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Who starts Game 1 for the Red Sox?

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The Red Sox have two good options to kick off a playoff series, but which one do they choose?

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox are almost certainly going to the postseason. Part of me is terrified that me saying that is going to jinx it, but the rest of me is an adult and realizes that is insane. The fact is that it will take an indescribably painful collapse to blow this lead. Fangraphs gives the team a 99.1 percent chance of making it and Baseball Prospectus puts the odds at 99.3 percent. It’s safe to talk about now.

The next step of the process, of course, is winning the division, which they have the inside road towards. After that, it is deciding on the postseason roster and how playing time will be divvied up. Earlier in the week, I talked about the potential bullpen makeup while also touching on the back of the rotation. Those are the most important roster construction questions the team needs to answer, and will certainly be a priority. However, they also need to come to a decision about who will/would start a potential Game 1 in the ALDS.

I find this entire question utterly fascinating, although I know the opinions among the fan base likely aren’t all that split. Rick Porcello is arguably the favorite for the Cy Young award right now, and has probably earned the right to start a Game 1. Still, David Price has himself a solid case as well. At its crux, the Porcello vs. Price question is bigger than the question of who starts a Game 1. It’s a debate about how we evaluate pitching and decide who is more likely to be better in their next start.

Do you go with the guy who has had the better results all season (Porcello) or with the guy whose numbers suggest he should be better in a context-neutral zone? Obviously, it’s a really good problem to have, as each pitchers are very good and both have strong cases that don’t necessarily take away from the other. Still, it’s a question they will (hopefully) eventually need to answer.

Before we get into their individual cases, a few notes. First: As far as I know it is still unclear how much this decision will really matter. If they decide to go with three pitchers in an ALDS (they should), both of the potential Game 1 starters would line up to go twice in the series if necessary. On the other hand, if they decide to go with four pitchers, only the pitcher who wins this battle would be lined up to start two games.

Second: As things stand right now, Price is lined up to pitch the final game of the season. Obviously, this would throw a wrench into this entire discussion and probably just hand Porcello the Game 1 start. However, if things are all wrapped up by that point -- and it looks like there’s a decent chance they may be — they could easily skip Price if they wanted him to start Game 1. Anyways, those are two notes that I felt to get out of the way. Now, let’s look at the arguments for and against both sides.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Rick Porcello

As I said, the case for Porcello is fairly straight forward. There is an argument he has been the most valuable player on this team this year. I wouldn’t make it, but he has been the most consistent pitcher and prevented the team from going into some deep slumps in the middle of the year. Obviously wins are mostly a garbage stat, but his 21 victories are indicative of a pitcher who has been phenomenal all season.

Don’t get it twisted, either. His underlying numbers are quite good, too. His strikeouts aren’t overly impressive — just 7.4 per nine innings — but his control has been fantastic. Only Josh Tomlin has fewer walks per nine innings among all qualified starters. All of that has helped him to a 148 ERA+.

It’s not just the overall numbers that make Porcello a compelling choice to start a Game 1. Even more than that, it’s the consistency. The 27 year old has started 31 games this season. He’s gone fewer than six innings in just three of them, and he’s allowed more than three just eight times.

In fact, he hasn’t allowed more than five runs in any start and he hasn’t gone fewer than five innings. To put it succinctly, Porcello has given the team a legitimate chance to win every time out. While he hasn’t really put together a ton of real gems (though he does have a few), there’s been a sky-high floor each and every time out. That’s a very valuable thing to have at your disposal when trying to set the tone in a playoff series.

David Price

The case for Price is a bit more complicated, as it requires buying in to numbers that try to remove context. Take FIP, for example. This is actually closer than I figured it would be, but Price did have a slight 3.34 to 3.44 advantage heading into last night’s action. DRA, which is Baseball Prospectus’ pitching metric and also my preferred method of evaluating pitchers, has the gap much longer. There, Price has a 2.66 (sixth best in baseball) to 3.46 advantage.

Essentially, the argument for Price is that he dealt with some bad luck this year, but has been at least an equivalent pitcher. Now, I would not agree with that assessment — and I don’t think many would. The fact is Price made his own bad luck by leaving balls up over the plate and allowing a ton of hard contact. That is going to lead to inflated BABIPs and HR/FB ratios and blaming that on luck is foolish.

With that being said, he’s been a completely different pitcher as the year has gone on. Since the start of July, he’s pitched to a 3.05 ERA and more importantly has allowed just 10 home runs in 103 innings (0.87 per nine innings) and a .299 BABIP. Additionally, he’s unquestionably shown himself to be the more talented pitcher over his career. Sure, it is worth mentioning his struggles in the postseason, but his regular season resumé trumps that in my opinion.

At the end of the day, what Price gives the Red Sox is upside. I think it’s fair to say there is a better chance he implodes than Porcello given what we’ve seen this year. However, there is also a better chance for a 10-strikeout shutout, and the chance of that kind of performance could be more valuable when faced the task of taking on someone like Corey Kluber.

As I said earlier, I find this conversation absolutely fascinating. I expected myself to be leaning towards Price, but at this moment in time I think I’m actually leaning the other way. Of course, ask me tomorrow and I may have a different answer. Right now, my logic is that the offense is good enough that simply giving the nod to the more consistent arm is the right call. Eventually, the Red Sox will have to make this decision, and I am utterly fascinated by what decision they’ll make.