How Close Are We To Having A Real Discussion About Doug Fister Making The Red Sox Playoff Rotation Over Rick Porcello?
The game of baseball humbles you. You’re considered “good” if you only fail 70% of the time. In a game that is designed to have even the best players fail a vast majority of the time, every player can speak to the game humbling them to some extent. But for some, that experience is more pronounced than others. I suppose it all depends on how you define failure, but Rick Porcello can certainly speak to this after the three-year run in Boston that he’s had.
After a disaster of a debut season with the Red Sox in 2015, Porcello rebounded by winning the Cy Young award last year. He’s since followed that up by losing 17 games, his most recent loss coming on Sunday, to give him three more losses than any other pitcher in the majors. Before we overreact to that, let’s just point out that looking at wins and losses is the most outdated, inaccurate way to evaluate a pitcher’s performance for a season. For a more accurate depiction of how his season has gone, we can look at the fact that Porcello’s got a 4.64 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP, while leading the majors in both hits (220) and home runs allowed (35).
With all of these marks being noticeably above league averages, and in some cases being worse than any other pitcher in the league, I think it’s fair to say that Porcello has skated quite a bit this year. And honestly, I’m okay with that. Regardless of the fact that he won the Cy Young award last year, the expectations for him are much lower than they are for guys like Chris Sale and David Price, as they should be.
But let’s also not lose sight of the fact that the Red Sox are paying Porcello $20 million this year. It’s wild to say this, although it’s actually true — $20 million is well below what elite, ace pitchers are getting paid these days. However, it should obviously get you a better season than what Porcello has turned in to this point. So, while I’m fine with giving Porcello’s season somewhat of a free pass because of last year, what I’m not fine with is simply just punching his ticket into a playoff rotation just because of A) his season last year and B) what he’s being paid this year.
On Sunday, Porcello went five innings, allowing two earned runs, walking three and striking out four in a losing effort in which the Red Sox saw their four-game winning streak come to an end. It feels so strange to even acknowledge that four-game winning streak, because we just watched the Cleveland Indians win their 18th straight game last night. It’s like flexing your puny little pipe cleaner-looking bicep next to Hulk Hogan. Anyway, pinning this loss on Porcello wouldn’t be very fair. Only lasting five innings is disappointing to see from him, but he still gave his team a chance to win, and they only gave him one run of support.
After receiving the best run support of any pitcher in the majors last season (6.61), the Red Sox have two pitchers in the top 15 in run support this year, and Porcello is not one of them (Drew Pomeranz, Chris Sale). In fact, you have to scroll all the way down to number 50 before you can find Porcello in run support (4.27). Reduced run support or not, the facts are the facts, and the facts are that Porcello has allowed more hits than any other pitcher, more homers than any other pitcher, and he’s allowed the third most earned runs. None of that can be blamed on run support or a loss total that doesn’t factor in poor run support.
The Red Sox have used ten different starting pitchers this season, and Porcello’s ERA ranks 8th among them. Of the six starters who have made at least 10 starts for Boston this season, Porcello’s ERA is the worst. Since Doug Fister joined the Red Sox rotation on July 28 in place of Price, Porcello’s got an ERA of 4.92, while Fister’s 2.79 ERA is just behind Pomeranz’s 2.76 for the lowest ERA on the staff over that span.
With a 3.5 game lead and 19 games to go, you don’t want to jump the gun here and start talking postseason rotation, because technically we don’t know if the Red Sox are going to have to play in a one-game Wild Card playoff or not. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the AL East once again belongs to the Boston Red Sox, and they’ve got a best of five series coming up against either Cleveland or Houston — who’s your three-man rotation? Chris Sale is obviously your number one. Drew Pomeranz is obviously your number two — a statement that would’ve been considered tongue in cheek back in spring — and then who?
Not to play the middle man here, but I think the answer to that question is still very much yet to be determined. If a best of three series were to start today, I think the Red Sox would be having a very real conversation over whether or not Fister gets the ball over Porcello in Game 3, and I think Fister would ultimately win that discussion. With roughly four turns through the rotation left, I think there’s still time left for Porcello to plead his case, which means that there’s still time left for Fister to lose his.
That being said, if things stay as they have been — that being Fister continuing to be consistently good, and Porcello being wildly inconsistent — then Cy Young awards and salaries be damned; Fister is gonna get the ball in Game 3 of the ALDS. The same way that Porcello benefitted from this mindset last year when he got the ball in Game 1 over Price, who had just signed for $217 million to be the team’s ace — because of the season that Porcello had, you’ve got to put all of the contract stuff aside and look at it as, “What combination of pitchers gives me the best chance to win this series right now?” Porcello’s Cy Young award last year does not help the team this year.
Like I said, things could certainly change. But right now, it’s Sale, Pomeranz and Fister in a five-game series. That’s just a five-game series, though. Not to, once again, get ahead ourselves here, but if the Red Sox were to advance to the ALCS in a best of seven series, then they’d need a fourth starter. So, one way or another, whoever doesn’t get the ball in ALDS Game 3 will likely get a start in the ALCS, if the Red Sox make it there.
Either way, it’s crazy to think that Boston went into this season with “three aces”, yet one of them only made 11 starts and is looking to be a non-factor come postseason time (again), while the other is in the middle of a discussion on whether or not he’ll even get the ball in the postseason over a guy who the Red Sox claimed off waivers in late June. As bad as that sounds, and for as strange as this is about to sound, you have to feel good about a rotation of Sale, Pomeranz and Fister come October, given how well they’ve all performed. What a weird year.