Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Panning Boston's Porcello Extension

Did the Boston Red Sox pay Porcello too much? (Off The Monster)
Posted below are the numbers for two American League starting pitchers from 2009 through 2013.

Pitcher A: 1,021.2 IP, 3.74 ERA (116 ERA+), 3.56 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.73 K/BB ratio, 19.5 bWAR
Pitcher B:   868.2 IP, 4.51 ERA (94 ERA+), 4.11 FIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB ratio, 6.7 bWAR

When it came time to extend pitcher A last spring, the Boston Red Sox offered him four years and $70 million. They just extended pitcher B for four years and $82.5 million, on top of the $12.5 million they're already paying him this year.


Pitcher A, as you should have guessed, is Jon Lester. He turned down Boston's pitiful offer, had the best year of his career, and landed a six-year, $155 million megadeal with the Chicago Cubs. Pitcher B is Rick Porcello, whom Boston smartly traded Yoenis Cespedes for in December and extended yesterday. Porcello also enjoyed a career year in 2014, albeit not at the same level as Lester's.

Whereas the Red Sox clearly undervalued Lester last year, it appears they overvalued Porcello here. They're banking on him sustaining last year's success, which I wouldn't count on now that he pitches half his games in Fenway Park. That wouldn't worry me so much if he was someone who misses a lot of bats, but he isn't. His career strikeout rate is 5.5 K/9, well below league average. Porcello pitches to contact, and in Fenway's friendly confines contact usually leads to lots of singles and doubles. Whatever benefit he stands to gain from an improved defense behind him (Detroit's infield was terrible, which explains the sizable difference between his ERA and FIP) figures to be negated and then some by his new home park.

Red Sox management clearly views Porcello as a great pitcher, but I don't see it. I mean yeah, he's durable, but he's only cleared 200 innings in a season once. His walk rate is low, but he gives up a lot of hits and hardly strikes anyone out. He's tall and generates lots of ground balls, he's never spent a day on the disabled list, and he has postseason experience, but is that worth investing $95 million in him from this year through 2019?

Even though Boston's getting his prime years, I don't think so. Before last year, Porcello was a midrotation innings eater, a low-end number three or solid four in Detroit's rotation. Boston's lack of quality starters makes him their ace or, if Clay Buchholz is the ace, then their number two. Porcello would have been a fine number two last year had he not been on the same team as Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Justin Verlander.

He's not an ace, though, and $20 million a year is ace money. At this stage in his career--26 years old and with more than 1,000 big league innings under his belt--Porcello's not going to get much better. He is who he is at this point, and that's a middle of the road, average to slightly-above average starting pitcher. There's no need to commit five years and nearly $100 million to one of those when they can be found much cheaper on the free agent market every year, or can be developed from within at a fraction of the cost.

If I was Cherington, I would have waited to see how not only how Porcello adjusts to pitching at Fenway, but also how this year unfolds for his team. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Boston's rotation bursts into flame, in which case Cherington could have shipped Porcello to a contender for a nice haul of prospects.

So why did Cherington make this move now? I'm willing to bet he wanted to avoid repeating the same mistake he made last year by failing to lock down Lester early and letting negotiations drag on, which ultimately resulted in his being traded to Oakland. I also think Cherington wanted some security and stability in a rotation that is very much in flux, what with Buchholz perpetually injured, Justin Masterson in on a one-year deal, and Joe Kelly better-suited for the bullpen. Porcello is sturdy and reliable--a rock--and letting him go would have made Boston's rotation even more uncertain going forward.

Guys like that are nice to have, but I wouldn't commit almost $100 million to one.

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