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Getting to know Rick Porcello

The Mets signed the free agent right-hander to provide innings at the back end of their rotation.

Boston Red Sox v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With New Jersey on his birth certificate and a wins-driven Cy Young Award on his mantel, the Mets’ acquisition of Rick Porcello seemed almost inevitable. Just a day after signing Michael Wacha to seemingly fill in the fifth slot in their rotation, the Mets struck again for another post-peak, back of the rotation starter long on name and reputation but short on recent results. With the the right-handed Porcello—who will turn 31 in a couple of weeks—in the fold on a one year, $10 million contract, let’s take a look at his past performance—and what Mets fans can hope for in his future results.

10-0 with a 1.44 ERA in his senior year of high shool at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, NJ and with a perfect game on his resume, in some rankings Porcello was the top ranked high school pitcher in the country. With a letter of intent to North Carolina and Scott Boras advising him, Porcello fell to the 27th overall pick in the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft. The Detroit Tigers drafted and signed the prospect, who basically spent one season in the minors, thriving in A ball in 2008 before winning a spot in the Tigers 2009 rotation out of spring training as a 20 year old.

Porcello hit the ground running, at one point winning five games in a row in May—the youngest youngest pitcher to win that many in a row since one Dwight Gooden in 1985. He finished the season 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA (4.77 FIP) over 170.2 innings, good for a 2.4 bWAR and a third place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

While the sky would seem to be the limit for a 20 year old pitcher coming off that type of season, Porcello pretty much established the plateau at which he would perform as a Tiger—and most of his career thereafter. A sinkerball pitcher who didn’t rely on strikeouts, between 2009-2013 with Detroit Porcello would win between 10 and 14 games each season, throwing at least 162.2 innings each season while posting an ERA in the mid-to-high 4s. In 2014, Porcello had his best season as a Tiger in what would be his final season in Detroit, going 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA, good for a 3.8 bWAR. He was traded in the offseason to Boston in a deal that brought Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit, and signed a 4 year, $82.5 million extension with the Red Sox right at the start of the 2015 season.

After struggling in his first season in Boston, Porcello had a career year in 2016, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. He even struck out a career high 189 over 223 innings. In a decision that would rankle the sabermetric community and Kate Upton equally, Porcello edged out Justin Verlander for the American League Cy Young despite his 4.8 to 7.2 deficit in bWAR.

Porcello was up and down over the next few years with the Red Sox, struggling in 2017 then contributing positively to their 2018 championship run, before cratering in a terrible 2019, where he went 14-12 with a 5.52 ERA—still good for 1.2 bWAR over his 174.1 innings.

Porcello has logged over 2,000 MLB innings, but he hasn’t lost anything off of his fastball velocity. Unfortunately, velocity has never been his calling card. His low 90s sinkerball is his main pitch, and Porcello perhaps more than others has struggled as hitters have adjusted to focus more on launch angle and lifting those sinkers. In 2012 and 2013, Porcello allowed fly ball rates in the low 20 percent range, but 2019 saw a career-high 41.5% fly ball rate. And those fly balls are leaving the yard more often, and Porcello has seen his HR/9 rate—under 1.0 during his time with Detroit—spike as high as the 1.6 range over his time in Boston.

Those innings are certainly his calling card, and where his value lies. After signing Wacha with his perhaps higher upside but penchant for injury, Porcello—who was never made fewer than 27 starts in a season—provides an innings-eating presence at the back of the rotation—think Jason Vargas with more upside and hopefully nicer to reporters. With his average, pitch-to-contact stuff, predicting Porcello’s results can be a challenge. At one year, $10 million is not a big risk for a major league starter—if anything, Porcello is taking the larger risk, likely hoping to reestablish value with a better season in a better pitcher’s park and league.

As long as the Mets don’t do anything insane like deciding that six major league caliber starters equals too much depth and turn around and trade one, adding Porcello and Wacha to the back of the rotation or as a long man in the bullpen is not terrible—assuming the team still has money under the couch cushions to fill other holes.