On Tuesday, May 29, the Blue Jays play the middle of a three game series in Boston. The Red Sox call Rick Porcello’s number for the start. Marco Estrada will start for the Blue Jays.
Rick Porcello has been a mediocre to average pitcher his entire career, except for a surprising Cy Young season in 2016. While Porcello has many flaws, and does not fit the image of a Cy Young winner, at all, his name will always sit among the most iconic in baseball history.
Porcello had a strong start to the 2018 season, allowing just 10 earned runs through six starts. However, the wheels have started to fall off in May. Over his last four starts, the former Cy Young winner has a 1-2 record and a 7.29 ERA. In his last start against Tampa Bay, the right-hander gave up eight hits, two walks, and six runs—four earned—across 3 2/3 innings.
The big righty offers a selection of five different pitches, mixing between a sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, change-up, and curveball. Interestingly, Porcello does not use his cutter anymore, a pitch he added in his Cy Young year.
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Porcello uses his sinker 32% of the time, while averaging a velocity of 90.63 mph. The sinker creates ground balls at a great rate of 65.28% of balls in play. Despite posting a poor .318 BAA, the ISO the sinker has posted, a tiny .035, shows the sinker has been effective at avoiding hard contact.
The right-hander mixes in a relatively flat slider 24.5% of the time. The slider is quite hard, averaging a velocity of 86.4 mph, but it creates just a little bit of glove side run and drop. As a result of the relatively weak movement, the slider produces both more line drives (28.07% of balls in play) and fly balls (29.82% of balls in play), than whiffs (25.19% of swings).
Porcello has offered a 92 mph four-seam fastball just 16% of the time this season. His fastball has been hit hard this season, yielding six extra base hits (four doubles and two home runs), a bad .500 SLGA, and a terrible .278 ISO against. However, the heater is second to the slider in producing strikeouts, currently responsible for 17 of his 64 this season.
Porcello offers up a palm-ball change-up 15% of the time this season. For those unfamiliar with the grip, a palm ball change is exactly as it sounds, the right-hander pulls his fingers off the seams and kills the spin on the ball. The pitch still averages a decent 81.4 mph and can easily drop out of the zone and fool batters. Despite the funky grip, the change has not produced many whiffs. Instead, the change has produced a good amount of ground balls—currently holding a rate of 52.78% of balls in play.
Porcello completes his pitching repertoire with an occasional curveball. The hook is quite slow, averaging a velocity of 75 mph, but it can create some good movement. The hook produces the most whiffs per swing of all of the rigthy’s pitches, but at a rate of 32.73% whiffs per swing, it is still nothing to write home about. However, as with most of Porcello’s repertoire, the curveball has produced ground balls at a great rate of 61.54% of balls in play.
Porcello has always been a ground ball pitcher and he has lived up to his reputation this year. The right-hander has produced ground balls 49.2% of the time this season. Interestingly, this is a higher rate than his Cy Young year (43.1%), when he relied more on creating fly balls to get outs. However, after a disappointing season last year pitching to fly ball outs, it seems that the righty has returned to his old calling card.
Pitching to ground balls and contact, the veteran has avoided walks this season. Currently the big righty holds a good 1.74 BB/9 and a similarly good 4.6% BB%. In total, Porcello has allowed free passes to just 13 of the 280 batters he has faced this season.
Porcello has also limited home runs this year—allowing just five home runs in 11 starts. The righty’s impressive limit on long balls has led to a good 0.67 HR/9. However, this HR/9 is much lower than any other year in his career—even his Cy Young year. As well, the righty currently holds a low 7.8% HR/FB rate. Thus, it is reasonable to expect a regression to the mean in Porcello’s future.
The Blue Jays bats have a wealth of experience against the New Jersey native. In fact, as a team, the Blue Jays have 65 hits in 268 at-bats, leading to a .243/.297/.373 slash line. Josh Donaldson has twelve hits—including three for extra bases—in 39 at-bats against the right-hander. As well, Justin Smoak has a great .978 OPS against Porcello in 32 career at-bats. However, Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin have struggled against the righty. Morales has eight hits in 39 at-bats with a .629 OPS. Martin has managed just four hits in 32 at-bats, posting a terrible .419 OPS.
Marco Estrada was not good for the Blue Jays in his last start. However, he was much better in his preceeding starts. The Blue Jays look to capitalize on Porcello’s cold streak Tuesday. As well, the team will look for a strong start from Estrada.