Has Anything Actually Changed with Rick Porcello?

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Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello is not having nearly the same level of success he did a season ago.

In 2016, Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA en route to his first career Cy Young Award. The hardware likely should have gone to the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the Indians’ Corey Kluber, or (my personal choice) the Orioles’ Zach Britton, but that’s a different subject for a different time. The reason why Porcello won the award was simple: he led the league in wins a season ago and was near the top of the league in most of the major statistical pitching categories. It goes to show you that the win is still very powerful in baseball circles, even when a pitcher getting one is heavily influenced by the run support he gets from his offense (more on that later). But despite the fact that he received an award he probably didn’t deserve, Porcello had an excellent 2016 and would look to build off that for this season.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

This year, the year after he led baseball in wins, Porcello, in an ironic and tragic twist of fate, is leading the league in losses. Even with last night’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, he has a 6-14 record with a 4.63 ERA so far in 2017. This is seemingly a far cry from last year’s campaign, and the shift in fortunes has been so dramatic, in fact, that he could become the eighth pitcher in MLB history to lose 20 games in a season after winning 20 the year before. This should go to show you that not all statistics are interesting, useful, or important.

But aside from the obvious depreciation of his production from last year to this one, what has actually changed in Porcello’s performance from 2016 to 2017?

For starters, if you believe in the three true outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run) then Porcello’s numbers provide an interesting look at his recent struggles. For instance, his strikeout rate is the highest it’s been in his entire career (8.25 per nine innings). This is in part because baseball’s hitters are striking out more than they ever have; Porcello’s strikeout rate is also the highest in his career. The troubling thing is that his home run rate per nine innings is also a career high (1.66). He’s allowed at least one home run in a whopping 17 of his 24 starts this season; last year, he allowed at least one home run in 17 of his 33 starts. He’s even already allowed more home runs this season (28) than he did last year (23). And yes, there’s still seven-and-a-half weeks of baseball yet to be played.

As for his walk rate, the change from 2016 to 2017 has been significant, if not necessarily as pronounced. Porcello is walking an average of .49 more batters per nine innings. While that may not seem like a big deal, Porcello is just two walks away from reaching his 2016 total. That’s concerning, as well.

But there’s also another important thing to address in this discussion that has nothing to do with the pitcher: run support.

Last season, Porcello led Major League Baseball in run support per nine innings (7.63). The man who was second in run support last season, the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ, also won 20 games. If you think these two events are coincidental, you’re fooling yourself. In Porcello’s 33 starts last year, the Boston Red Sox scored 189 runs, or 5.72 per start; no wonder he won 22 games. In the other 139 games the team played in 2016, Boston’s offense averaged 5.34 runs per game. While the Sox had the best offense in baseball a season ago, they were even more fearsome with Porcello on the hill. While those two things have nothing to do with each other, it does help to explain how the owner of a career 4.24 ERA now has both a 22-win season and a Cy Young Award to his name.

Sure enough, Porcello’s run support luck has run dry in 2017 and I’m sure you could’ve seen that coming from miles away. Out of 70 qualified starting pitchers, the Red Sox hurler ranks eighth-to-last in the league in run support, as Boston’s offense has scored all of 3.92 runs per nine innings in each of his starts. In 24 starts this year, the Red Sox have scored a total of 66 runs; that works out to 2.75 per outing. To make matters even weirder than they already are, the Red Sox have scored 5.3 runs per night in the games Porcello hasn’t pitched this season. So on average, Porcello is losing three full runs of support from his offense. And while everyone is shocked over his supposed demise, it turns out that his struggles have at least as much to do with his offense as they do with the man himself.

SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) is a statistic that attempts to measure how well someone is actually pitching over a period of time. It is measured the same way regular ERA is. And, just like most other statistics, SIERA says that Porcello’s 2016 campaign wasn’t quite Cy Young-worthy and his 2017 season isn’t as bad as some are making it seem. As a matter of fact, his 2016 SIERA was 3.78, a full .63 points higher than his actual 2016 ERA. This year, his SIERA is 4.09, .54 points lower than his real ERA. SIERA says that the difference from last year to this one is .31 runs per nine innings. However, his real ERA has increased by 1.48 runs per nine innings. The difference is staggering, and the truth is that Porcello’s real talent is somewhere in the middle between last year and this one.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that Porcello simply isn’t having as good a year as he did last year. His ERA, his FIP (fielding-independent ERA), home run rate, and walk rate are all up from last year. Significantly, though, his run support is dramatically lower and his advanced metrics show that he isn’t faring that much worse than he did last year.

Porcello’s story also goes to show you just how powerful wins and losses still are in modern baseball. Even though a “win” or a “loss” is handed out largely based on how a pitcher’s offense supports him, we still view a pitcher’s record, for some reason, as a major indicator of his success or failure as a player. If you don’t believe me, 32 of the 34 Cy Young Award winners in this millennium won at least 15 games the year they won the award. The two exceptions were the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez in 2010 (13-12) and the 2003 NL winner, Dodgers closer Eric Gagne. While we can dispel of the notion that a pitcher’s record means something (#KillTheWin), wins and losses still hold a rather shocking amount of power in the baseball world.

Wins and losses are the reason we expected Rick Porcello to do better this season. Wins and losses put him on a faux pedestal as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and we shouldn’t be so flabbergasted that he hasn’t lived up to that billing this season. The Cy Young Award recognition probably didn’t help him out in this regard, either.

Many are searching for the answers for why Rick Porcello has disappointed in 2017. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll find that the high expectations for his performance were even more highly unjustified.

MLB Season Preview

NL East

Team W L
Washington Nationals 96 66
Miami Marlins 86 76
New York Mets 84 78
Atlanta Braves 78 84
Philadelphia Phillies 64 98


Discussion: The Nats win this division easily due to the ridiculous starting rotation and their above-average line-up.  The Marlins take a leap forward as Jose Fernandez returns from his Tommy John surgery to put forth a solid second-half of the season.  The Mets improve over last year with the solid addition of Michael Cuddyer and improvements to the bullpen as well.  The Braves stay around the same as they finished last year because their key gains match their key losses.  They are very similar to how they were last year.  And the Phillies are just going to be really, really bad and that’s that.  Their rotation, lineup, and bullpen are all terrible.  They will be the worst team in baseball.

NL Central

Team W L
Pittsburgh Pirates 89 73
St. Louis Cardinals 87 75
Chicago Cubs 81 81
Milwaukee Brewers 81 81
Cincinnati Reds 69 93


Discussion: The Pirates bring back many of the same players from last year, but the addition of Francisco Cervelli behind the plate will help its pitching staff take the next step.  Pedro Alvarez rebounds from a poor season in 2014, leading the Bucs to their first division title since 1992.  The Cardinals will be there; they always are.  They haven’t gotten much better, however, and the division around them has.  They will fall slightly.  The Cubs had a very solid offseason, and look for prospects Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant (when he comes up) to have good campaigns.  The Brewers stay where they were last season, and Jonathan Lucroy has an MVP-caliber season.  Finally, the Reds have a poor season, suffering as the division pushes forward around them.

NL West

Team W L
San Diego Padres 88 74
Los Angeles Dodgers 84 78
San Francisco Giants 81 81
Colorado Rockies 72 90
Arizona Diamondbacks 69 93


Discussion:  The Padres take a leap forward this season, as the additions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields and others catapult the Pods to the division pennant.  The Dodgers take a step back with the losses of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Haren.  The Giants, in an odd-numbered year, take a step back as they lose Pablo Sandoval and, for the beginning of the season, Hunter Pence.  The Rockies and Diamondbacks, two rebuilding teams, round out the division basement, each losing at least 90 games.

AL East

Team W L
Baltimore Orioles 85 77
New York Yankees 82 80
Toronto Blue Jays 81 81
Boston Red Sox 80 82
Tampa Bay Rays 69 93


Discussion: This division only features one sure-fire basement team (the Rays).  The Red Sox improve off of last year, but weaknesses at pitcher and catcher will serve to hold them back.  The Blue Jays, besides the addition of Russell Martin, are not as strong as last year with the losses of Juan Francisco and Melky Cabrera.  The Yankees; who knows?  They could be anywhere from 60 to 90 wins, but on paper, they are an around .500 team.  And the Orioles, this year’s weakest division winner, will have just enough to win the division, along with the comeback of Manny Machado.

AL Central

Team W L
Cleveland Indians 89 73
Detroit Tigers 87 75
Kansas City Royals 83 79
Chicago White Sox 81 81
Minnesota Twins 69 93


Discussion: The Twins carry the bottom of this division, as they are still awaiting the development of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, who are starting the season at class AA.  The White Sox improve off of last year’s showing with additions of Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Jeff Samardzija help improve the team, but they are still weak at second base, right field and in the bullpen.  The Royals lose pieces from last year’s team, namely DH Billy Butler and ace James Shields; they take a small step back.  Finally, the Indians take a leap of faith to the top of the division, needing all-around solid seasons from Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn to do so.  The Tigers finish second, and have to be concerned over the plight of Justin Verlander.

AL West

Team W L
Seattle Mariners 95 67
Oakland A’s 86 76
Los Angeles Angels 84 78
Houston Astros 83 79
Texas Rangers 67 95


Discussion: The Mariners lead this division, as the addition of Nelson Cruz helps alleviate the pressure of Robinson Cano to produce.  Also, Felix Hernandez wins his second Cy Young leading one of baseball’s best pitching staffs.  The A’s are a mystery, but they will most likely be good enough for second in this division.  The Angels are also a mystery, but I have them behind the A’s because it remains to be seen if Josh Hamilton can figure himself out and if Albert Pujols can have another good season.  The Astros will be a surprise; they take a leap forward this year with the additions of Jed Lowrie and Evan Gattis.  Finally, the Rangers will easily finish last in the division after the season-ending injury to Yu Darvish.






Wild Card Game: Cardinals over Marlins





Wild Card Game: Tigers over A’s


(2)Pirates vs (3)Padres: Pirates in 5

(1)Nationals vs (4)Cardinals: Nationals in 4

(1)Nationals) vs (2)Pirates: Pirates in 7

Explanation: The Nationals easily dispose of the Cardinals in the first round, and the Pirates and Padres play a tightly contested series that goes the distance.  In a  7-game series, the pitching of the Pirates catches up to that of the Nats.  Also, their outfield (Marte, Polanco, and McCutchen) will be this year’s version of the Royals’ outfield last year.  The Pirates win the NL.


(1)Mariners vs (4)Tigers: Mariners in 4

(2)Indians vs (3)Orioles: Orioles in 5

(1)Mariners vs (3)Orioles: Mariners in 6

Explanation: The Mariners’ pitching coupled with enough offense gets them past the experienced Tigers.  The experience of the Orioles, along with the return of Manny Machado, leads them past the Indians.  Then, the Mariners defeat the Orioles in a solid championship series.  They take the pennant.

World Series: (2)Pirates vs (1)Mariners: This series will be tight.  However, the Mariners’ pitching, especially in a three or four-man rotation, allows few runs.  Also, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano have sold series, and the talent on each side in too much for the Bucs.  Mariners win in 6.

Most importantly, this season will be fun.  Your guess is as good as mine as to who wins.