Porcello Pitching Like an Ace

April baseball is always full of surprises, good and bad. David Price turning into a very expensive pumpkin? Beyond bad. Rick Porcello pitching like an ace? Completely and utterly fantastic.

When the Red Sox signed Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract last winter, they gotRick Porcello Pitching like an ace one of baseball’s finest pitchers in return. In a rotation without a clear number one starter, he immediately became Boston’s undisputed ace.

Over the first month of the season, however, Price has been anything but. After getting knocked around again on Sunday, his ERA now stands at an unsightly 6.14—surely not what the Red Sox were hoping for when they made Price the “richest pitcher in baseball history” according to the Lowell Sun.

With Price scuffling, another pitcher has stepped in to lead Boston’s rotation. Enter Rick Porcello, Price’s former teammate in Detroit who now finds himself flanking the 2012 AL Cy Young winner yet again.

Only this time, the roles are reversed. Porcello has asserted himself as Boston’s top starter in his second year with the club while Price is still finding his groove..

Porcello was one of the American League’s best pitchers in April, winning all five of his starts while compiling a 2.76 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 6.00 K/B ratio. He completed at least six innings each time out, saving Boston’s battered bullpen in the process. More importantly, he was lights-out, holding opponents scoreless in In two of his outings and two-hitting the Blue Jays in a third.

Porcello pitching like an ace extends farther back than April, however. Porcello was arguably Boston’s best pitcher in the second half last year, posting a 3.49 ERA after Independence Day. He was even better down the stretch with a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts.

Is Porcello Pitching the Best Games of His Career?

Between those last eight starts of 2015 and his first five of ’16, Porcello has put together the best run of his career. He’s the only pitcher in baseball to log at least six innings in each of his past 13 starts, over which he’s sported a 3.00 ERA and 5.47 K/BB ratio. Since coming off the Disabled List in late August, Porcello has looked like a completely different pitcher, striking out more than a batter per inning after averaging just 5.5 K/9 in his six seasons with Detroit.

Once a ground-baller who rarely struck anyone out, Porcello’s now a whiff-machine. He’s gone from middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater to staff ace almost overnight–a truly stunning transformation. He’s relying on his sinker again after getting away from it in the early part of 2015, mixing it with nasty change-ups and cutters. The result has been a whole new pitcher; Rick Porcello 2.0.

Of course, Porcello pitching like an ace for a month doesn’t mean he’s supplanted Price, at least not yet. Price is still the ace because he’s been one in the past and is getting paid like one, though that could change if both keep pitching as they have in April. Price has been snake-bitten early on and will likely surpass his rotation-mate before long, but Porcello should be a strong number-two going forward.

That’s what the Red Sox were hoping for when they signed him to that $82.5 million extension, wasn’t it?

Red Sox Bid Adieu to April

Red Sox

With April in the books,  what is different between this years’ version of the Red Sox and the 2014 team? At first blush, one might think, ‘Well, clearly the pitching is a little better than last year and the hitting is much better.’ Not so fast, Rem Dog disciples.

Last years’ pitching staff was actually BETTER through one month than the current staff.Red Sox Through one month, the ERA in 2015 is a league worst 5.04.  Last year at this time it was 3.95, right in the middle of the pack. As far as the number of earned runs that have been given up, the Sox are atop all of Major League Baseball in that category with 113 allowed. Not exactly the type of stat you want to brag about. Last year, they actually played four more games in April and gave up 9 fewer earned runs.

At the plate, most folks thought with the addition of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval that balls would be flying over the Green Monster at epic proportions, and even fantasized that the Mass Pike would have to be closed down during games for driver safety.  While Ramirez just tied David Ortiz’ record for most home runs in April, with 10, the team batting average is well, just average. At .245 it is good enough for 6th overall in the league, which at least is better that the .245 of a year ago that was 11th best.

Even with new sluggers added this year, some numbers are still very close when looked at year to year.  Last years’ slugging percentage was .384, this year it is at .379.  A year ago the OPS was .333, this year it is at .332, and this year’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) is .711 while a year ago it was .717.

What does all this mean?  WHO KNOWS?! A year ago the Red Sox were a sub-.500 team, 2.5 games out of first place behind the New York Yankees.  Now, they are 12-10 and just one game behind the Yankees, who come to town this weekend.

It’s obvious that pitching is the weak link, and that the roster is overcrowded with some guys who can still hit (Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli) and might be able to help a team, and with others who may have enormous upside such as Brock Holt and Jackie Bradley Jr.  Let’s also bear in mind that Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada represent an enormous investment and they’ll be at Fenway Park before too long. It’s time for Ben Cherington to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ and beef up the pitching.