Photo from NESN
The Red Sox unexpected defacto ace and game 1 starter Rick Porcello struggled against the Indians last night allowing 5 runs in 4.1 innings. It was a tough time to have one of his worst outings of an otherwise very impressive 22-win season. Most fans were surprised at the emergence of Porcello as a #1 pitcher in 2016, but he has always shown signs of greatness, just without any real consistency and the right guidance/experience to bring it into the forefront.
Porcello made his major-league debut at the young age of 20 with the Detroit Tigers. He was an impressive 14-9 in 31 starts that season with an ERA of 3.96. Not too shabby for a young kid being thrown into the majors. He was able to begin learning from veteran guys like Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson and showed real promise. Porcello spent the following 3 years trying to match the success of his rookie campaign, but his ERA didn’t cooperate and he finished those 3 seasons with an OK 34-33 record and a mediocre 4.75 ERA. The pressure to become a top tier pitcher didn’t help his development. Instead of time learning to pitch in the minors, Porcello was forced to learn against the best players in baseball every 5 days.
After a better, but not great 13-8, 4.32 ERA 2013 campaign, Porcello entered the 2014 season with something to prove and a contract to earn. He pitched well, finished the season with 3 shutouts (the only 3 of his career) and posted a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He helped the Tigers reach the postseason, but was the odd man out in the ALDS as the Tigers got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games. To be fair, he was beat out in the rotation by the ridiculous 1-2-3 of Cy Young Award winners*, current teammate David Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. It’s pretty damn hard to break into that top 3. Interestingly, Porcello could become the 4th member of that 2014 Tigers rotation to win a AL Cy Young Award. *Interesting fact, Verlander, Price, and Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award in 3 consecutive years (2011, 2012, 2013), but Price won his when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.
After the strong 2014 campaign and an overabundance of pitching, the Red Sox came calling and Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and minor-leaguer Gabe Speier. The Red Sox had Porcello under control for just one season ($12.5 million) and they wanted him locked up long-term, so offered him a huge 4 year/$82.5 million deal that would give him a base salary of $20 million a season. At the time, critics (myself included) destroyed the Red Sox for giving Porcello so much money, but the front office clearly saw the potential of a still young, but experienced MLB starter.
After spending his entire career in Detroit, the transition in 2015 was less than stellar. After a terrible 2/3 of the season an injury kept him out for most of August. Porcello returned much stronger and looked much more comfortable, as if he just needed the time to reset and adjust to Boston. His ERA dropped from 5.81 at the time of the injury to 4.92 at the end of the season in just 8 starts, putting him on the trajectory we all witnessed in 2016. Since his debut in 2009, expectations were that he would be a top of the rotation arm, so the only surprise is that it took him an extra 6 years to reach his potential. Now that he is comfortable and has learned how to pitch and not just throw, Porcello is an incredibly valuable member of the Red Sox rotation now and into the future. Even with 8 years of experience, Porcello is still just entering his prime years at age 27.
It has definitely been a long-game approach with Porcello in his career and now it is paying off. The Red Sox front office deserves credit for identifying his potential and giving him the time to grow into the role he currently holds at, or near, the top of the rotation. Last night aside, expect Rick Porcello to be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation for years to come.