John Farrell, his most reliable hurler. But as trade speculation has swirled, and attention has been focused on new acquisition, lefty Drew Pomeranz, fans and media alike continue to overlook Porcello – perhaps because they have written him off after last season’s disappointment.
However, it is now clear that with Price still adjusting to Boston, Pomeranz getting his feet wet, Rodriguez struggling to reach replacement level, and Wright going through a rough patch, the Red Sox “#1” is actually Rick Porcello. That is something no fan expected before the season – and bodes well for the future. This year, Porcello has returned to what made him successful in Detroit – pitching to contact and using his sinker – while limiting the number of mistakes and big innings. Instead of the guy who looked overwhelmed and unable to cope with pitching in Boston, 2016 Porcello has looked cool, calm, and collected on the mound every fifth day.
With the non-waiver trade deadline about to pass, fans are still holding out hope that Dombrowski will bolster the staff. However, he doesn’t need an “ace” – he has one, even if fans and the media don’t want to believe it. Rick Porcello has pitched like an ace thus far this season and he shows no signs of slowing down. While fans may want a bigger name, or perceive others as being more valuable – results don’t lie. Tricky Rick has established himself as the ace of this staff, and will, the team and fans hope, lead the team into a successful October.
Dave R. McCullough has written a tribute to Dave Henderson, about baseball’s long season, and about Eduardo Rodriguez’s last start with the Red Sox.
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