The 2016 Boston Red Sox need to be a lot better than they’ve been the last two seasons.
To do that they’re going to need their starting pitching to be a lot better than they were in 2014 and 2015.
Clearly it all starts with David Price. The former Cy Young winner was inked to a massive seven-year, $217 million contract. He’s expected to be the staff ace and there are not too many reasons to expect he will fail to fulfill that promise.
One arm does not a starting rotation make.
No team wins a division, or the World Series on the strength of one good, or one very good starting pitcher.
Once you get past Price, the rest of the Red Sox rotation is a concern.
Regardless of health, Eduardo Rodriguez is a young fairly unpredictable starting pitcher. The same goes for Henry Owens.
Clay Buchholz? Maybe you think he’ll be good, maybe you think he’ll be mediocre, but just about everyone can agree that there’s little reason to expect him to be healthy all year.
That leaves two other starters.
Joe Kelly has made over 20 starts in a season once, that was last year and his ERA was 4.82.
This is where Rick Porcello comes in.
Porcello is only 27 years old. This will be his eighth full season in the majors and he’s made at least 27 starts in each and every one of them.
That’s a lot of experience for a guy who is only 27.
In 2014 Porcello had what appeared to be a breakthrough season.
A 15-13 record, 204.2 innings pitched, he tied for the league-lead with three shutouts, and finished with a career-best ERA of 3.43.
Porcello’s improvement and age are most likely what drew the attention of former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington.
During the summer of 2014 the Red Sox had dealt starting pitchers Jake Peavy, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Cherington knew his squad needed starting pitchers. On December 14, 2014 the Red Sox traded Alex Wilson and Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers, Rick Porcello was the player sent to Boston.
In spite of his youth, Porcello had already spent six seasons in the majors. That meant that following the 2015 Porcello would be a free-agent.
The specter of Porcello spending one year in Boston and then leaving via free agency did not sit well with Cherington. Before Porcello ever threw a pitch for the Red Sox, he had agreed to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension. Porcello would be sticking around Boston, and he was going to be paid as if his 2014 season were a preview of the next four seasons.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Porcello’s 2015 was neither a continuation or an improvement on his 2014 campaign.
It was a major step-back.
One off-year is not enough to negate the combination of age of potential that Porcello possesses.
This year has to be different though.
There’s simply not that much room for prolonged periods of ineffectiveness along the lines of what Red Sox fans witnessed in 2015.
Consider that until August, Porcello failed to have a month with an ERA under 5.34.
It took Porcello until September of 2015 to begin to look comfortable in his Red Sox uniform. That was when the Red Sox got the performance out of Porcello that they had expected when they traded for him and then extended his contract.
Porcello was 3-4 with an ERA of 3.58 in September of 2015.
Those aren’t amazing numbers, but they were plenty good enough to provide the Red Sox with legitimate reasons for optimism in 2016.
With Price on board, Porcello doesn’t need to be an “ace.” He’s not expected to be a staff savior or a Cy Young contender.
He does need to be good. The Red Sox need Porcello to be the pitcher he was in 2014. They need him to make most or even all of scheduled starts (something he’s done with stunning regularity) and they need him to be pretty solid when he makes those starts.
Sunday Porcello took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays. Three innings, 10 hits and 8 earned runs later Porcello departed as the eventual losing pitcher.
His first start of the spring was just about everything that Red Sox fans don’t want to see out of Porcello. Porcello is almost always around the plate. He has good starts and bad starts but walks have never been his biggest enemy. Porcello has a tendency to give up too many hits. When he keeps the ball on the ground he’s successful, but when hitters are able to either drive the ball of hit it with loft, things can get messy.
The simple reality is that if you’re trying to figure out who the Red Sox most likely second best starting pitcher is. Rick Porcello is the easiest answer.
Bad outings during spring training should not be made too big a deal of, but bad outings once the games start to count will be worthy of real concern.