Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello rode a gaudy win total, a pitching poor environment and his own improvements to the 2016 AL Cy Young Award. Although Porcello did not rank as the top overall pitcher, he did finish as the sixth ranked starting pitcher on ESPN and the fifth ranked starting pitcher on Yahoo. Thus, while he was not the best pitcher in fantasy baseball, Porcello was one of the most valuable based on a cost-benefit analysis.
There are certain aspects of his success, which are either partially or completely out of Porcello’s control. In a point that has been beaten to death, win totals are highly variable and it is entirely outside of Porcello’s control in any given game whether or not he gets the win. The performance of other pitchers is also an external variable over which Porcello has no control. If you take the win total out of the equation, Porcello’s year would have been somewhere between the 20th and 30th overall starter pitcher season in 2014 and 2015.
Let’s focus on what he can control – the skills. The standout talent for Porcello is his control and stinginess with walks – surrendering just 1.29 BB/9, which is lower than his prior 2014 (1.8 BB/9) and 2015 (1.99) walk rates that were superb in their own right. Those control numbers helped offset a solid, but unspectacular 7.63 K/9.
Rewinding the clock back to last year pre-draft time, Porcello was a popular sleeper candidate because he made some skill improvements (7.8 K/9, 8.5% SwStr in 2015 compared to 5.67 K/9, 7.5% SwStr in 2014) and was labeled as being unlucky with an inflated BABIP (.332) and home run ratios (HR/9 1.31, HR/FB 14.5%).
It appears that aside from the walk rate, the luck pendulum may just swung the other way for Porcello. As you can see in the table below, his skills were fairly stable year-over- year:
Pretty similar aside from the slashing of his walk rate. Meanwhile, there were substantial shifts in more volatile and luck-susceptible statistics:
The question becomes was there some underlying skill change that supported this substantial shift on homers, balls in play and strand rate. The peripherals say no, they were all higher than his ERA to varying degrees – FIP was 0.25 higher, xFIP was 0.74 higher, and SIERA was 0.64 higher. Did the peripherals miss something?
Porcello did induce a significantly higher percentage of pop-ups with 13.8% IFFB% nearly tripling his 2015 IFFB% of just 5.2%. He also reduced his hard contact rate from 32.8% in 2015 down to 30.0% last year. However, Porcello allowed hitters to pull the ball more (up 0.9%), more flyballs (up 38.0%) and had a career-low GB% of 43.1%.
These numbers indicate to me that the homer rate was somewhat fluky, especially when you factor in the league-wide power surge, his environment as a pitcher in the AL East, and the rise of his flyball rate. Now, the BABIP is another story – flyballs are better for BABIP than groundballs and infield flyballs are exceptional because they almost never result in a hit.
Although I anticipate that the BABIP will regress slightly based on his profile, I think there is enough to support a lean towards last year’s number over 2015 – I would project for a .280 type BABIP. In the same breath, I think Porcello may have been luckier with the homers and would regress him to a 1.1 HR/9.
What do these underlying numbers mean for his final projection? My projection on the reigning AL CY Young is: 215 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9.
That projection is another way of stating, I will not pay the price necessary to draft and own Porcello.