Rick Porcello made 32 starts in 2019, the eighth time in his 11-year MLB career that he topped the 30-start plateau. He’s never had fewer than 27 starts in a season, a pretty remarkable run of health and durability. In his 2,037.1 lifetime IP in the majors, Porcello has amassed a 99 ERA+. Put it all together and you get an extremely durable league-average pitcher. That’s not a bad thing for your fourth or fifth starter.
The Mets have seemingly made the decision that Porcello is guaranteed a spot in the rotation, while veteran Mets hurler Steven Matz will have to battle it out with newcomer Michael Wacha for the remaining spot. There’s certainly a logic to that point of view. If Porcello’s main asset is his ability to give you league-average innings in bulk – why send that to the bullpen? The big problem seems that the Mets have promised starts to all three of these pitchers.
But let’s operate under the assumption that Porcello will be a starting pitcher, just like he has been since 2009.
Last year was not a good one. He had one of the lowest totals of innings (174.1) that he’s ever had in his career and turned in the highest ERA (5.52) that he’s ever posted. That’s a pretty rotten combination to have in your walk year. Porcello blames the down year on the Red Sox asking him to abandon what had worked for him throughout his career – pitching down in the zone – to focus on more four-seam fastballs and to attack hitters upstairs.
The numbers bear this out. Porcello threw his fastball 31.6% of the time in 2019, an increase of slightly over 10% from the year before. His sinker percentage was down to 24.9%, a drop of 4% from 2018 and nearly 16% from his Cy Young Award season of 2016. And the results were not good. His fastball was a negative offering, according to the Pitch Info Values on FanGraphs. And his sinker was the most effective it had been since 2014.
So, the conventional wisdom is that Porcello will go back to throwing low in the zone with the majority of his pitches with his new team. Now it’s just a matter of how he will work with Wilson Ramos, who certainly caught a lot of grief for his inability to get strikes on low pitches with other hurlers on the staff, most notably Noah Synderaard.
Ramos adopted a new catching style in the offseason, going to one knee with no one on base in order to better handle low pitches. Early results in Spring Training were encouraging. Porcello and Syndergaard combined for 18.2 IP and 6 ER, although not all of those innings were caught by Ramos. Perhaps even more importantly was the lack of grumbling about Ramos being behind the plate. Hopefully, that’s a trend that will continue all season long.
This is the first projection article since the announcement was made that the season would not start on time. As of right now, the projections on FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference have not been altered from their full-season expectation from when they were first produced. So, even though MLB will not play a full season in 2020, these forecasts are made with the idea that they will. It’s hard enough to forecast playing time with a known season length. Making guesses as to how long the season will really be – 75 games? 100 games? 125 games? – is a level of complexity we simply don’t need.
Continuing with full-season projections will make comparisons among players better. If you’re not interested in those, perhaps you can focus exclusively on the rate stats (ERA for pitchers and AVG/OBP/SLG for batters) and ignore the counting stats. Here’s what the computer models forecasted for Porcello in 2020:
ATC – 162 IP, 4.58 ERA, 144 Ks, 41 BB, 27 HR
Marcel – 166 IP, 4.99 ERA, 152 Ks, 46 BB, 28 HR
Steamer – 165 IP, 4.61 ERA, 148 Ks, 44 BB, 28 HR
THE BAT – 167 IP, 4.61 ERA, 138 Ks, 45 BB, 28 HR
ZiPS – 167.2 IP, 4.29 ERA, 152 Ks, 41 BB, 28 HR
As expected, there’s a lot of agreement from the computer forecasts. The big difference is with ERA, with three of our models predicting nearly identical marks and with Marcel deviating on the high side with a 4.99 mark and ZiPS on the low end with a 4.29 forecast. Given how close the other numbers are, essentially ZiPS is projecting good luck for Porcello (4.43 FIP) while Marcel anticipates the opposite.
Last year, a 4.50 ERA was essentially a middle of the road SP4 in the National League, with a Joe Musgrove (4.49 ERA) or Caleb Smith (4.52) being prime examples. The big questions are if the run environment will be the same in 2020 and if there are any reasons to expect Porcello to deviate much from the computer forecasts.
The composition of the ball will likely be the biggest factor in answering the former question. The latter one may depend if a return to his old pitching style will help him keep the ball in the park. Porcello gave up 23 HR in his big 2016 season. Last year, he surrendered 31 gopher balls. That worked out to a 0.93 HR/9 in 2016 and a 1.60 mark in 2019. If you expect improvement from Porcello over a year ago, you’ll have to see an improved HR rate from him.
Here’s my totally biased forecast for Porcello:
Before we wrap this up, we need to at least note that Porcello has two nicknames listed at B-R. Perhaps along with your forecast, you can indicate which one you like better. He’s called “Pretty Ricky” or “Ricky Raindrops.”
Next to undergo the forecast microscope is Brandon Nimmo.