Last season, Rick Porcello started off as bad as possible and ended about as well as you could have hoped -- he had a 5.90 ERA in the first half and a 3.53 ERA there after. This year, with an ERA of 3.47, he’s mostly pitched like the Porcello of August and everything after, and that’s a good thing. It is, however, about to be put to the test.
Of note are the four home runs conceded to Toronto over his first two stats. While he’s largely gotten a hold of the home run ball since then, he’s also done it against lineups that have made it easier. In consecutive starts toward the end of April, he hurled 13.1 consecutive shutout innings against the Yankees and Braves, finishing the second start with an ERA of 2.76. A month later, it sits almost a full run higher, and only now are the Sox set to face a murderers’ row of opponents in the Blue Jays, Orioles and Giants.
Porcello’s drastically increased strikeout totals over the last 162 games or so seem to be a direct result of his utilizing the high fastball when facing the right counts. Lately, though -- and this is anecdotal -- it seems like teams are onto him, even if there’s the occasional player (named Mike Napoli) who still can’t help himself. To that end, he hasn’t struck out more than five since April. That, too, might be about to change, but it may not be worth celebrating.
With Porcello about to face a run of teams featuring players who effortlessly swing for the fences, he’s likely to see his strikeouts go up, but he’s in serious danger of being victimized by the longball in his upcoming 2-3 starts. To wit: In the first two games against Toronto, he struck out 7 and 8 batters respectively, but was repeatedly taken yard. Giving up the big fly is his career-defining problem, and it’s easy for us to forget that good hitters can obliterate him if we haven’t seen it in a while. Early April seems like a year ago, but it happened. I remember it, and the computer tells me I’m right.
If Porcello can get into July with an ERA under 3.75, I’d be cool with it, provided he posted quality starts (lol) along the way. The Red Sox have scored so many more runs than the rest of the league that I’m not worried about losing 3-2. If it happens, it happens. But it’s likely to be an outlier. Almost all of the Red Sox’ hot bats, with a couple notable exceptions, are performing well enough that you can expect them to keep on banging into the dog days.
The two hitters about whom I’m concerned are Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw. In Ramirez’ case, the numbers and the eyes aren’t kind, and with Shaw, it looks like pitchers have finally adjusted to his particular set of skills. To be quick and brutal: It does not look like Shaw has any ability to diagnose or catch up to the high and outside fastball, at least not now. I hope change is affected in this area.
DFA or DL, Clay Buchholz has no place in the bullpen
The Red Sox have two options for what to do with Clay Buchholz, and neither of them involves pitching in relief
Ramirez scares me more. You can start with the .369 BABIP and work from there -- regression is coming, and it’s not going to be pretty. He’s still capable of All-Star type plays from time to time, is remarkably good in the field, amusing and likeable, but there are time he looks so lost at the plate it’s scary. The 0-2 slider from a rightly (and it feels like he’s so often down 0-2) seems to have a Kryptonite-like effect on him, as Jon Gray proved again last night, though chaos theory would probably make quite a deal over the breezes effect he produces by swinging over these pitches by a good six inches.
Look, I don’t want Ramirez to be bad. (I kind of want Porcello to stink it up, just to bathe in the life-giving pool of my predictive powers, but that’s selfish. I’m selfish.) The Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval contracts are collectively hanging to relevance through Ramirez’ BABIP and defense, and only the latter is likely to hold up through the summer months. By the time he finally found his place in the field, his bat cooled off enough to make it only barely work. He’s basically 2013 Lyle Overbay, hidden in the strongest lineup in baseball and in the body of a former batting champion. That’s bad.
With all of that said, these are targeted criticisms. If my hunches are correct, they’re likely to be offset by improvements elsewhere in the Sox lineup. David Price is going to continue to rebound from his horrific first six weeks, Craig Kimbrel is going to stop giving up runs [Editor's Note: Going to? You're about a month late on that one, Bryan], and Clay Buchholz… well, nevermind on Buchholz. His watch is likely over, which is an improvement in its own right. It was a good enough run, I suppose.
But others remain, and given the strength of the team, the Sox will likely hold the wall even if Porcello and Ramirez do, in fact, regress. They are captives to their own true skill level, same as everyone on the rest of the team. Fortunately for the Red Sox, this is the only standard to which their players need to be held for them to be contenders, and barring a huge rash of injuries, they should be able to absorb the coming isolated storms.