There’s been a lot of hand wringing about how bad of a signing Rick Porcello has been and how this season he is never going to earn his $20 million dollars in the first year of the contract. The results early have been mixed, but looking at what Porcello can control he’s clearly a Bette Pritchard so far this year.
In 2015 Porcello began to develop with an increase of strikeouts and still having good control. His K/9 in Detroit in 2014 was only 5.67, but in his first season in Boston it was 7.80. All at the same time holding a commanding BB/9 of 1.99, which was near his career average. Of course his ERA was 4.92 so the good numbers didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Porcello struggled with a BABIP of .332 and he gave up a career high HR/9 of 1.31. That is why when you break his numbers down his xFIP was only 3.72, which would have been a pretty good year for him. xFIP is an estimated ERA that estimates ERA by accounting for what pitchers can control which is strikeouts and walks. It differs from FIP by eliminating HR which are usually out of the pitchers control as well. (In regard to looking at a whole season of data)
Looking at the data you have to wonder why his BABIP was so high. The Red Sox had some great defenders last year, but suffered greatly in two spots. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez combined for a -36 UZR at third base and left field and surely hurt the staff with regard to allowing more base runners and runs to score.
This seems to show in the numbers as well. In his career Porcello has a OBP against to LHH of .346 and to RHH .306, but in 2015 his LHH OBP against was .334 and against RHH it was up to .329. So right handers hurt Porcello more than usual and when you look at his spray chart to right handers he’s going to be highly influenced by the play of third base and left field.
This is where we get to see what that means for Porcello this season. He’s doing something no one expected by striking out 11.57 batters every nine innings after his appearance on Wednesday night. That seems like something he will not maintain for a whole year, but it’s been great to see so far. It hasn’t helped him control the home run though as his HR.9 stands at 2.33 after the game.
Looking at K/9 and HR/9 this early in the season is not really going to tell you much, but Porcello is getting things done and so far his defense has been helping out. The Red Sox defense only has two starters with a UZR in the negative to start the year and they are Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts, so that tells you what to think of looking there, but the obvious signs are Brock Holt is a competent left fielder along with Chris Young and Travis Shaw has played better than anyone could have expected.
Let’s not forget that Ramirez could have still been a huge problem for Porcello at first base but he has surprised everyone and been a solid if not average defender at the position. If defense is no longer an issue and Porcello only regresses to the K/BB of 4 he had last year (not the 7.50 he’s at right now) he should be able to take the spot behind David Price in the rotation and throw a solid 3.50-3.75 ERA to give them someone to take pressure off the ace. The only question remaining is can he control the home runs that have plagued him since coming to Boston because then he could be even better and perhaps someday make Ben Cherrington look just a little bit better.