September is less than 48 hours away, five of the Major League Baseball season’s six months have passed. At this point in time teams generally know who their most reliable contributors are.
For the Boston Red Sox, the offense has been led by Mookie Betts and David Ortiz.
Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Dustin Pedroia and Sandy Leon have all had their hot and cold periods, but Betts and Ortiz have been the two most consistent sources of offense.
As for the pitching, that’s easy, Rick Porcello.
Rick Porcello, who was at one time thought of as a not-nearly-good-enough replacement for departed former ace Jon Lester.
Porcello was a bit of a prodigy. He made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers at the age of 20. That’s an age when most starting pitchers are toiling away in the lower levels of the minors.
Not Porcello. He made his first career big-league start on April 9, 2009. He spent the entire season with the Tigers, went 14-9, had an ERA of 3.96, and finished third in the AL rookie of the year voting.
By the time the Red Sox acquired him, he was one season away from free-agency and an all but certain nine figure payday.
That wasn’t what former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington had in mind. Porcello hadn’t even started a game for the Red Sox when he agreed to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension.
Would it be a bargain? Could Porcello make Red Sox fans forget the departed Lester, and at about half the total cost as well?
In 2015 Porcello struggled. He had an awful first half, rebounded a bit in the second half, but overall did little to instill much confidence in a Red Sox fan base that had grown increasingly cynical following the departures of both Jon Lester and John Lackey.
When the 2016 season started most Red Sox fans would have been quick to answer any question regarding the team’s most talented and most consistent starting pitcher.
The answer was easy, David Price.
With one month remaining in the season the answer is still easy, but it isn’t David Price, it is Rick Porcello.
Monday night was just another ho-hum Porcello start.
Porcello wasn’t lights-out, he didn’t strikeout 10 or more batters, but he pitched seven innings, allowed only three earned runs, didn’t issue a walk, racked up seven K’s, and got the win.
The win was his major league leading 18th. One more than J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays, two more than Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs, and three more than the trio of Chris Sale, Chris Tillman and Stephen Strasburg.
Porcello has not been what some would define as an “ace.” He doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters, his 3.26 earned run average is by no means bad, but it isn’t good enough to garner a lot of attention.
Porcello is consistent. He has pitched six or more innings in 24 of his 27 starts this season. He has allowed four or more earned runs just six times, and not once has he allowed more than five earned runs in a single start.
He’s walked less than three batters in 26 of his 27 outings, the one exception was an outing in which he walked three batters.
Porcello has thrown 100 or more pitches in 19 of 27 starts.
The fact of the matter is that if Rick Porcello is on the mound, and the Red Sox bats are even somewhat productive, the odds of the team winning that game are pretty darn good.
David Price has the potential to go out and strike out 12 hitters while being nearly impossible to hit, but he’s also been victimized by big hits and some baffling bouts of ineffectiveness.
Steven Wright is a knuckleball pitcher which means that if his knuckleball is on, he’s going to be very difficult for the opposition to make solid contact against, but if that knuckleball is off for even an inning, it can result in what the team saw against the Kansas City Royals last Friday night.
The reality is that in 27 year old Rick Porcello the Red Sox have themselves a uniquely consistent and effective starting pitcher. He’s under contract through the end of the 2019 season. That’s three more full seasons, and Porcello will be under age 30 for all but one of them.
Given the market for starting pitchers, his price tag of just over $20 million a year is by no means outrageous.
Porcello continues to go out and perform as if he’s a robot. He takes the mound, he doesn’t walk too many batters, they struggle to string together too many hits, a few guys strikeout, and before you know it the seventh or eighth inning is upon us, and he’s exiting the game with a lead that even the team’s up-and-down bullpen has been able to consistently hold onto.
Rick Porcello may very well end up as the Red Sox most valuable pitcher for 2016, that’s pretty impressive.