No one expected Rick Porcello to repeat his 2016 Cy Young season besides maybe his mom. And she probably had some doubts. Before the season started, I thought he was getting punished too much especially after some second half changes. So far, I have been wrong with Porcello maintaining his 2016 production with a 3-9 record and a 5.05 ERA. Here’s what has gone wrong.
Last season, quite a bit of Porcello’s fantasy value came from his 22 Wins. While 22 Wins was out of the question this season, owners expected more than three. Porcellos has giving up an extra run per game and the Red Sox offense has dropped off.
Last season, they average scoring 5.4 R/G and this season that number has dropped to 4.7 R/G. With the league scoring up, the Red Sox have gone the other direction.
Porcello posted a .269 BABIP last season which could be explained by his high flyball rate leading to easy outs. This season, his flyball rate has increased from 38% to 41% and his BABIP has jumped to .366 (2nd highest value among qualified starters).
Part of the blame can be place on the defense behind as the team BABIP has jumped 20 points from .293 to .313. Additionally, the team’s UZR/150 has dropped from 4.3/150 to 2.7/150. The defense can take some of the blame, but not all of it. Which is obvious with the next factor.
Giving up Home Runs
When Porcello transitioned to be a flyball pitcher in 2015, he posted a career high 1.3 HR/9. In 2016, he was able to suppress home runs and keep his HR/9 under 1.00. That is not the case this season with a possible new career high 1.6 HR/9.
A high HR/9 rate is somewhat expected as he gives up more and more flyballs. Also His 2016 HR/FB isn’t completely out of place at 13% with his career rate of 12%. The problem is that he is not getting any of BABIP advantage from non-home runs flyballs turning into easy outs.
All of his projections and ERA estimators place his ERA near 4.00. With scoring up again, a 4.00 ERA is acceptable with overall league average starter ERA at 4.51. I think owners are having a tough time coming to grips with the new scoring environment.
Striking Out Fewer Batters …
Porcello is pulling the ol’ my strikeouts look like they are improving but aren’t because we are still using K/9.
Here are Porcello’s K/9 and K% over the past two seasons.
Season: 2016, 2017
K%: 21.2%, 20.5%
K/9: 7.6 K/9. 8.3 K/9
With all the extra hits Porcello is giving up, he is getting to see more hitters every inning so his strikeout rates looks to be going up but isn’t.
… And Walking a Few More
Historically, Porcello has been stingy with the walks (5.3% career mark) and this season he is at 4.3% which is a small increase from 3.6% last season.
Bring All It Together
Everything is working against Porcello at this moment driving his price down. Finding an area for positive regression is tough to find. Are the Red Sox going to hit and play defense better? Is he going to quit giving up so many hard-hit flyballs (home runs)? Can he strike out more batters? The only item I feel good about is some BABIP regression and hope for a near 4.00 ERA for the rest of the season.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.